When we moved to the UK my first son Andrea, who was at that time fifteen months old, had just been starting speaking a few Italian words. I wondered how the best approach to a new language could be for him in that critic phase. Then I thought that young children all around the world can learn two languages simultaneously, and in many parts of the world, being bilingual is the norm rather than an exception.
Raising bilingual children: our approach
Our approach as parents was to read something on the matter and we decided to follow our instinct and trust it.
It is said that parents should continue to speak their native language at home, and that’s what we did. Outside, in public, when I was enough comfortable with that, I have started to speak the community or dominant language, that for us is English. So we adopted the so called “Minority Language at home Strategy”.
When Andrea and I go to the playgroups, we speak in English. At the beginning it wasn’t simple, but it was the good reason for me to familiarize with the new language as well. I explained to him and he accepted quite well, not much confused about.
After a while we started some routines at home, for example reading some English books before going to bed or singing rhyme and songs that we learnt during the stay and play sessions and that Andrea really love (The wheels on the bus first of all).
Bilingual children have a greater sensitivity to language, a better ear for listening and the right phonetics education. I think that this is a big gift we are giving to our sons, especially when I think at my English level after so many years of studying and practice… There is also a deeper implication that I have to say I like in our expat life, that is the openness to other cultures and people from other countries. There are also some studies that show how bilingual children are better at problem solving (Article from The Indipendent ) and that there is evidence that being bilingual makes the learning of a third language easier.
The good news is also that raising as bilingual child is a good way to prevent cognitive decline with aging (like Alzheimer’s disease).
Bilingual children start speaking later than monolingual children, however there is nothing to concern about and it’s only matter of time.