Pin It
Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Is it Too Late to Teach My Kids My Native Language?

By

Dear Dr. Gupta,

 

I am Italian and living in California, and unfortunately my two kids, who are nine and 13, don’t speak Italian, and barely understand the basic phrases. I understand they will never be fluent and will always have an accent, but I wonder if it is not too late to start speaking to them in Italian (will have to figure out how to make the transition). I am the main caretaker, and my wife speaks the language pretty well. Any advice and suggestions on how to make this happen will be very appreciated. Grazie!

 

Un Papà Italiano

 

Dear Un Papà Italiano,

 

At this point your children have to WANT Italian. If they want to learn Italian, then the way to do it is to teach them yourself, or get them into lessons. But the first hurdle is to get them to want it.

 

You need to sell Italian culture to them. Which bit of Italian culture will depend on the children’s interests, but try anything. The usual front runners are: food, family, football, cars, fashion, history, music, art. Even an interest in the Mafia could be a way in. Whatever it takes. A nice long holiday in Italy doing things they really enjoy seems called for.

 

Another useful method that sometimes works is to use Italian as a secret language between you and your wife. This has been known to give children an incentive to learn in. It will certainly be good to let them hear Italian. Watch some movies (ideally without subtitles and looking as if they would interest the children).

 

Are you in a city with an Italian community? Make links. Are there any classes in the community? Find out about them.

 

Do the children have Italian speaking relatives they would like to get to know better? Meet up. Skype. Go and visit them.

 

Focus on them WANTING Italian, then when they do start teaching them. It has to come from them.

 

Dr. Gupta

© 2012, Anthea Fraser Gupta. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:


Is Raising Bilingual Children Worth the Costs?

Fancy schools, international vacations, foreign language books, DVDs and tutors add up fast

The African Guide to Co-sleeping

10 must-read tips on co-sleeping from Africa

Don’t Touch My Child! Lessons from Asia

Has the West taken fear too far?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Anthea Fraser Gupta is a sociolinguist with an interest in how children learn to talk. She was born into a monolingual environment in Middlesbrough, England, but enjoyed learning about languages from an early age. She gained a B.A. in English Linguistic Studies and Archaeology at the University of Newcastle, then went on to do an M.A. in Linguistics. She left Newcastle in 1975 to work in Singapore, where she encountered a society in which multilingualism is usual and expected. In Singapore nearly all children come to nursery school already able to speak 2 or 3 languages. While lecturing in the linguistics of English at the National University of Singapore, she did a doctoral degree at the University of York, looking at the language acquisition over two years of four Singaporean children who were growing up with four languages. In Singapore, she also married a man from a multilingual family from India. She returned to England in 1996 to the School of English at the University of Leeds, where she taught courses on both English language and bilingualism until her retirement in 2010. Anthea has had experience in a range of multilingual and multicultural societies and families. She has published books and articles on English, especially the language use of children in Singapore, and has also produced a novel for children set in Singapore. She is deeply interested in child development and believes that the most important thing in raising a child is to provide love and stimulation, regardless of what language or languages are learned.

Leave us a comment!









Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!



Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!

What Cultural Norms Around Bare Feet Taught This Mother in Guatemala

Her baby's bare feet ended up being a lesson on poverty and privilege.
Hi Kim! I am so glad that this article was useful for you and made you feel validated as a parent. It's not often in this judgmental world of parenting we get that, right?! That's the main reason...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
I love reading your work. I can olny imagine what it would be like to have such beautiful customs and true community. I understand why it is so very very important to keep these traditions alive. Be...
From No Kids Allowed: How Kenyan Weddings are Changing
Your mother in-law seems somewhat reasonable. Many Chinese Mother In-laws are not. In their scenario, they would be number 1 to the child and you would be number two. Many want to have a bond closer...
From How My Chinese Mother-in-Law Replaced my Husband
I think Konstantina is actually responding to what is probably more familiar/praised/or preferred socially as well. I was an English teacher in Poland with a distinct accent. I struggled to get Engl...
From Should I Worry about My Child’s Accent in Her Foreign Language?
Noor Kids' title "First Time Fasting" is another great rea...
From 6 Favorite Children’s Books about Ramadan
This article was shared in a community I run to connect globetrotting parents and everyone LOVED it. You should join us! We all relate to your experience. Many of us, including me, are in the same b...
From Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get
Please help: I Love my wife and my son. I am also EXTREMELY involved as a dad. I had to move to china ( in a tiny tiny town) where I am the only foreigner so that my wife can take over the family bu...
From How My Chinese Mother-in-Law Replaced my Husband
Thanks for writing this!! My baby is 7 months, and I love having her sleep in my room. I don't mention it too often to people who have had kids because they seem a little judgy on it. So tonight I...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
Honestly, it looks like the author married into a very backward and old fashioned family. Not stimulating children's curiosity, differences between boys and girls, and women slaving in the house, wh...
From French versus Italian Parenting in One Multicultural Family

More I Need Help! Ask A Linguist