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bilingual childrenGuest post by Laura Caputo-Wickham

It’s a warm sunny day in the south of England, and I am enjoying a cup of coffee with some other mums that I met at my antenatal course. We make a point to meet up regularly and so far we have managed. Our babies are now toddlers and are just starting to play together, or rather, to steal each other’s toys and throw tantrums.

As always we find ourselves marveling at how much they have grown since we last met and the inevitable comparison of our children’s milestones soon starts.


A sense of uneasiness starts to come over me as everyone begins to list all the new words and complete sentences that their, seemingly oddly talented, children can say. When it’s my turn to comment, I am frustrated to say that, other than a couple of simple words, my little one still hasn’t said much. “But it might be because I’m raising her to be bilingual”, I explain hastily; to which I receive many nods of approval and some promises that “soon she’ll be able to speak two languages fluently, how clever is that?” I smile and hope that they are right.


Surprisingly enough, the majority of the world’s population is bilingual or multilingual. But what is, in some countries, perceived as natural, in others is a resolute choice. This is particularly true for English-speaking countries, where the fact that English is so widely spread, represents both a blessing and a curse at the same time. Not having to learn new languages to be able to communicate will inevitably result in missing out many of the benefits that speaking two or more languages entails.


But what are these benefits?

As Christine, a French mother of two who lives in the U.K. says: “There are a lot advantages: my daughters took their French exam with little effort, they learn other languages with less struggle than English speakers and they are more open, I think, to other cultures.”


The benefits of bilingualism have been the subject of many papers and articles in the recent years, all aiming to discredit the out of date ideas that raising children with more than one language could be damaging to their development.

The list of benefits ranges from the more obvious and practical ones, like being able to communicate with the extended family or having more job opportunities, to more surprising ones, like the ability to delay dementia.


As Christine mentioned, bilingualism has also been linked to a higher level of open mindedness of the different. In a study carried by professors Dewaele and Li Wei from Birkbeck College, University of London, it was pointed out that “The knowledge of multiple languages and the experience of having to survive in a foreign language and culture make individuals more tolerant of ambiguity.”[1]

This study is particularly interesting because it shows that bilingualism also affects the personality and the character or a person in a positive way.


There is no doubt that bilingualism has many benefits, but if that is so, then why do many parents give up on raising bilingual children, or decide not to try altogether?


I have often heard how the acquisition of more than one language is a natural process in the mind of a young child, but what is often not mentioned, is the hard work that parents have to put in to create the right environment for this process to take place and the second language to flourish. It’s a big commitment that often comes at great expense. I believe it ought to be acknowledged.


I asked a large group of parents of bilingual children the question: “What would you say is, or has been the biggest obstacle, difficulty or frustration in raising your children bilingual?” The number of replies was overwhelming. It was clear from the very first answers that these parents needed to express the challenges that are inevitably part of this amazing and (in the long run) rewarding journey.


I have collected some of the main ones and listed them below:


Uninformed comments:

Even though the way society perceives bilingualism has radically changed in the recent years, there is still room for improvement. Many of the parents I had the chance to interview, agreed that some societies seem to tolerate bilingualism rather than actively encourage it. For example, some of them feel that speaking the minority language to their children in front of monolinguals is considered rude. Others are still the target of negative comments. These are often from people belonging to past generations, like anxious grandparents. As one of the mum puts it: “my in-laws will pass frequent, relatively harmless comments about deficiencies in the majority language, then go out and boast to all their friends how great the kids are in both languages!”.


Other parents expressed frustration at hearing preschool teachers blaming the child’s minor speech or behavior problems on bilingualism.


It takes good preparation from the parent to be able to defend their point of view. It can be disheartening and tiring, especially when one finds oneself answering the same questions over and over again, but I believe it is the part we have to play in order to make more people aware of the benefits that multilingualism brings.


Unsupported teachers:

Many parents complained that some pre-schools or indeed schools are not geared up for bilingual/multilingual children. For example, there are situations where a child has only been exposed to the minority language and will therefore struggle to communicate at first. Or where the child’s speech might be delayed or mixed (especially in very young children). One of the mums I have interviewed said that this lack of information on how to deal with bilingual children goes beyond teachers and caregivers: “It goes up to curriculum designers and educational policies. I think that is what causes all our practical problems and makes us parents completely responsible for working with our kids’ multi/ bilingualism. It doesn’t need to be that way.”


