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Hello all,

I explained my somewhat complicated (but then again, aren’t they all!) linguistic situation in a previous posting ( Long story short, though: I am a second-language fluent Lakota speaker. My wife and I have done OPOL since our daughter – now 26 months – was born, and so far so good until recently.

In terms of passive fluency, OPOL has been a complete success. Our daughter can understand both languages equally well, and for quite a while was clearly more inclined to understand Lakota. Now that she is beginning to speak, though, I feel that I am losing ground fast.

Our daughter is extremely independent-minded (familiar, anybody?), often to the point of being willful. We love her very much, but oh lord she is everything we were told a two year-old would be and then some. Even more than many other kids her age that we know, she does not like to be told what to do – ever. Furthermore, the concept of negotiation is completely alien to her.

So here is the linguistic problem. She is not particularly interested in using Lakota words. Interestingly, there are a small handful of things that she will only name in Lakota, but these are definitely the exception to the rule. And who could blame her? Everyone around her speaks and understands English, and even here on the reservation, only a small handful of people she sees on a regular basis know Lakota. So she probably (rightfully) figured out early on that English is the universal language to use to get what she wants.

And with the exception of the small handful of Lakota words that she will say, she displays no inclination whatsoever to the language. She doesn’t mind hearing it or responding to it at all, in private or in public, and we have a great relationship. She hears it from me every day – I literally have never spoken English directly to her. That said, she spends a large part of the day at daycare (I know, I know – that is part of the issue) while I work, but she still hears it from me during all the time we spend together. 

I should mention that I would LOVE to find a fluent caregiver for the daytime, but have not been able to, despite much searching and brain-racking.

I feel like I have been waiting her whole life for her to get to that stage of repeating words. That is when I knew that her speaking would really take off. Every since she was eight months or whenever it was and made her first attempts at real speech, I have felt that getting her to repeat words and sounds was “just around the corner”. But nearly a year and a half later and we still haven’t gotten there. And given her obvious resistance, we may never get there.

I knew getting into this that it wouldn’t be easy. I had read books on raising children with multiple languages, and had spent enough time reading over sites like this one to know that it wouldn’t be smooth sailing. I knew very well that children often reject the non-dominant language at some point (starting preschool, say), and that this was just a phase and the parent just needed to be patient. But I didn’t think that the rejection would come before she really started to use the language in the first place!

What is really sapping my resolution with this is the firmness and seriousness of her language rejection. While her English vocabulary is growing by leaps and bounds daily, her Lakota vocabulary might add one word every few weeks, if that. She flatly refuses to say anything in the language, even though my wife (who has picked up a great deal of everyday vocabulary, and who has been beyond supportive – bless her) tries to get her to say words too.

If my daughter gets the slightest inkling that I am trying to cajole her into using Lakota, no matter how subtle, casual, or natural I try to be about it, she says “No, Dada. No no no.” It is not a “game” she is willing to play. This was amusing for a time, until I got the feeling that she was never going to change this attitude.

Nor will she be bribed or otherwise coerced. (Trust me, it took a long time before I became willing to even try such tactics.) M&Ms (her favorite) as a reward for saying a word or two? Even a word that is far easier than the multisyllabic English words that she is starting to employ, and that would be no effort whatsoever for her to say, is apparently a huge effort for her. She will burst into tears and flat-out refuse to do it. This is where I get to the point of just wanting to forget the whole thing.

I don’t want her to simply be passively fluent, although I am extremely glad that she has gotten to that point. I also don’t want bilingualism to be traumatic for her in any way. But I also don’t want to simply give up on getting her to speak without trying different methods. But now I feel that I am out of options, am starting to feel traumatized and exhausted myself, and am at my wit’s end. As much as it pains me to say it, I wonder if it wouldn’t just be easier on all of us if I just said the hell with it. I feel that she has clearly made her choice – whatever the reasons are in her little toddler mind – and maybe I should just respect that and capitulate.

I have read accounts from other OPOL non-dominant language parents who say that the way they get their child to use the “right” language with them is to refuse to acknowledge their question or comment until the ask it “right”, like using the magic word. And I’m sure that works with some kids. I’m also sure that, given how things have gone so far, that would be a great way to get my daughter to resent me and throw monumental tantrums.

Anyway, sorry this turned out so long. Writing this feels kind of like therapy (maybe you could tell). I don’t like to be a quitter, and I hate to give up when I’ve poured so much time and effort into this, but I am losing heart fast. I feel like every time she shows a glimmer of interest or inclination towards Lakota (speech), and I think that a breakthrough is imminent, it vanishes like a mirage.

