(“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.
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).
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.
“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.”