Now My Son Only Wants to Speak Thai

My Son Expressing His Thai Roots

Timmy has now been attending school for almost one semester – it is scary how fast the time has gone. His Thai has improved greatly, but he has become a reluctant English speaker. He still likes to watch TV and listen to music in English, but he wants to talk in Thai all the time now. I’d been warned that this might happen, but I still feel a bit disappointed. I spent a lot of time looking for an affordable bilingual school, and we even moved 200km to be near it. I’m hoping that this lack of enthusiasm for my language will only be short lived. He still understands English as before, but the only problem is his reluctance to use it.

I No Speak English

It is important that my son speaks Thai, but this was never going to be a problem for him. He is surrounded by Thai speakers. I’ve only ever spoken to him in English. I’d heard was the best way to insure that he would grow up to be bilingual. In recent weeks he has started replying to me in Thai a lot of time. I worry that any attempt to insist that he speak to me in English will further turn him off the language.

I suppose all that I can do is to keep on speaking to him in English. Hopefully this will be enough to at least keep his comprehension level high. The problem is that I get so wrapped up in work sometimes that I don’t speak to him enough. My wife does speak to him in English a lot of the time as well, but I notice that not as much as before.

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12 thoughts on “Now My Son Only Wants to Speak Thai

  1. Paul, I do think it’s a short-lived phase. One of the reasons this is happening is that he is trying to fit in with his school mates. Speaking as a teacher and expat in the Middle East, the kids who don’t master the local Arabic dialect never fit in, and that lasts all the way through school. The friends he makes now could be some of his friends for life, as well.

    One way to insure that he speaks English is perhaps to find him an English friend or two to play with who does not speak Thai. Also, if you and your wife are speaking to each other in English in the home, he will want to understand what you are saying to each other. Are there any other expats you know with children his age? Occasional play dates with these kids will be helpful, as will any films you can get him in English. Can you get English-language cartoons there on the satellite dish?

    Also, at some point, probably by late grade school or certainly by junior high, he will probably develop a self-identity that is either more strongly Thai or Irish. It happens with all the kids here, too. Sometimes even kids in one family split with one child feeling more of one nationality, while the other child identifies more strongly with the other.

    Do you ever read your son bedtime stories or tell him stories in English? One idea you might try is make up a story together. You could say the first sentence and he could make up the second, and you could take turns. If he has trouble verbalizing his ideas in English, encourage him to get his idea out in Thai (if you can understand it) and then help him put it into correct English, and have him repeat it. Sometimes the stumbling block is some kids have trouble verbalizing their ideas in the language they are asked to. If they can just be encouraged to get their idea out, and then you can help them with the language, this helps them to feel more positively about it, rather than trying to insist.

    If your son answers you in Thai when you speak English, it could be because he’s having trouble verbalizing the ideas, OR it could be because he has a strong personality and has decided he likes Thai better. This could change if he had an English-ONLY speaking friend or two, in addition to his Thai friends.

    However, be thankful he’s picking up Thai so well, as I imagine it is a harder language to learn to speak well than English is (I could be wrong, though).

    1. Thanks Lynne for providing such a helpful comment. I like the idea of play dates. I do read to him a bedtime story some nights, but I leave it to my wife a lot of the time. I will try to read more regularly to him.

  2. Lynne has some great ideas which I’m sure you will put to use. I agree. This is most likely a phase. When I taught 1st and 2nd grade I noticed one of my students replying to his Italian mother in English. This will probably switch on and off depending on his mood.

    1. Hi Lani, I do hope it is just a stage. He has started to make friends and he wants to fit in – it is understandable

      Hi Lani, I do hope it is just a stage. He has started to make friends and he wants to fit in – it is understandable

  3. The main advice I would give? Don’t worry about it, go with the flow. I lived for many years around Europe and mainly in France before going to Thailand. I’ve four kids, the first completely British who mostly only spent her school hols (all of them) in France with me. She is now 23 and just starting work in the Singapore French international school, teaching English, on the strength of her excellent degree in French. The next one (now 18) spent most of life in France, refused to speak English with me most of the time, now doing her English degree in France, speaks great English. Number 3 is 16, born in France, usually speaks to me in French even when I speak to him in English, yet only watches English-language TV and mostly reads English books, his English is great. Number 4 who is not yet 3 year old, Anglo-Thai parents yet living mostly in France, understands three languages already. Her mum speaks to her only in Thai, I only talk to her in English, and at nursery it’s nothing but French. Let them sort it out, don’t pressure them, stay consistent in talking to them in your own language as much as possible, and it’ll work out in the end. Best of luck!

  4. How much English do they speak in class at school? How bilingual is a bilingual school?

    At least he is getting one language down. At the international school I worked at there were some Thai-Thai kids who weren’t fluent in English or Thai.

    1. Hi BB, they have a Thai teacher and an English speaking teacher in class all day apparently. Judging from his homework he does seem to be getting a good mix of both languages – as well as Chinese

  5. I think it is vital that you keep communicating to him in English since he does not meet many English speakers outside your house. Even though he might not appear to be interested in responding to you in English, I think that he is still able to absorb and familiarise himself with his father’s language. Don’t give up. Being bilingual will definitely benefit him in the future.

    Don’t trust me as I am Thai!

  6. Paul having read the comments to this one there is some good solid advice among them. The voices of experience so to speak. I think Timmy has the best of both language worlds even if he is frustrating you with his refusal to speak English to you. I’m sure he’s learning the language anyhow.

    Maybe you should just let Timmy naturally progress and not appear to keen to push him into speaking English. That’s a little like the football mad father who pushes his boy to play the game when all the kid wants to do is read books and draw cartoons. Then one day the boy surprises his dad by asking for a brand new £40 football shirt. Natural progression can be a great recipe for success.

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