If anyone can cast any light on my situation, I would be eternally grateful. Wopila heca yelo (thank you).


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I’m a mother of 6 years-old boy who is growing to be Korean-Japanese bilingual with English as EFL.

How about making a short stay in where your language is spoken as a community language?

My son was like your daughter refusing to speak my native language, Japanese and that was such a headache to me until he was 45 months, that’s when I brought him to Japan and put him in a public kindergarten there for three months. He almost instantly has changed to be Japanese over a week! That was such a quick and easy solution of all. Since then he keeps both languages pretty fairly. We still need periodic going back and forth between two countries to keep his Japanese at par, though. Good luck to you!


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Thank you for taking the time to reply! I truly appreciate it.

You’ve actually hit on the crux of the problem, though. There is literally nowhere in the world where Lakota is spoken as the primary community language anymore (unless there is a secret community of speakers hiding behind a waterfall somewhere or something). In fact, the reservation where we live has the highest concentration of speakers of pretty much anywhere.

Despite that, the language really only exists in pockets here and there, certain families that still have young (i.e. 30-45 year old) speakers, and communities where it is more prevalent. That said, nowhere is Lakota the language of commerce, government, the workplace, etc. The closest it comes to being a community language would be in sub-communities like assisted care facilities for elderly people, where the majority of people might be fluent speakers.

So with a situation this grave, why am I bothering in the first place? Well, I guess I talked about that somewhat in the other thread that I linked to in my initial post. But I (as well as a great many other people here in the community) have a strong hope that a language renaissance may be getting underway here. And we are very much on the forefront of that movement, so kind of going into virgin territory.

I read over the “10 Tips for Boosting the Minority Language” ( before posting, and found it generally informative. I feel that I already strive to do the ones that are possible for our situation. (Sometimes it means getting creative – for example, there are almost no children’s books written in Lakota, so I have taken to translating her books myself and pasting the text in to “bilingualize” them. I have done this for about 200 books so far.)

But not all of the tips apply to our situation. Case in point: number 1. Other kids who are fluent speakers essentially don’t exist (yet?!) even though I’m sure there are some others who can understand out there. But of course, my daughter isn’t yet a speaker herself, which brings me back to the beginning.

Sorry if I am making this sound like an impossibly complex situation. It is just that it is very, very challenging. When I wrote my initial post, I was at a very emotional low about all this. I have perked up since then, and have continued to slog on. I know I should continue to be grateful for her passive fluency, especially considering all of the hard work and dedication it took to get her there.

But will she ever speak? Will the rejection continue indefinitely? Those are the questions that run through my mind on a daily basis.

I am glad to hear that things worked out for your son. Especially starting at 45 months! Makes me feel that 26 months isn’t the end of the world.



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Hello Peter,
26 months is definitely not the end of the world. It just feels like it! Your daughter is still a baby and she is also at an extremely ornery age. My twins are 26 months old right now. They are in a much simpler linguistic situation than yours so that part is going well enough but I never imagined such tiny people could be so hard to manage, so stubborn, willful, combative, loud, contrary… Also, a lot of monolingual and especially bilingual kids have just begun saying their first words at this age. She has time to start speaking in Lakota. Don’t give up. The important thing for now is that she can understand. Maybe she’ll be part of the renaissance of this endangered language.

I understand that finding playgroups and cartoons in Lakota may be impossible, but can you enlist the help of some of the other adult speakers in your area? Can you invite them over regularly and have them pretend they don’t understand anything but Lakota for the evening? I know kids, even toddlers, are supposed to learn better from kids their age than from grownups but I haven’t found this to be the case, at least not yet. I take my kids to playgroups in our language but I’ve noticed that it is just the same as when they play with kids in the majority language or even kids with whom they have no common language. They mostly communicate in gestures and grunts and shrieks. They still learn a lot more from interacting with adults at this point.

Can you take her to visit one of those homes for the elderly? They might love to have a toddler visit them. Even if you can’t get her to talk to all those strangers, you can talk to them yourself and it might be good for her to hear you speaking with other people in a language that she doesn’t believe anyone else uses. 

It’s great that you’re translating books for her. Maybe over time you’ll connect with other families like yours, dub cartoons yourselves, record stories or songs, self-publish some translations or original kids’ books, or start weekly lessons with other children whose parents want them to learn some Lakota, even if they don’t know much of the language themselves, like a bilingual singalong/storytime. Maybe interest in the community will build up (along with funding, or volunteers) and this might grow into a bilingual section in a local school someday… You never know. You have to be optimistic and stick with it.   
Good luck!