And indeed it doesn’t. Many organizations like NABE (National Association for Bilingual Education http://www.nabe.org/BilingualEducation) in the U.S.A. or the NALDIC (National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum http://www.naldic.org.uk) in the U.K. are dedicated to promoting and facilitating bilingualism in schools. But they need our support and personal experience in order to thrive. Our role could also be to serve as a link between them and our local schools.


Sense of isolation:

One mum said: “I am the only exposure my 15 month old son has to Swahili and I do not have enough material, [there is] not much on the Internet either to assist me.”


There are certain circumstances where a parent can be the only minority speaker for the child; this is often the case for languages that are not as widely spread. This situation will create many obstacles for the parents: it could make them feel isolated, or make them doubt and reconsider their wish to raise their children bilingual. It could also make the task more difficult in practice, as the material in the minority language is not readily available and getting hold of any type of book or media will come at a cost. Which leads us to our next point…


An expensive business:

Books, DVDs, posters, interactive toys and indeed trips to the country where the minority language is spoken all add to cost of raising a child, which is already an expensive business. And often, the less the language is spread, the higher the prices will be.


Luckily, new technology can come to our rescue. Thanks to social media, it is possible to talk to other parents of bilingual children around the world. This can lead to a good exchange of opinions, ideas, reviews and indeed materials.


Another alternative is to meet up with other parents of bilingual children. This is a good opportunity to get to know other situations, encourage each other and let the children play together in an environment where communicating in more than one language is not only normal, but encouraged.


It is in fact the way our children perceive bilingualism that seems to be the biggest source of frustration amongst parents:


The child’s refusal to speak the minority language:

After all the time, energy and money invested in teaching the minority language, the child refuses to speak it, or even asks the parents to stop speaking it altogether. Sadly this has been the reason why some parents have given up on their pursuit. This frustration is completely understandable. Besides, we are doing it for our children, and the last thing we want is to see them upset.


Professor Colin Baker writes in his book “A Parent’s and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism (Multilingual Matters, Third Edition) that “Children often don’t want to appear different. They want to conform to the status-giving behavior of the peer group. This may entail a temporary non-use of one of their languages.”


Starting from a very young age, children do not want to be different. They want to feel like they belong. They do not seem to realize the great potential that speaking more languages gives. When I realized this, I started to worry: I could just picture my strong willed girls rolling their eyes every time I speak to them in my native language. It was this fear that inspired me to write my book “A Fish in Foreign Waters”, the story of a little fish who has to move with her family to a different part of the sea, where they speak a funny sounding language. She will face some of the most common challenges and difficulties that being bilingual entails, but an unexpected surprise on the day of her birthday will help her to realize that doubling the languages, doubles the friends.


My hope is that this book can be a helpful tool in helping our children to appreciate their situation and help, in some way, to lighten the burden of all the parents out there who are investing so much in the lives of their little bilingual darlings.

[1] JEAN­MARC DEWAELE and LI WEI (2013). Is multilingualism linked to a higher tolerance of ambiguity?. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 16, pp 231­240 doi:10.1017/S1366728912000570


Laura Caputo-Wickham is a mother and book author.  She was raised bilingual, so was her mother and so are her two daughters. Her own experience inspired her to write “A Fish in Foreign Waters” a book to encourage and inspire bilingual children.

Language learning stylesIt is important to know how each student learns in order to make the teaching effective.

Answering the following five questions can help determine a student’s learning style:


  1. What type of information does the student takes in best?
  2. Through which modality is sensory information most effectively perceived?
  3. How does the student prefer to process information?
  4. How does the student progress toward understanding?
  5. With which organization of information is the student most comfortable?
  • sensory : sights, sounds, physical sensations, or
  • intuitive: memories, ideas, insights?
  • visual: pictures, diagrams, graphs, demonstrations, or
  • verbal: written and spoken words and formulas?
  • actively: through engagement in physical activity or discussion, or
  • reflectively: through introspection?
  • sequentially: in a logical progression of small incremental steps, or
  • globally: in large jumps?
  • inductive: facts and observations are given, underlying principles are inferred, or
  • deductive: principles are given, consequences and applications are deduced?


