Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It's never too early to become multilingual!

My friend Martina left me an interesting question in the comments to my previous post:

"We are a one-language family (Italian) but we would like our 1 y.o. son to learn English asap. What do you suggest? Letting him settle his Italian first (he already says around 20 words and he understands a lot) and then start him in an english Kindergarden at 3 y.o or start sooner? Some have told us to start not too soon to avoid him getting confused..."

As many experts often have written, there is no unique, failure-free recepee to grow our children multilingual. Each family has to find a strategy that works more or less painlessly for them, and stick to it! Determination and motivation are certainly fundamental ingredients when we decide to embrace a bilingual lifestyle.

One thing that I would like to stress for Martina , is that it is neve too early to start! On the contrary, research has shown that the first three years of life are the most fertile ones for children to learn multiple languages at once. Tracey Takuhama-Espinosa in her book "Raising Multilingual Children," describes 3 windows of opportunities, the first one being between 0 and 9 months, and second one between 1 and 6 years of age, during which languages are learnt with an ease that is progressively lost, and with the capability to reproduce sounds like natives (while, at a later stage, we develop accents). Infants exposed to multiple languages regularly do not get confused: if it is part of their environment, they just develop simultaneously the proper linguistic codes to reproduce the languages they hear.

So, Martina, if you wish your son to grow bilingual, you need to find a proper vehicle to introduce English in your son's life: whether it is a bilingual day-care, or an English mother-tongue baby-sitter who spends time with him regularly and addresses him exclusively in English. You can then complement this activities with play-groups with other English speaking children, or by playing little songs in English at home, or, later on with little trips to the UK. But regular interaction with an English speaker is the key for your son to start assimilating the sounds, the grammar structure and the vocabulary of another language.

Unfortunaltey it is rare to find pediatricians or other child-care professionals who are properly informed on multilingualism, in mono-cultural countries like Italy or France, for the matter. However, you will not let them discourage you with your project; there are a numbers of books on bilingualism and resources available on the internet (check out the Multilingual Help Desk on the right-hand side bar). But remember: you need to find what works for you!


Martina said...

Dear Clo,

Thanks a lot for your post, I will definitely try to insert my son in some english-speaking group as soon as possible, then!! :-)

Hugs from Rome!

Clo said...

Sono sicura che ci riuscirete! Grossi baci a te e al piccolino!

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