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I just thought of an idea to add that might be useful for situations like yours: a friend of mine told me that her son also refused to use the minority language for a while when he was around 3 years old. His grandmother sent him a new teddy bear. The mom explained that the bear came from her home country, was homesick and lonely and didn’t understand the dominant language. She began speaking to the bear in the minority language and asked him if he wanted some cookies and pretended to hear his answer whispered in her ear. Later, she heard her son playing the same game and speaking in the minority language. I thought this was a clever method. 

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Hi Peter,

Yours is definitely a unique situation since there are not so many Lakota speakers or resources and nowhere to go to have a real immersion experience for your daughter. Are there other children in your community who speak it? If so, you could organize a playgroup. Another thought- is there anyone in the community who is a storyteller? Imagine the power an older storyteller in Lakota would have on a child- she would probably need to be at least 3 to be able to sit still for this though. But something to think about for the next year.
Our oldest is also an extremely stubborn kid whom that method of refusing to answer unless Arabic in our case was spoken would not work. I know it worked great for some parents but my husband would only get tantrums and then exhaustion on our end. Two is a finicky age and kids often have strong preferences about who can speak a language and who can’t and what they want to hear. I tried Spanish with my then two-year old and she was VERY angry with me about that so I quickly gave up. I doubt your daughter is really rejecting the language for good so don’t fret. And you are giving her a truly amazing gift with trying to keep it up! When our oldest was 2, she didn’t show much interest in Arabic even though she heard it every day. Now at 5, she really has a huge interest in it and a big part of her identity is in being Moroccan (she loves the dress, food and music). 
Also, I run the magazine, a resource for parents raising multicultural/lingual kids. We have an expert in childhood bilingualism on our staff who answers reader’s questions. She is really knowledgable. If you would like to pose your question to her, she may have some other ideas:

Best of luck!


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Hi Peter,
What an amazing effort you’ve put in to get this far! I am feeling very moved by your story and attempts to bring the Lakota language to your child. It reminds me of growing up in Wales, where huge efforts are made to keep the minority language of Welsh from dying out there… again, it’s not the community language anywhere, but there are those pockets you mentioned where lots of people speak it. They’ve found a good solution, which is immersion schooling, so that by the time I left Wales at 14, even though my family spoke no Welsh at home, I was a fairly fluent speaker. I can see this wouldn’t work in your case, where there simply aren’t enough local children even to create a Saturday school. But my point is that, even though I barely remember a word of Welsh these days, learning it as a child gave me a lifelong love of language and was a great help with learning others, especially German, where teachers were really surprised how well I could pronounce and read it! It’s carried me through to the point where I took the decision to raise my own children to be bilingual, despite not having total fluency myself in another language. So any language exposure seems like a real gift that I am sure your child will appreciate later on. 

And on a more practical note, when my son refused to speak our minority language (French) around age 3. I didn’t pretend not to understand, but I did ask him to repeat himself in French, and help him out when I could see he didn’t have the vocabulary. He continued speaking in English first for around 2 weeks, but persistence paid off and he switched back to French after that! It was easiest to insist when he wanted something, like a football, because then he was highly motivated to get what he wanted and didn’t really care which language the silly adults insisted he use to get it!

Hope this helps 🙂


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Hi Peter! what an amazing story! just a few words of encouragement – don’t give up! you might hit a low point here and there, and the terrible twos and their tantrums are horrible, but you are the grown up, and you’re trying to give her the best gift of all!

I have a daughter who just turned 3 in May, and I know what you are saying about being strong-minded…mine is like that as well. She is Italian-German majority lang. and Croatian (definitely) minority language. My husband is Italian, we speak Italian at home, most of our relatives are Italian, but we have been living in Germany for the past 2 years. I am the only person who speaks Croatian (again a complicated decision as I am bilingual myself – Croatian/English, even though Italian is overpowering both), but my husband and I decided it would be best if I spoke Croatian to her as that’s the “difficult” language. Up until 6 months ago her vocabulary was rather poor (and secretly I was worried and desperate, even though the paediatrician  said not to worry), but then it just blossomed…well for Italian and German… Croatian is another story – I don’t want to insist too much, that is, force her too much, I speak Croatian to her always, read books and so on, and she understands me perfectly (I constantly “test” her understanding abilities), but she refuses to speak it and only speaks Italian to me with a sprinkle of few Croatian words here and there, she can translate briliantly though! The problem as I see it is precisely in the lack of people who speak Croatian. She doesn’t see the use for it. It’s funny though that she terrorizes kids in the German kindergarten trying to get them to speak Italian, but then in Italy, with her Italian grandparents, she forces them to learn Croatian words….