When students are subjected over extended periods of time to teaching styles inconsistent with their learning style preferences, they may experience stress, frustration, and burnout.


The solution: Matching teaching styles to learning styles to significantly enhance academic achievement, student attitudes, and student behavior.


[Extract from the free ebook “Foreign And Second Language Teaching Methods, Learning Styles And Sample Activities]

learning italian

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stop studying without stopping learning

Most of us do not enjoy reading grammar books, memorize new vocabulary using flashcards, and sit down and do language tests.

Rejoice: there is relief in sight.

Next time you feel you can’t spend another minute repeating foreign words and reading verb conjugations, turn your internet browser on, and start surfing!

This is how it works:

– first think of something you really enjoy doing
– second type a word that describes that activity
– use a dictionary or translating tool to get the equivalent word in the language you are learning
– search the web for that word and the word “video”
– look at the search results and watch the video in the foreign language.

Here is an example for those of you learning Italian:

– I enjoy cooking so I think I should search for the words “pasta sauce”
– I look for the words “pasta sauce” in Italian and find this translation: “sugo pasta”
– I type “sugo pasta video” in the search box of my internet browser and click “search”
– I look at the results: some are links to webpages, some are images and some are videos. I select the first video and watch.

Hopefully the video will be informative or fun and you will be not only learning something new that you enjoy doing, but you will be improving your foreign language comprehension. Two in one!

Let us know if this worked for you and what other tricks you use to keep your language learning fresh and fun.

language learning stylesIt is important to know how each student learns in order to make the teaching effective. It is also important to know how you learn, so you can make progress with your language learning in a more efficient way.

What are learning styles?

They are the way an individual learns and include all the ways in which an individual acquires, retains, and retrieves information.

Individuals differ in how they learn: some people may find that they have a dominant style of learning, with far less use of the other styles. Others may find that they use different styles in different circumstances. With time people can develop ability in less dominant styles, as well as further develop styles that they already use well.

There are several different methods for teaching languages at home or at school. All methods are valid and can give great results, if used in the right combination.

What is a teaching method?

Some instructors lecture, others demonstrate or discuss; some focus on rules and others on examples; some emphasize memory and others understanding.

Students learn in many ways: by seeing and hearing; reflecting and acting; reasoning logically and intuitively; memorizing and visualizing.

How much a given student learns in a class or at home is governed in part by that student’s native ability and prior preparation but also by the compatibility of his or her characteristic approach to learning and the instructor’s characteristic approach to teaching.

Each different teaching approach targets specific parts of the brain and one or all five senses. For this reason, once you know your students learning style, you can use a mix of methods that is also suitable to your children’s age and capabilities.

So, you may want to make it your goal today, to understand your (or your students/children) learning style. Search the web for suggestions or check out this free ebook.

Happy learning!

childrens book about italian vowels      Benefit of bilingualism

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“.

Guest post by Daniele Bondi

It’s a fact that Italians played a key role in the discovery, exploration, settlement and destiny of the Americas. Cristoforo Colombo (I don’t know why his name was translated into Christopher Columbus: nobody will ever translate American names like Jimmy Carter, Bruce Springsteen, Jack Lemmon,…) was from Genova (Genoa) and was the explorer who discovered the Americas. Another notable Italian explorer was Amerigo Vespucci. He was much luckier than Colombo: his name was never translated and it even became the source of the name “America”.

English is the language spoken in the United States because of the England’s claims and colonies in North America. The strange thing is that these claims and colonies were based on the voyages of another Italian navigator, Giovanni Caboto(unlucky as Colombo because his name was translated into John Cabot!). Therefore, I find it unfair that Italian is not spoken in America (except for in some University courses or in the menu of many restaurants). Don’t you agree with me on this point? 

Another very famous (and “lucky”) Italian explorer was Giovanni da Verrazzano, the first European to enter New York Bay. The Verrazzano-Narrows bridge (where the NYC Marathon begins) was named in his honor after a long and difficult legal battle (involving even Robert Kennedy) led by The Italian Historical Society of America.

