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.