Which language to choose (part II)



Steter Tropfen höhlt den Stein

Steter Tropfen höhlt den Stein (Photo credit: tschoppi)

 (“Constant dripping wears the stone”)

Raising bilingual children is not only a commitment and demands lots of energy to provide the regular inputs, maintain the passion for the language throughout all the years, but also requires to be flexible.

Almost two years ago I wrote a post about the language choice we had to make within our family and how we managed to still keep up with the languages we didn’t talk on a regular basis.

When I stopped talking Italian to my son 7 years ago, I obviously hoped that some day he would ask to learn it. Among my children he is the one who started earlier with reading and writing, and he is  very talented in languages (and literature in general).

This year he had the opportunity to follow classes in Spanish and French and I was very pleased to see that he loved both of them. We had very long discussions about the similar vocabulary, the difference in orthography and, of course, the analogies with Italian. This exposure to related languages made him realize that talking Italian is valuable too. It wasn’t the first time he heard those languages, but learning about them at school, in a setting with peers, made them apparently more valuable for him. For me this was a very interesting aspect. I always thought that being exposed to a language in “real life”, i.e. during holidays and with friends would suffice to persuade somebody of the necessity to learn it. But apparently the peer-pressure and the formal setting was the trigger for my son at this stage (11 yo).


English: Chart of Romance languages based on s...

English: Chart of Romance languages based on structural and comparative criteria not on socio-functional ones. Based on the chart published in “Koryakov Y.B. Atlas of Romance languages. Moscow, 2001″. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


And then something for me very pleasant happened: my son asked me to talk Italian with him. And he asked it in Italian! This “Vogliamo parlare in Italiano d’ora in poi?” was the greatest gift he could give me. – We now talk Italian in the weekends. Just he and I, when we have one-on-one time. And we both enjoy it very much.

So this is another phase of the multilingual journey in our family I’m really pleased to write about. My son is currently re-discovering books we already had, also those for younger children, but I’m sure this summer he will enjoy the ones his cousins kept for him too, from age 11 upwards.


Rita Rosenback just published a book called Bringing up a Bilingual Child, where she mentions the seven “C’s” of successful multilingual parenting: communication, confidence, commitment, consistency, creativity, culture and celebration.

When we “gave up” Italian and Swissgerman a few years ago, my husband and I were worried that this lack of consistency would affect the language acquisition of our children. We thought that they would not understand us talking German to them, that they would refuse talking back to us in German and that they would forget those languages and never be interested in talking them.

I think that the fact that those languages kept being important for my husband and me, that we would still use them also in the presence of our children – while talking to friends etc. – and that we regularly visited our relatives who talk those languages, kept them easily accessible for them.

I’m convinced that the consistent passive exposure to these other languages helped our son to still have “a good rapport” to them. Like if the door to access those languages was always open. This not only happened for Italian, but also for Swissgerman which he talks with great confidence and the right intonation while talking to his Siwssgerman family. The fact that our children would not actively use them on a regular basis does not prevent them to use and learn them at a later stage in their lives. – I know by my own experience that this can happen at any stage, even when you’re already adult.


Planting seeds of knowledge

Planting seeds of knowledge (Photo credit: CIMMYT)

 “We can plant different seeds, water them, expose them to sun, but can’t predict how fast they grow and when they will come to fruition.”










Categories: Being multilingual, Family, Multilingual children, Multilingualism, Ute's language lounge

Tags: , , , , , ,

9 replies

  1. How sweet that you and your son have a language that you speak together on weekends. And it is very encouraging to hear that he is realizing the importance of those other languages, even if the catalyst is peer pressure.

    • Yes, I was not sure if he would ever ask me to talk Italian to him again, but I also think that he realized how important this language is for me and now that he is “ready” to learn it and wants to know more, I’m more than keen to help him. – If it felt hard to “let go” Italian and Swissgerman at the beginning, it is really comforting to see that our children are interested in learning the other languages we talk. – And I made a promise to myself: if one of my children decides to learn a language I don’t speak, I will learn it too. It seems only fair to me.

      • A wonderful example. I hope I can do the same for my boys if they decide to learn another language.

      • Thank you thriftytravelmama! I’m sure you will. Which languages do you speak with your boys? English and German? I’m sure that during your trips you’ll lighten their passion for language as part of the culture too. Alles Gute und bis bald! ;-)

      • Yes, we are pathetic monolingual Americans striving to become bilingual for the sake of our kids (and ourselves, but for some reason children are a stronger motivator). Though we don’t have to, and it’s awkward and hard sometimes, we try to speak German at home during dinner. And yes, our hope is that by traveling the world, they will grow up to be world citizens that value and adopt other cultures as part of their own. Vielen dank :)

      • Ha, I like your humour! It’s great that you introduced German during dinner: I find it the most exciting moment of the day. At least in our family: everyone wants to talk about the day and the wordflow is sometimes overwhelming (mostly in a positive way ;-) ). You’re raising TCKs with all the advantages this kind of live entails. I’m looking forward to knowing more about your journey. Alles Gute und viel Spaß!

  2. You must have been delighted. Interesting to see what factors influence our kids most. I’ve enjoyed delving into your blog and am happy to know that someone out there has been successful at reactivating a family language.

    • Thank you, Georgia. Yes, I’ve been very happy about this new turn in our linguistic journey. Reactivating a family language is actually much easier than some expect. I think the most important point is the mutual commitment between the child(ren) and the parents (or caregivers). We actually re-defined our family languages during these summer holidays and discussed everyone’s language preferences (I’ll write about this soon).
      I’m very glad you like my blog and would love to know more about you.


  1. Language Learning Barriers: This Month’s Multilingual Blogging Carnival! | Multilingual Mama

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