The first Italian to reside in America was Pietro Cesare Alberti, a Venetian seaman who, in 1635, settled in what would eventually become New York City. The Tagliaferro family, originally from Venice too, was one of the first families to settle in Virginia.

Many Italians were invited to settle in America in the XVII and XVIII century because they possessed much needed skills in agriculture and the making of glass, silk and wine. Others came because of their musical abilities as teachers and performers, or just as adventurers, explorers, military engineers, missionaries and political refugees.

These early arrivals settled in many different areas, but constituted a relatively small part of the American population as a whole. However, their contributions were very significant in the founding and settling of the country. As far as Politics is concerned, we have to mention Filippo Mazzei, a promoter of liberty who became a close friend and confidant of Thomas Jefferson. He published a pamphlet containing the phrase: “All men are by nature equally free and independent”, which Jefferson incorporated essentially intact into the Declaration of Independence.

Many were the Italians who explored and mapped America’s territories or established important settlements. Alessandro Malaspina explored much of the west coast of the Americas, from Cape Horn to the Gulf of Alaska. Eusebio Chinoexplored California whereas Giacomo Beltrami the Minnesota region. Enrico de Tonti explored the Great Lakes region and founded the first European settlement in Illinois in 1679, in Arkansas in 1683 and, with the French LaSalle, he co-founded New Orleans, and was governor of the Louisiana territory for about 20 years. His brother founded Detroit.

As for religion, the Catholic Church sent many missionaries to convert the native population to Christianity and to provide for the spiritual needs of the settlers. Particularly active were the Jesuits who founded numerous missions, schools and five colleges in the West, subsequently to become Jesuit universities (San Francisco, Seattle, Gonzaga, Santa Clara and Regis). The Italian Jesuits also laid the foundation for the wine-making industry that would later flourish in California. In the east, the Italian Franciscans founded hospitals, orphanages, schools, and a college that later became St. Bonaventure University.

Italian Americans served in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, both as soldiers and officers. I’d like to mention Colonel Luigi di Cesnola, who received the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Civil War and, incredibly enough, he was able to become the first director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

One of Mozart’s librettists, Lorenzo Da Ponte, immigrated to America and founded, in New York, the first American Opera House. Francesco De Casale published in New York the first Italian American newspaper (1849).

Back to Politics, John Finizzi became the mayor of Augusta, Georgia, in 1837. Anthony Ghio, the mayor of Texarkana, Texas, in 1880. Francis Spinola was the first Italian American to serve in Congress: he was elected in 1887 from New York

A world famous Italian immigrant was Antonio Meucci who arrived in America in 1845 and fought during the last years of his life against Alexander Graham Bell to be credited as the inventor of the telephone. Unfortunately, he died too early: he was declared the true inventor of the telephone only in 2002 (!!!), thanks to a Congress resolution

So, the question is: how different would America be today without the contribution of Italians? 
Nobody can answer this question with accuracy. But everybody would agree with the following statement of mine:without that contribution, today’s America would be less rich, less friendly, less open-minded, less creative and less… ? 


Daniele Bondi is one of the most awarded Italian writers . He graduated in Economics and in Philosophy. He also received the Certificate of Proficiency in english and a Master in Neuro-Linguistic Programming . He is also a journalist and a brain fitness and creativity trainer.
He has published 4 novels , the most important of which is “Il caso Cartesio” a best-seller in Italy capable of winning 6 Literary Prizes.


Carnival in Venice ItalyDid you know that in Italy some days can be fat? In fact Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday have this privilege!
But this happens only during Carnival, that time of the year when anything goes.

Carnival officially starts in January and lasts till the end of February, but it varies every year, since this celebration follows the Catholic calendar. Basically Carnival is that time of the year before the sober days that precede Easter. Food and fun before the 40 days of prayers and moderation that are part of Lent.

Now, why just Fat Tuesday, Fat Thursday and Fat Saturday? Well, that is the tradition.

In most places the last day of Carnival is Fat Tuesday. In some areas of Italy, where people follow a different religious calendar, the last day of Carnival is Fat Saturday. Fat Thursday is usually the beginning of the peak time of the celebrations, that culminate and end either on Tuesday or on the following Saturday.

