Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Bilingual babies

Do bilingual babies exist? Is it possible that a child can switch from one language to the other with such ease that they don't even realise they are doing it? In my opinion and in my experience the answers are yes. How do you raise a child to be bilingual? Everyone has their own method, their own approach and what I write about is just what we found works for us.

When we lived in Italy I spoke to bel bambino in English while bel marito and pretty much everyone else spoke to him in Italian. Sure there were people who frowned upon this bilingual business, there were people who thought that we were confusing him and that he was too small to have these different languages thrown at him, but we didn't pay them any attention. He didn't seem to be confused, he didn't seem to struggle and so we just kept going.

We left Italy when bel bambino was a little under 2 years old. Before leaving he  only spoke a few words and those words were a mixture of both languages. We think he just choose the word he found easier which was normally English. In English we say car and in Italian can see why his little mind used to say car and not macchina, it was just easier. We didn't care, the important thing for us was to be consistent. I always spoke to him in English, in front of other people, even in front of bel marito. Bel marito and I spoke Italian together so if we were at the dinner table I would address bel marito in Italian and when I had something to say to bel bambino I would look at him and switch to English. He knew that his mamma could speak the same as his papa' but his mamma didn't speak to him in papa's language. 

I had a friend who asked me for bilingual advice since her child did not seem to understand the different languages. My advice to her was to be consistent. Her husband was Italian but spoke English so he sometimes spoke to their son in English and sometimes in Italian, she did the same thing. I think this confused the little boy as he needed to get used to hearing the one language come out of the same persons mouth so that he could start to associate. He will not know that papa' speaks Italian and mummy English, but he will start to hear that his papa's voice is different and that papa' says macchina and mummy says car even though they are the same thing. I told her to stick to one language each and to test the child. We used to test bel bambino all the time to make sure that he was understanding both languages. While reading a book I would ask him to point to the car and bel marito would ask the same thing in Italian. Speaking would come later, for us it was important to make sure that he could understand us. We used to love testing him at the dinner table. I would ask him to give me a fork in English and bel marito would ask for some bread in Italian and it was so cute and so exciting to watch him actively respond. Our little boy was bilingual, he couldn't say more then a few words but he was bilingual!

And then we moved to Australia. What do you think happens next? Does our bilingual baby begin to speak? Which language will he speak? Will he forget Italian? We have a bella bambina now. What language will her first word be in?


Marcellina In Cucina said...

Welcome back! I hadn't realised you had started posting again! I really enjoy your writing and even if I don't comment all the time I love to read! Thank you!
This topic is close to my heart. I was raised by Italian parents in Australia. At home I spoke Italian and out I spoke English. My older sister went to school only speaking italian ( it was hard!) but when she learnt English she and I would communicate in English at home. I still remember getting words mixed up like celery and insalata. I used "faint" to say pretend (fintare?). But other than that I consider myself lucky and felt so at home in Italy last year. You are giving your children a gift, I wish I had been my persistent with my children. Take care.

Leanne was in Italy now in Australia said...

Thanks Marcellina,
It is a gift, i was not raised bilingual and so wish i were.

glenda said...

I So happy you made it back to letting up know how things are going