Raising children bilingual and bicultural is one of the main benefits that parents and educators can provide them. Although the common understanding of exposing children to more than one language is often equal to slow development, confusion and damage to the use of the first language, in reality bilingual children gain more linguistic, cultural and intercultural opportunities as well as skills than a monolingual child.
Benefits of use of two or more languages are many and they range from cognitive, linguistic, and cultural aspects to social and academic ones. Knowing another language enhances the child’s mental development as well as the ability to concentrate and it allows him to focus and to process information at a quick peace. In addition, the child can extend the vocabulary size and the memory box, while becoming more aware of cultural elements in the daily life as well as of differences and similarities in various communities.
Becoming bilingual allows children to understand social rules and their cultural and social application while shaping a more complex personal, social, and cultural identity.
We want our children to become appreciative of diversities as a citizen of the world and we want them prepared and comfortable enough to one day, choose the country they want to live in.
Tips for maintaining the use of the second language
As parents we may wonder what is the best way to approach the use of the second language in our child’s daily life. Should we correct mistakes? Should we push the use of the L2? How much L2 should we use?
There is no straight and unique answer to parental concerns, but for sure we can learn how to make the most out of our child’s learning experience. Here are a few tips:
- Allow you child to do mistakes in the second language at least until she/he will feel confident enough to pursue an entire conversation in L2
- Keep using the L2 in different situation of the daily life, making explicit the association within L2 use and context of use. For example, during dinner time, you may want to use only Italian and you will address you child in Italian and you will expect your child to do the same. You can also use L2 during bed time, or breakfast time. In this way your child will build up a specific vocabulary pertinent to specific routinized activities.
- When it’s L2 time, try to prompt an L2 answer from your child’s request. For example if your child asks for colors, you may want to have that request said in the second language. “can I have crayons” can simply become “posso avere i pennarelli”. Only with the second request, children will have what they have asked for, Children know how and when to obtain things with minimum effort and they won’t use the second language if it’s not necessary.
- Be aware of the importance of code switching as mechanism very often applied with extreme regularity among and by bilinguals. Bilingual children (as well as adults) tend to switch from one language to another according to the speakers, the use, the content and context. Codes switch is a common and important strategy that needs to be considered as sign of mastering both languages. It has to be allowed and understood in its linguistic and social values.
For example, let’s consider this short conversation
A: Io voglio colorare questo, mi dai il…. tape?
B: Here, take it.
A: Grazie! Quando ho finito te lo do
B: Va bene. Come si dice tape..?
A: I don’t know. Non lo so
The children in the dialogue are both able to use both languages, Italian and English, in their attempt to convey messages and to allow communication. Code switching won’t create any issues with the development of each language but it will represent a creative attempt to master two language systems.
If your child is bilingual and Italian is one of the two languages, or if you want your child to learn Italian, you can use bilingual books and make stories available to your child in both languages. Start with this new book from Long Bridge Publishing. Italian vowels allows the parents to read rhymes in Italian, to expose the child to Italian pronunciation and intonation while introducing new simple words starting with vowels. A bilingual book like this, will allow you and your child to increase the vocabulary size in the second language while drawing together the new words and repeating the rhymes. The important linguistic element in this book is the fact that, no matter what language you speak first, you will always find vowels in the world languages. This is why we strongly recommend starting from vowels, especially in preschool years, in order to move up to other letters of the alphabet.
About the Author: MariaTeresa Bonfatti Sabbioni, native of Italy, lives and works as Italian Lecture in the cold but beautiful Chicago with her husband. She is the author of “Vocali Italiane – Italian Vowels: A Picture Book about the Vowels of the Italian Alphabet“.