(“Constant dripping wears the stone”)
Raising bilingual children is not only a commitment which requires lots of energy to provide the regular inputs, maintain the passion for the language throughout all the years, but also requires a great amount of flexibility.
When I stopped talking Italian to my son he was 4,5 years old. I honestly hoped that some day he would ask me to speak it with him again. 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).
A few years ago 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 the peer-pressure and the formal setting was the trigger for my son at this stage (11 yo).
I was immensely pleased when he asked me to talk Italian with him again; and he asked in Italian! I think that only parents whose children have not replied in the desired language for a long time can understand what this meant to me. These 6 words meant the world to me: “Vogliamo parlare in Italiano d’ora in poi?” It was the greatest gift he could give to me. – We now talk Italian in the weekends and occasionally when we are one-on-one. We both enjoy it very much!
This phase of re-introduction of Italian started 6 years ago and although my son does not read or write Italian regularly, and surely not up to a level of fluency that one could call nearly-native, and which was my initial plan, I am confident that should he ever need to improve his language skills, he has all he needs to succeed.
With this short “update”, I want to share that initial plans can change. It can be difficult to make a choice that meets the child’s needs, but there is always a chance to re-introduce a language later in life! We go through phases in all domains of life, also with regard to our languages.
My son is currently learning Chinese with his Chinese friend, which I wholeheartedly welcome and support! I am looking forward to seeing what the future of languages will bring!
When we “gave up” Italian and Swiss-German 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 replying to us in German and that they would forget those other languages and never be interested in them.
I think that the fact that those languages kept being important for my husband and me, that we still used them also in the presence of our children – while talking to friends etc. – and that we regularly visited our relatives who speak those languages, kept them easily accessible for them. Italian and Swiss-German are part of their language repertoire and they know that they can nurture them whenever they want.
I’m convinced that the consistent passive exposure to these other languages helped our children 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 Swiss-German for our son, which he talks with great confidence and the right intonation while talking to his Swiss-German 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 any later stage in their lives. – I know by my own experience that this can happen.
“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.”