Sarah’s ideas, as well as those of the other mums are brilliant and very true. I totally agree with montanamamas exposure to Japanese in a Japanese kindergarten, I was planning to do a couple of months of full immersion in Croatia, but my plans fell through this summer, but I’m still working on it. I have noticed that if my daughter has an interest in specific children or even adults she will turn to speaking Croatian (with others, she doesn’t like, she won’t even bother and will keep speaking either Italian or German to them).

so all I can say is best of luck and don’t give up! 🙂


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Hi Peter,
Let me begin by saying that I’m bringing up two trilingual children, who speak Italian (my language), Farsi (my husband’s) and English (community and mine and my husband’s common language).
I’m amazed at your story, firstly because you are really trying to keep alive your language and I guess you want to pass your roots to your daughter by doing so; secondly because so many of the fathers I know give up so quickly when things get difficult. Obviously this is so important for you, and I know from experience that bringing up multilingual children is really hard, as the language teaching takes such a central role in the relationship between the parent and the child.

Some great advice has been given here already, and the only thing that I would add is to relax. Don’t make this a stressful experience for yourself and your daughter. I used to tell my daughter “don’t speak English, speak Italian”, until I realized that I was putting pressure on her, and she started whispering in English to her sister. I then would tell them to speak like mummy and this seemed to help, to take the focus off the language.
I also read somewhere of a mother who had a similar problem to yours and if the children used the community language rather than her own, she would take extra long to make things happen, or would ask them to repeat several times, until they understood that it was easier to speak her language.

In any case, your daughter is very young, so don’t give up, don’t get demoralized, and I’m sure you’ll be fine in the end.


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Don’t underestimate the value of passive understanding. It will be so much easier for her to become an active Lakota speaker if / when she chooses to do so.

CLaudine Copper

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Hi there – your story sounds very familiar. I remember the feeling raising my children bilingual French/American. Right around the time my third child was 2 1/2 she was very willful and having three kids in five years was wearing a tiny tiny bit on me I thought what am I doing this for… it is torture (so it seemed) on everyone. Its no fun and I am exhausted!!! Looking back to those moments, that critical fork in the road when I thought for days if I should let this dream just rest and move on with one language like everyone else, I smile. I smile BIG – because it was a phase, my daughter like yours, go into and out of phases. And now 12 years later- well 15 with my eldest, they are all fully bilingual. Resisting is what they are supposed to do, that is how they create and develop their own character. Rather than feed into her resistance, I would pause and say,, hmmm. This is how maman speaks and if you want to have a conversation with maman these are the rules. The resistance folded very quickly, she wanted to communicate with me and she understood that there are rules to the game- in every aspect in life there are rules, at home is no different.
The reward to sticking to your guns – gently sticking, is important. If you fold on these rules, what else are you willing to fold on? 
My kids have learned so much from their heritage because of their language. My family that continues to live in France are rich with stories that I have no knowledge of and would not be otherwise passed on if they had not spoken French. In fact I can go so far as to say that I would have cheated them – had I not been the one to demonstrate resilience, when everyone else wanted to give up.

It is hard, very hard. But it is a golden apple you are giving her. Something she can learn nowhere else but with YOU!
deep breathe and go forward
with love and support
Claudine Copper


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Hi Peter, Good for you on making the effort to keep your language alive! My kids speak English & French but we live in France and they have little exposure to English besides through me, so I find it requires a lot of extra effort to keep that language up to speed. (Sounds crazy, there are so many English-speakers in France – but none in the sticks where we live.)

I have been reading a blog that I’ve found full of helpful ideas, called Bilingual Monkeys. You might check it out and see if any of his tips work for you.

Best of luck to you and your family!

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Hi Peter! 

I’ll second that you’ve been given a ton of great advice. My kids are currently 1 and 3, but will be 2 and 4 in about a month (and another baby on the way the month after!). 

We also have no real community resources, and are not in a position to visit someone who speaks our minority language right now. What’s worked for us is to (a) not make a big deal out of it, and simultaneously (b) require more and more output from them. I know this may seem contradictory, but it worked for us. 

We started with me repeating my 3 yo’s statements in the minority language, pausing, and then responding to him. After a few months, we started asking him to repeat my translation of his statements, and would only respond when he did. Gradually I stopped translating, and started requesting the minority language anytime he’d start speaking to me in English. And even now, it takes frequent reminders to keep him on track, but it’s not a fight at all (mostly just forgetfulness). 

I don’t feel like it was at all traumatic to him. I wasn’t rude or insisting, just firm. I think that, so long as she knows how much you love her, requiring her to speak won’t be traumatic, even if she acts like it is, in the same way that discipline is good for children and won’t harm a healthy, loving relationship, even if they fight it tooth and nail.

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