Imagine if you had not only one first language, but TWO! Today we’re chatting with the lovely Kristie Prada from mammaprada.com whose lucky bambini are growing up speaking both English and Italian.
Thank you so much Mamma Prada for allowing me to interview you about raising bilingual children! I’ve really enjoyed connecting with you on Instagram, and as a future bilingual mamma, I am very inspired by you! There’s a lot of theories out there about how to raise bilingual children, but I think it’s important to hear the stories and experiences of bilingual families firsthand.
Cara Kelly! It’s so lovely to work with you. Instagram is such a great little community for bringing like minded people together. I’m very happy we can contribute to your wonderful site @kellysdolcevita!
Tell us a little bit about your family background. What inspired you to raise bilingual children?
My name’s Kristie, I’m English and my Husband is Italian. He’s from a small town between Milan and Lake Como. We live mostly in London and my Husband has been here 17 years now. We hope to move back to Italy permanently in the near future.
I think it was a very natural decision for us to want our children to benefit from two languages. We have both learnt languages from school age upwards to adulthood and it’s hard! Learning a language through immersion, hearing it at home or with relatives from birth is a much less painful way of learning and changes your brain so that you look at everything around you as potentially being called many different words. I’m continually amazed at my 19 month old daughter answering me in English and straight away swapping to say the same to her Papa’ in Italian
There are several common methods for raising bilingual children, such as “One Parent One Language” or “Minority Language at Home.” Are you strictly following one particular method? If so, how did you decide on this method?
We are following ‘One Parent One Language’. We started this way as my Husband and I have always spoken English together at home having been in London for so long. Also at first my Italian wasn’t good enough for us to speak Italian all the time. Although I kind of wish we had done this as it would be better now!
But OPOL seems to suit us and creates consistency which I think is the real key to teaching children to speak several languages. Whatever you decide to do, just stick to it. Most parents will know, with anything you try, children like routine, boundaries. They like to know what they should do where and when. We thought this method would offer the least confusion and it so far it has worked. If I sometimes say the odd word to them in Italian they both tell me off! They know I understand Italian now. (They used to translate what Papa’ said, which was very cute!) But they expect and feel more comfortable if I speak English. It also helps to balance your input with them as well. You explain yourself best in your mother tongue and you impart your culture, upbringing, values better that way. If you want your children to feel part English, part Italian (in our case) it works well to only speak to them in your language, with your own little sayings and things that make your culture unique.
I know it’s inevitable that when putting theory into practice there are always some hiccups. What are some challenges you have experienced and how have you tried to overcome them?
We go to Italy regularly and whenever we go my son’s Italian takes off brilliantly. You’re creating a need for him. If he wants Nonno to understand him for example, he has talk to in Italian. That need drives him to use it all the time and you see his confidence growing. In the same way when we return we gradually see his use of Italian slow down. He will try and get away with answering my Husband in English. We always push back and say no “In Italiano” and he will but more reluctantly.
The other thing I’ve noticed is being the first born my son definitely questioned at the beginning why he should speak a different language with his Dad. At this point you are making the child do something with takes a bit of work. They will always speak more of the language of the main carer, often the Mamma, as us Mums tend to be at home with them more. So if you’re trying to get them to use a language that they have less exposure to they want to know why they should. You can’t explain to a child the benefit in years to come of being bilingual.
So, you have to create a need. What would make your child want to speak another language? I’ve found that playdates with other children who speak the language you desire works well. Also try not to worry about the language part for a bit and focus on other things about that country that create interest. Think about educating your child about the country. Food, animals, maps, festivals, celebrations. I did a Venice Carnival party for my Son two years ago when we were stalling a bit with his interest in Italy. We had a few children over to our house, had pizza, made carnival cakes, I showed them YouTube videos of Venice and how the roads are all filled with water. We made masks. It made a huge difference. Suddenly Italy was cool again. And now I have to do the party every year.
What are some of the best Italian-English bilingual resources (for both parents and children) you’ve come across so far?
Chicco make great bilingual toys and can be bought online. One Third Stories have created some amazing books which start in one language and gradually intersperse words from the second language as they tell a lovely story. There are many resources on Amazon but they can be a bit hit and miss. I’m going to start reviewing and selling some of these on Mammaprada soon as we have spent a lot of time buying and trying things. It’s difficult to know what in practice makes a good product.
Also remember that not everything needs to be bought. One of our most successful tricks has been to write an Italian word of the day on a piece of paper, my Husband leaves it stuck to the front door every day when he leaves for work. Every morning my son finds it and has a look at it while he has his breakfast. We then stick it in a scrapbook and he can colour around it and draw a picture of what it means to help him remember it.
Some families stick post-its with the words for everyday items around the house so as you go to a door for example there will be a note ‘la porta’. There’s lots of ways you can create exposure to a language.
But failing all that Disney have a lot of language options on their children’s DVDs!
What are some ways that you recommend future bilingual mammas prepare now to raise bilingual children effectively?
- I would say it’s mental preparation!
- Choose a method that you will use with your child and try your best to stick to it.
- Be comfortable that this is a long term venture. It will take time and effort and you will have periods where you see no results or appear to go backwards. It’s completely normal and like most things with children these are phases which will pass.
- Your child will understand your different languages very quickly but will not answer in both for a long time. Usually the minority language is spoken more fluently around 4 years old.
- So with that in mind relax about it. Just keep plugging away with the method you chose and try not to worry too much about the level your child is achieving.
- Confidence is a big thing and I’ve found increases when your child is in the country with the minority language. So if you can do a trip or use Skype with relatives do so.
- Don’t think that tiny babies don’t understand you. They will recognise sounds within weeks so each of you should use your different languages straight away. Even as you pick them up say ‘Up’ or ‘Su’ and they will tense their little neck in preparation of being picked up.
- Finally as your child grows they will start to understand that some families have people from different nationalities in them. They will become comfortable that this is ok. That it’s fine to be different. That it’s even a little bit cool and that they don’t mind that they may stand out a bit compared with their friends. When this happens they become less bothered about their dual nationality and start to embrace it. Their desire to use the language then increases. Having had two children I’ve found all the challenges and the barriers have come with the first. Now my youngest speaks Italian very readily and just wants to model what her older Brother is doing. So it does get easier the second time round!
- Lastly don’t give up! Sharing your language is a gift!
Be sure to check out mammaprada.com to learn more about this amazing bilingual mamma! Some of my favorite articles on Mamma Prada are about teaching your children about cultural differences, trusting your instinct as a mother, and this creative and meaningful way to learn new Italian vocabulary.
Thank you Kristie for sharing all about your family’s bilingual journey! Bilingual bambini are the luckiest bambini!
La Dolce Vita through from California to Italy. I’m Kelly, an American girl with Italian taste in food & wine. I blog about learning Italian, food & wine pairings, how to find authentic Italian ingredients in the US, and seasonal recipes from scratch.