Our Decision to Raise Bilingual Children
When I married an Italian, I had no doubt in my mind that when we had children we would raise them to be bilingual. Being an English speaker I never learned another language until coming to Italy and never really understood how useful it could be. When you live in an English speaking country all your life, some people tend to think there is no need to learn another language. But with the numerous benefits of being bilingual, there is more to learning a language than just being able to communicate in another country.
How we do it
My husband and I chose to speak in our respective languages, going by the OPOL approach, (One Person, One Language) We started right from birth. I have been speaking to my children in English, and my husband has been speaking to them in Italian. I have found that this is one of the most important things so they don’t get confused.
Children understand before they start to speak, whether you speak in one language, or multiple languages. Even from a very young age my son J who is now almost 4 years old was able to understand both. When he was just 7 months old he would clap his hands when asked to do so in either English or Italian, it was amazing. Of course nobody believed it until they saw it with their own eyes.
As he grew he was able to follow directions in both languages, it just came naturally to him. Eventually when he was saying his first words he was saying a mixture of both which is completely normal while a child is building their vocabulary.
The bilingual journey hasn’t always been easy
It can sometimes be a real struggle, for me and my children. Sometimes is is easier to just let him say what they want in whatever language they want, but we have tried to be consistent. We always make sure we correct him if they speak to either of us in the opposite language. Eg if he tells me something in Italian, I ask him to repeat it in English, and the other way around with my husband. Being consistent I have found is the key.
At first J had a preference for English as he spent most of his time with myself during the days, I was actually worried that he wouldn’t speak Italian, but living in Italy I really had nothing to worry about. Soon enough his Italian took over and by age 2 he was speaking simple, but full sentences in both languages.
There are some that say bilingual children can sometimes develop later on however this hasn’t been the case so far. I have not seen any delays in his language development, he is speaking as good as all of his friends in his pre-school class and his teacher’s tell me is doing quite well in general.
J is now almost four years old and translates between the languages. Sometimes we joke with him. I will say something to him in Italian and he will reply “no mummy you speak English, not Italian”. And I love it when we are at his Nonna’s house and everyone is having a conversation. I will ask him what they said, and he will explain me everything in English word for word. I feel so proud.
My youngest son K is almost two now and has followed his brothers lead starting to speak in both languages quite well. When they speak together it is a bit of a mix, depending on who they are playing with. Usually when I am with them they will speak with each other in English, and if they are with anyone else they tend to speak to each other in Italian. K will follow J’s lead mostly, he loves his big brother and loves to copy everything he says and does.
I don’t mind either way, as long as they can communicate with each other I will be happy. In the end they can choose whichever language is more comfortable between them.
“I’m not telling you It’s going to be easy, I’m telling you It’s going to be worth it” – Arthur Williams
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