Having been brought up monolingual I never thought about learning another language until I came to Italy. Living in an English speaking country my whole life I never felt there was no need to speak another language as everyone I knew spoke English. As I travelled and met new people, I realised that languages aren’t just about words. A new language is a new culture, a new way of looking at the world, and a new outlook on life.
When I married my Italian husband and had our two boys, now almost two and four years old, there was no doubt that we would bring them up to be bilingual, it felt natural to us to speak to them in our native language so that’s what we have done since birth.
It has been an exciting experience watching them learn two languages simultaneously and though it has been a challenge, I have seen the benefits
Introducing a third language
About a year ago we decided to introduce a third language, even though neither of us speak it. We thought it would be a good opportunity for our children as Spanish one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. Knowing what it feels like to learn a language as an adult, we knew it would be best to start as early as possible.
We didn’t want to give them “lessons” as such because being so young they are not able to sit and concentrate for too young. Just as they had learned English and Italian from us, we wanted to introduce it in the most natural way possible.
What we did
At first I called up schools to see if they had any native Spanish speakers that could come “play” with my children however I had no luck. They only offered language lessons and were more concerned about how much they would achieve in x amount of sessions. It was by coincidence that I met a local Argentinian girl who agreed to come spend time with my boys and introduce them to the Spanish language.
At first it was a few hours per week, but as the boys got used to her she started coming more often, around 4-5 days per week for around 2hrs at a time. This gives them a good amount of exposure to the language every week.
From day one Ana has only spoken to our boys in Spanish. At the start my boys didn’t understand a word and spoke back to her in Italian or English, but she always answered back in Spanish even if she understood. She was consistent and in just a few days they were repeating Spanish words already.
We brought some new Spanish books online and Ana and the boys usually read at least one or two stories together every time she is over. Reading stories have helped a lot reinforcing the language and introduce them to new vocabulary. The boys love to read and talk about the pictures and they look forward to story time.
We also downloaded some Spanish songs and nursery rhymes, and they sing quite a lot together. Singing every day has helped my children learn different words and has helped a lot with their memory. Even before my son started speaking any Spanish, he could sing a couple of songs word for word.
How it has progressed
Over the past year my 4 year old has learned a lot and is able to hold a Spanish conversation. Though his little brother only speaks bits and pieces of all three languages, he understands everything. We are looking forward to watching them improve and I hope that one day they will be fluent Spanish speakers or even trilingual.