Friday, October 9, 2015

Teaching Italian to Children

So the post title may seem a little misleading considering the blog pictures are made up of my son eating blueberries. But there's a point I promise you.

From day numero uno with our 3 kids (in utero honestly), I have been speaking to our children in Italian. Whether it was reading a book in Italian or just talking about daily activities. It's not all day, every day, but it's enough times that they each are comfortable with the language at their age and for it not being technically their first language. They grasp basic questions and statements no problem and do well with numbers and ABCs. Our oldest amazes me regularly with how much she she can comprehend of the language but she's also the one I spoke to the most in Italian since very little. A goal I set for myself each January is to aim to speak more to them in Italian and get them to speak it back.

That's the kicker, neither of our oldest two regularly speak Italian in response to us. Their responses I'd say come back in English more than half of the time. More than half of the time is better than not at all, but for as much as they hear the language around our house and with their Nonni, I'd thought I'd hear it more from them. They both struggle with getting the response incorrect in Italian that they just fall back to their given language knowing they'll get it right.

That's where these pictures come to make a little more sense...

Little man picks up on Italian so well and repeats often words in Italian that are spoken to him. He'll pick out one or two words at this point in a phrase said to him in Italian, pick a word or two to repeat back to us and remembers it the next time. The girls were both like this too and eventually I slacked on speaking to them as often as I should have been and encouraging them to repeat words back to me in Italian, that they both just revert to English most of the time. I need to get back to encouraging them, like I encourage my toddler during the course of the day, to repeat back to me in Italian the word or phrase.

One of Mario's first spoken Italian words was "uva" - grape. He loves uva and gets excited when he sees them. Blueberries look like grapes in that they are small and round so he calls them "uva" too. I've actually hardly said to him the word "mirtilli" which means blueberries in Italian.  I gave him the word for grape early on when he began eating them and that stuck in his adorable little head as an actual grape AND a blueberry. I don't correct him, but I will as he gets older and can attempt to say "mirtilli".

Learning the English language is work enough for little children that introducing another language at the same time just might be a recipe for disaster. I don't know, everything I've ever seen or heard is that teaching them young is the best approach. Teach them the English and Italian word together and they'll get to be comfortable with both languages and hopefully not struggle to speak in either language.

It's all really a learning process for me, I know children learn differently and while verbal repetition might be good for some, doesn't mean it works for everyone. But I'm going to try to go back to what I was doing early on with Sofia and just speak to them as often as possible in Italian and make sure they are learning the words for both family languages. Because at the end of the day, it is our heritage and I don't want to lose that with them. I hear from so many people of Italian immigrants that they wish their parents had spoken to them in Italian and taught them their language.

This kid really loves his "uva"!

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