Any parent with a connection to Italy is probably dreaming of bringing up little bilingual babies who speak Italian, understand the culture and can make gnocchi with Nonna!
The truth is unless you live in Italy, keeping up with any language education is tough going.
For adults, learning a new language is a long journey of classes, immersion, and holidays. Exposing yourself to the language and using it in sometimes painful situations!
Even then we all find it difficult so how are you supposed to teach your children Italian if you know it. Or encourage your child to learn if you don’t!
Interactive activities will always enable the most amount of retention but there are plenty of things you can do to achieve this and support your child’s learning on those busy school nights.
Word of the day
An easy way to help your child up their vocabulary in a new language is to use a new word each day.
Every morning leave a word written on a piece of paper on the kitchen table or wherever you will all be together. When you get up you read the word and its meaning aloud and have a chat about it over breakfast.
At the weekend go over all the words you learnt that week and try and use them when you can to help with retention.
Even though it seems like you have to create something for this task. All you really need is paper and a pen. To sit down every couple of weeks and write down twenty words you have thought about recently.
Once you get into this habit you will notice new words everywhere. Maybe you went to the park or zoo or your child is learning a particular topic at school. Write down all the words you can think of to do with that. Now translate them into Italian. Very quickly you will find you have a pile ready for the weeks ahead.
Swap your bedtime stories
Change your evening bedtime story books for Italian ones. Most of us read to our children before bed so this is a quick win. Get into the habit of only having Italian books in the bedroom and then there’s no excuse not to use them.
TV, Radio & Podcasts
Whenever your little ones are requesting their favourite film, make sure you switch to the Italian language option. And not even with the subtitles!
Most DVDs have this option now, especially the most popular cartoons.
You can also switch to Italian radio at home and podcasts so that the majority language at home is not so prevalent. They will tune their ears to these conversations and songs and become more comfortable at using the language themselves.
Music and Youtube
Similarly you can now buy CDs of children’s nursery rhymes in other languages such as these by Baby Boom. My children find them hilarious but still keep using them.
On YouTube the channel CoccoleSonnare has a great selection of fun videos with songs, for children. Try these popular ones:
- Il coccodrillo come fa
- Il caffè della Peppina
- Batti batti le manine.
On the YouTube channel Canzoni per bimbi.it we love Nella Vecchia Fattoria (Old Macdonald had a farm).
Time and place
Obviously time spent talking and listening will be the most beneficial way for your child to learn but supported by some of the tools above.
If you’re a native Italian, speaking at home with your children is natural. However if it is your second language or another combination you may find it hard and resist this change yourself.
If this sounds like your family I would recommend using the ‘Time and Place’ method.
You choose a time and place where you will always speak Italian. It could be at dinner, on the school run. In a certain room or on car journeys.
This is a much less overwhelming way to start and once everyone is comfortable doing it you can expand it to other areas of your lives.
Don’t forget that there will be other Italian families nearby. At school, nursery in classes on weekends or in baby groups. Often you can find Saturday schools in your area with families just like yours.
Do some detective work and ask if people fancy a park trip.
Not only will your children get used to another family using Italian at home as a second language.
It’s great for their sense of identity to realise that there are other families just like their own.
I hope you find these tips useful. None involve changing your life too much, doing lessons together formally or any pressure which children are quick to notice!