What do I do if my child mispronounces a foreign language word?

When one of my kids was younger and speaking Spanish, he mumbled the word “abajo.”

It means “down,” and he understood what it meant and always used it properly.

But it sounded so odd whenever he said it.

I asked him to say it “REALLLL SLOW,” so I could understand why it sounded a little bit off.

Very clearly and seriously he then said, 

“UH… 

“BUTT… 

“HOLE…”

DYING. LITERALLY DYING.

When you think about it, they actually sound very similar when said fast.

I couldn’t believe it. “This whole time you thought we were saying, ‘A butt hole?’”

“Yeah, because it’s at the bottom of your body!”

It was too funny. And he’s too sweet.

I videoed him saying it for me.

For his sake, I won’t share it.

It’s a common thing when kids mishear a word and say it differently. It totally happens in English too, right?

Like, “basgetti” instead of “spaghetti”.

Or “candles” instead of “sandals”.

Or “I’m free” instead of “I’m three.”.

In my masterclass on how to be 100% successful speaking a foreign language, a lot of moms have shared the cute things their kids have said in English when they were little!

And very often, these parents don’t actually correct their kids because what their child is saying is so cute. And they know that soon enough their child will outgrow it.

But! When it comes to speaking a foreign language, people freak out!

They go into this mode of: IT HAS TO BE RIGHT – RIGHT NOW.

Like you say one word in a foreign language, and the pronunciation police are on you, telling you to say it this way or that way. 

And so you try, but it’s still not right for them, and things have gotten intense! Sirens are blaring!

I’ve heard dramatic stories that take place in the privacy of the family room where parents and teens are crying as they talk again and again into a microphone in a foreign language app, saying, “It’s right! It’s right! Let us move on!” 

They feel like they are saying it right and blame the app, but…

What’s really happening to the person mispronouncing the phrase?

Well, when you start to learn a language and you’re four years old and older (AKA you’re “free” to zero!), those sounds are closed to you, and they have to open up again, so you can actually hear them.

This process can take weeks or months.

But this process is significantly delayed or completely derailed if you or the child is STRESSED.

When we’re stressed, we can’t hear as well. 

And if you can’t hear well, you can’t hear better.

So you can’t fix how you’re saying something.

This can lead to heavy accents, completely shutting down and giving up, and stressful relationships surrounding a specific language (ahem, if you have a gorgeous native speaker in your house that you’re married to).

So what do we need to do if our child mispronounces a word in a foreign language?

We all calm down.

We let it be CUTE.

We realize that they will outgrow as they’re exposed more and more to the language.

And we are just as kind to ourselves if we’re the ones having trouble.

Then, once everyone is chill and ready to hear, you follow these steps:

  1. Make sure your child hears how it should be said by using the word naturally.
    If you’re not a native speaker, play the native speaker audio from the TalkBox.Mom program because you might also think you sound great… and well, you might need this too. Heck, I still listen to it even though native speakers love how great I sound. I can always hear a little better! And the more months and years I work on a language, the better I can hear!
  2. Have your child use the word in a sentence or repeat back with the audio.
  3. Listen for how your child says it.
    If they say it wrong, they can’t hear it still. And that’s okay. 
  4. Use and listen to the phrase every day without any pressure and break the word into syllables after a couple of days. If your child still can’t say it right, they can’t hear it yet.
  5. Keep taking the pressure off and check back in on it in a couple of months.

It’s okay for it to take time. 

Speech therapists in English also make it very clear that this takes time. They don’t do quick fix miracles.

So the next time your child mispronounces a word, keep calm and carry on. They’ll be just fine as you continue forward.

xo,

Adelaide

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