Featured Image by Heather Gallagher Photography
At Love Child, raising your children bilingual is a topic near and dear to our hearts. Passing down traditions is so important to our culture and we feel it starts with a connection to the language. We spent some time exploring best practices, resources and sharing stories of families who are currently in the process. As you’ll see, there is not one right way to do this but rather whatever works best for your family. Most important thing to note? Expose your child to the language as early as you can.
We would love to hear from you if you are also on this journey and if you have any tips or resources to share. Check back next Monday for our second post on the topic, Resources for Raising Your Children Bilingual. Not bilingual or fluent in Spanish? Me neither so I’m taking notes! Instead, we enlisted the help of our good friend Karen Trombetta who is raising her son in a trilingual home. I’ll let her take it from here.
Karen here, you may remember me from my post on Traveling Internationally with a Baby. I am back to share our experience on raising our son in a trilingual home. I was born and raised in central Mexico, am now married to a Sicilian man and we have a 17-month old little boy, Matteo.
I’m thankful Love Child approached me about this subject. Writing on this topic has given me an opportunity to journal our experience. It will be a way for us to keep track of how we began our journey and look back once Matteo (and any other children we may have) are grown. There was too much information on the topic for just one post. We decided to break it down into a series to include my personal story, resources, and stories of other families who are also on this journey. I hope you find this helpful and if you have any questions, please include them in the comments below.
See if you can follow along. I only speak Spanish to Matteo, so do my parents and my brother. My husband’s parents and sister only speak Italian. Delfo, my husband, speaks Spanish, Italian, and English to our little one. Delfo and I speak English to each other. It’s part of why we named him Matteo. It’s easy to say in all three languages.
It’s so important that Matteo speaks our native languages; our heritage and culture are very much a part of who we are. In all honesty though, I want my kid to be able to communicate with our parents, grandmas, aunts, uncles, cousins, great aunts, etc.
I have read so much on the benefits of raising a bilingual or multilingual child. However, one of the top tips I’ve found, from actual scientists, is that the trick to making a child truly fluent is you need to pick a language and stick to it. I wonder how Delfo speaking all three languages will affect Matteo and any other children we may have.
I always knew I wanted to raise my children bilingual, even before I lived in the United States or married an Italian. To be clear, I was not raised bilingual; I had to take English lessons during school in Mexico. My husband had an English tutor when he lived in Italy. Not that we’re innovators by any means; one fifth of people in the United States speak a non-English language at home. I know it’s made a huge impact in my life and I’ve only ever experienced the advantages of being bilingual.
There are so many benefits to speaking more than one language, but is there a downside?
In my experience, I’ve found that toddlers who speak more than one language speak later.
Note that it’s a delay in speaking, not in development. In fact, it activates something in the child’s brain that allows them to develop their understanding of others’ perspectives before they are even speaking themselves. This interview on NPR blew my mind. It explains how even toddlers as young as 14 months who have been exposed to another language, not necessarily raised bilingual but merely exposed, understood other people’s perspectives. Research also shows that knowing a second language delays the onset of dementia by several years.
Considering our son is only a toddler I can’t predict what his language abilities will be, but I feel good about his future. At 17 months of age his first words are all in Spanish. He responds to simple commands (like tell me how old you are) in Italian and Spanish, but not in English.
I have noticed children of multilingual homes tend to mix words in from the other languages. It hasn’t been confusing to the point that I don’t understand them, and it’s actually pretty cute, but I guess it could be considered a pit fall. We are surrounded by multilingual families.
While I do believe that certain people have a knack for languages, it is true that people who speak a second language can learn a third more easily. Remember this: Introduce the language as soon as possible. Although it’s never too late to introduce a new language, the younger the brain, the more easily retained.
You may be reading this and thinking, good for you, but what about me? I don’t speak a second language fluently can I raise my child bilingual? Great news, yes you can!
I’ll share some of the best books, apps, bilingual programs, and other options in the following posts.
Karen Trombetta was born and raised in Celaya, Guanajuato and moved to Texas at 13. She has a deep love for travel and found the perfect partner in a Sicilian man with whom she’s traveled to destinations near and far. Karen has a one-year-old son, who rocks her world. She loves learning everything about different cultures; their food, language, and customs. Prior to focusing on her son, Karen was the Director of Special Events at LifeWorks.