Language Refusal in Children

How can I help my child practice their French if they refuse to speak it with me?

Getting children to practice a second language can be tough, especially if they’re already comfortable with their first language. But don’t worry, you’re not alone, and it’s completely normal! Here are some tips that may help you beat language refusal and get some French practice at home. 

Tip #1. Try something completely new in French:

Introduce a new activity or experience in French to make it exciting for your child. For example, make play dough together, try a new recipe in French, or go somewhere new (like a mini golf course you’ve never been to!). By doing something new in French, your child will be less likely to refuse because it’s not something they’re used to doing in English.

Parent and child playing mini golf while practicing their French

Tip #2. Keep it Casual:

Don’t put too much pressure on the French practice. Try counting steps in French as you go up or down, singing a French tune while tidying up toys, or mentioning the colours of cars as they pass by. If your child asks “why”, say it’s because you need to practice – not them! By keeping it casual, French practice becomes much less of a chore, and you’ll get less language refusal.

Child playing on the floor with toys while practicing his French.

Tip #3. Let your child teach you:

Children love to feel good at things. Give your child the opportunity to “teach you” French by playing a board game, cards, or even watching some French TV together. Pretend that you need help with a word that you know they know, and they’ll likely be much more willing to use their French if they can be the teacher and support you.

A mother plays with a hands-on game with her two children while practicing their French.

Tip #4. Find a language partner:

If possible, find a language partner for your child. This could be a friend, relative, babysitter, or a child in an older grade at their French school who speaks French. By having someone else to practice with, your child will be more motivated to speak French, and they can form a French-first language relationship with that person.

Two young girls stirring flour into a bowl and smiling.

Tip #5. Make French practice FUN:

If you’re asking “How?!”…you’re in luck, because here at 123 Petits Pas we are experts at making French fun for parents and children. Signing up for a live weekly French class can take the pressure off of YOU as the parent, and yet, will allow you to dedicate some time to fun French activities in your home. I highlight “in your home” because this is a perk of virtual lessons that people don’t often recognize. Language refusal happens most often at home, because it’s changing up their habits and what they’re used to; this can be hard to overcome alone! That’s where I, Madame Amy, am here to help lead you through fun weekly French activities so that French practice becomes a habit in your home. 🙂 

I decided to write this blog post after being approached by MANY parents asking the same questions: “My child is refusing to practice French with me…what can I do?”. I hope that this blog post helps you beat language refusal in children! 

It can be a little bit of a struggle to begin, but once French practice becomes a habit, I promise it will be so worth your effort. Remember the keys are to keep French practice: casual (zero pressure!) & fun!

If you have any questions or need any support at all, please don’t hesitate to contact me, Madame Amy, at: [email protected].

Madame Amy

Madame Amy

Founder of 123 Petits Pas Inc., Certified French teacher, and mother of 2 bilingual boys.