Now you know! And now it is time to say it in Italian:

Fat Tuesday: Martedì Grasso

Fat Thursday: Giovedì grasso

Fat Saturday: Sabato grasso

Now go and spread the cheer! It is Carnival time!

To learn more about Carnival, visit Wikipedia or take a look at our page about Carnival.

Living in ItalyHave you ever felt that you would like to find a place where you can live life to the full? The good news is that such a place exists. It is called Italy.
If you take the time to learn the language and discover all of its charms and mysteries then you will find somewhere you can enjoy life like never before. The following are some of the main reasons why this is the case.

The Language is Fun and Expressive

You might think that the language you speak doesn’t affect your life that much. This opinion will change when you start to learn Italian. It is such a fun and expressive language that speaking it can subtly change your outlook on life in a positive way. In fact, learning any new tongue will change your way of thinking, as it makes you open up your mind and view the world in a different way. When it comes to Italian, it is hard to resist the sing-song melodies but this hides a more serious benefit. The fact that it is such a beautiful and expressive language used by expressive people means that you could find that you open up more when speaking it. This could help you get more out of your life and relationships by showing your feelings more as well as having more fun with the language.

The People are Open and Friendly

Once you learn any new language the next step is to go and use it by talking to the locals. In the case of Italy, you will find that most people are open and friendly. This will make a big difference to the time you spend there. By being able to communicate with the locals you will find that you get to learn more about the country and make new friends. Having lunch with a local family or just chatting with people you meet in a piazza can be hugely rewarding aspects to a trip to Italy. If you make the effort to get to know some Italians and chat to them you will be richly rewarded.

The Food is a Big Part of Life

If there is one aspect of the Italian way of life which most people are aware of it is the importance of food. This is especially true in the countryside and smaller towns, where meal time is ideal for gathering the family together and talking while enjoying the food. You should try and adapt your routine to give food the importance it deserves in your daily life as well. If you are lucky enough to travel down to Sardinia then you might even discover why the diet there helps people live so long. There is a higher percentage of people of over 100 here than anywhere else on the planet. The lifestyle and the close knit family units are said to be part of the reason but the healthy, nutritious diet is also a big factor.

The Culture is Outstanding

There are few places where you will find such a rich culture as in Italy. Wherever you go in the country you will find art, music, literature and architecture which inspires and moves you. Any visitor here can enjoy a cultural experience without knowing a word of the language. Simply looking at some of the art treasures in Florence, Rome or Venice is enough for many tourists. However, if you take the time to learn some of the language you can listen to an opera or read Italian newspapers and books in the tongue. To get started with something a bit less highbrow you could maybe take part in a quick trivia quiz (www.listenandlearnusa.com/true-or-false-facts/italian.php ), which tests your knowledge of Italy. You might not feel ready to tackle The Divine Comedy when you first get there but you will certainly feel as though you are getting a taste of the country’s unique and outstanding culture while enjoying life.

About the author: Robert is a UK writer on http://www.listenandlearn.org who discovered that a trip to Italy to learn the language was a wonderful experience of living life to the full.

Sicilian PupiThe translation of the word “child” In Italian is “bambino”. Often, people will use a different word: “pupo”. It is a more affectionate way of calling a child, perhaps a younger one, like a toddler.

This is different from a baby that in Italian is called with the French word “bebe’ ” and also with the less used word “infante”. Newborn is “neonato” while an older child like a pre-teen is called “ragazzino”.

Confusing? Let’s summarize:


  • Newborn = il neonato, la neonata
  • Infant =  il bebe’ , l’infante
  • Young child = il pupo (term of endearment)
  • Child = il bambino, la bambina
  • Pre-teen = il ragazzino, la ragazzina


And some more…

  • Teenager = il ragazzetto, la ragazzetta
  • Young adult = Il ragazzo, la ragazza


And now a bit of history and culture…

The word “Pupo” indicates a traditional Sicilian puppet that dates back from the medieval times.

You can learn more about Pupi and practice your Italian by visiting the museum of the Sicilian “Pupi”.

If you need professional Italian translation services check with a translation company offering these services.

Learn how to say the numbers from 1 to 10 in Italian.

Watch this video:

Learn how to say the numbers from 1 to 10 in Italian






Italian Numbers


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