Saturday 24 March 2012

Bilingual babies

I can't exactly say that bel bambino is bilingual since he doesn't speak yet, but I hope and I think that he will. I read a little into raising bilingual children but basically we are just doing what comes naturally. I speak to bel bambino only in English and bel marito speaks to him only in Italian. When we are together I speak mostly to bel marito in Italian but if I have to address bel bambino it's always in English. If the 3 of us are having dinner then I often speak to both of them in English (since bel marito already spoke English long before he met me) and bel marito speaks to both of us in Italian.

Sound confusing? Most people here are very positive about me speaking English to bel bambino. I speak to him in English in front of other people and if I am not directing my comment at them then I don't bother to translate. My in-laws are used to me babbling away in English. Sometimes they will ask me what I am saying but most of the time they don't. They have even picked up a few words of English themselves and like saying "bye bye" and "good night" they understand and sometimes say "milk" and I am sure there are other phrases that I regularly use that they get the gist of.

We were out at the park today and bel bambino's little friend who is 2 was waiting for his turn on the slide. "Go go" he called out and I started to laugh since this is what I call out to bel bambino to get him to go down the slide and his little friend, without me knowing, has learnt and now repeats this phrase! It was priceless to hear.

Some people are worried about us confusing bel bambino with our dual language system and I've only come across 1 person, a young person mind you who has told me that she thinks it is silly that I am teaching him English and that I should be teaching him the local dialect! I can't even speak dialect! But she's never left the village, never even taken her children to the beach which is only a 25 minute drive away so I don't pay much heed to her comments.

I have read that perhaps bel bambino will be a late speaker, only time will tell but we are in no rush. The important thing for us is that we know he understands both of us. When I say "where is your water?" bel bambino goes and gets his water. When bel marito says the same thing in Italian, he goes and gets his water. When we ask him in either language to play some music he goes and presses keys on his keyboard. So as far as we are concerned he is well on his way to becoming bilingual.

And he does speak. He says 3 words  (that we understand, the rest is non-stop baby babble which maybe are words that just aren't so clear yet.) Can you guess what they are? Ok, no guesses for the first word which was mamma, or ma ma ma as he calls me, slowly but surely I am often getting 2 syllable now. His second word was papa' which I think is normal since P is a little harder to pronounce then M. And his third word. It's banana! How funny. He actually says anana without the B but we assume this was his first word for 2 reasons. The first being that banana is the only word that we use which is the same in both our languages, and the second being that he is half monkey who eats bananas like you can't imagine. If I try to slip a banana into my bag and he sees it he screams ANANA and won't stop until you give it to him to eat!

Now we are waiting for the next which language will it be. Logically I would say it will be milk or water but my money is on either button or shoe. Yes, odd but then again is there another baby out there who said banana as his first non-mamma and non-dadda/papa' word?


Carolina said...

Good for you Leanne! You're doing the best thing for your son- stick with what you feel is met our boys who always spoke English with me and are still speaking Italian and dialect despite the fact we left Malito 12 years ago!
I love the little monkey comment- he is so adorable! Keep us posted what the winning third word will be!

Unknown said...

I was born in Australia to a Calabrian mother and Emilia Romagnian father. They never spoke their dialects (because they were so different) but instead spoke to us in Italian. Of course, I pick up english as it was all around me. I don't remember a great deal of confusion (though some words I did mix up). Now I love that I can fluently speak Italian and english. I wish I had another language. One particular family in our town is part Finnish part Italian and the children speak Finn, Italian and English. You can never do wrong by giving your son the gift of languages. He is a little sponge and will absorb and cope! Don't worry! You must be a great mum!

LindyLouMac said...

Personally I think one of the best gifts you can give your children is the ability to be bi-lingual, by doing exactly what you are doing.

Kay said...

Just to reassure you, educational theory (last time I checked) was that while the bi-lingual (lucky) child may take longer to pick things up at school he is not slow to catch up and then goes on to make the most of the advantage he has had. While he may struggle occasionally with formal grammar he will have a better understanding of grammar and language in general and a huge head start should he choose to learn more languages.

There are some who argue for and some against the "bi-lingual from birth" approach, but I think it is the best gift you can give your child.

I was amused in an airport to hear the Scottish mother speaking to her child in Italian and the child replying in English, while the father spoke in English and the child replied to him in Italian. I don't think the child was old enough to do this for a joke, it seemed more an intuitive reaction!

Ryan said...

How long did it take you to learn Italian? I have been in Italy for over a year now and still have trouble understanding people when they speak. I am grasping the grammar now and vocabulary is building but I can't understand the simplest thing someone says in Italian. I can't seem to identify the words as it all flows so neatly and sentances sound like words :)

Cathy said...

I agree with Linda about it being one of the best gifts you can give your children, and also with Kay that it may take longer for them to pick up both languages. When we moved back to Italy from Australia in mid 2006 neither of our children had any Italian. They are now 10 and 11 years old and bilingual.

Leanne was in Italy now in Australia said...

Hi Carolina said...
Your sons are the best example. They spoke English like you and then just turned to your husband and spoke to him in Italian, but proper Italian. That is bilingual

Hi Marcella
I am envious that you learnt Italian growing up, I wish that I had as it would have made life much easier when I first moved here.

Hi LindyLouMac in Italy,
It is a gift, a fantastic one!

Hi Kay
I think "bi-lingual from birth" is the only way to go. It is the easiest in terms of me.

Hi Ryan
Hmm...good question. I think it took me about 2 years until I could actually talk rather well. I always worked for english companies so my italian was not pushed to its limits. I know what you mean about not understanding as Italians talk fast! It'll happen that one day you will realise you spoke to someone and actually understood them. It seems as though it will never happen but it will.

Hi Cathy,
Great that your kids are bilingual too. I know quite a few mother tongue english people whose children don't speak english.

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Anonymous said...

Hi again Leanne,

Thanks for your response regarding speaking Italian. I am getting a lot better now but like you say it seems like I'll never make it :) I just had one other query regarding work in Italy... Did you find it hard to find work? To be honest I am not interested in teaching children english or anything else (I would go insane) but does the travel industry have good prospects in your opinion? Have you any advice for a foreigner who barely speaks Italian (with UK passport)? PS I am from the North of Italy in between Milan and Pavia.



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