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This may be old hat to a lot of you out there, but this is my first time on this site, and I can't believe there are other people out there going through this! For the longest time, I have felt TOTALLY alone in this crazy venture, namely, speaking a language (Italian) that is neither my native language (English), nor the community language (English) to my daughter.
Everything I've read on this site about people trying to discourage one from this venture is only too true, and it does not help one persevere in what is already an incredibly difficult undertaking. I hope you all will pardon me for being so effusive, but I can hardly express my excitement at finding a community of people who know what the heck I'm going through and may even be able (I pray) to help me! Here's the situation: My husband and I are both speaking Italian almost exclusively to our daughter at home, but neither of us is a native speaker. I am conversationally fluent and improve (I hope) weekly through daily verb, vocabulary, and culture/usage practice using books, videos, and other teaching materials. Therefore, I am comfortably able to speak only Italian to my daughter. My husband is much less fluent, primarily because he has not made a concerted effort to increase his skills; although he is incredibly supportive of my efforts, he speaks English to me and Italian only as often as possible to my daughter (i.e., he speaks English when he can't communicate the subject matter in Italian). My husband's mother, who was born and raised in Italy, didn't migrate to this country until her mid-20s, so Italian is her first language. Her husband was not supportive of speaking Italian to the children, and it was also just too hard for her back then, so she spoke English. Although the children did go to Italy for about 2 months almost every year of their childhood, and so grew up feeling connected to the language and culture, nonetheless, they cannot speak it. Similarly, my own mother was born and raised in Japan. She, too, migrated to this country in her 20s, so Japanese is her first language, yet she ended up speaking only English to her kids. What was more, we did not visit that country or communicate with relatives much at all, and so grew up very disconnected from the language and culture. When my husband and I decided to have kids, I determined that one way or another, I was going to make sure they were given the ability to speak the languages of their cultural origins so that they would not be detached from their heritage. Because my husband's mother is nearby (and therefore can regularly reinforce the language) and because my husband has close ties to Italy, I chose Italian first. This required me to learn the language from the ground up. I have been able to manage it (but just!) by starting before my daughter was born and then speaking only that language to her every since. I carry dictionaries with me everywhere so that when new words come up, I can learn them and teach them to her. I have sought out Italian playgroups, cultural centers, stores, movies, television, and books. I even translated every single book she's ever received word by word into Italian! And I study every day. Do I sound nuts? I feel that way! A lot of the time this undertaking feels too big for me. It is a constant, evolving process that requires daily effort and practice and has taken total commitment from day one. Are there others out there doing this successfully? If so, please share! I need the affirmation! Finally, did I mention we're considering enrolling our daughter in a German-immersion pre-school next year and German-immersion elementary school thereafter? Well, friends, yes, we are! Not least because that elementary school is one of the best schools in our entire part of the state. Not surprisingly, perhaps, I have additional concerns about this development. I studied German for many years in high school and at university, but to say I'm rusty is putting it mildly. I'm willing to re-educate myself in order to facilitate my daughter's success and happiness. But am I insane? Will it be too much for her? Too much for me? Has anyone else done this? Help!
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I really admire what you've been doing to give your daughter a precious gift. I know there is a lot of suggestions out there that you should only speak your native tongue to your children as you might pass on grammatical inaccuracies and/or incorrect pronunciation but the way I look at it, I would rather my children have a real proficiency in another language albeit with the potential for a few mistakes, an attitude that language learning is a normal part of life and an appreciation and respect of other cultures rather than no second language skills at all just because I'm not a native speaker. I hear plenty of native English speakers murder their own mother tongue with grammatical mistakes, mis-used words and limited vocabulary - does that stop them speaking English? No!! I'm a single parent to my 2 year old son and I'm a Modern Languages teacher (French and German) living in Scotland. At home my son and I speak exclusively in English, my mother tongue. However, I set up a company, lingobaby. for my little boy to have the opportunity to hear the sounds of other languages whilst enjoying the company of other young children. During the lingobaby sessions I speak almost exclusively in French. Given that this is the only time I speak French to/with my son, he has astounded me in his grasp of the language and can understand and react to fairly complex sentences and instructions in French. His spoken French vocabulary is around 25 words which he uses confidently (his English vocab is around 150ish words). I believe my little boy is well on his way in becoming a proficient user of French which I am delighted about. I truely believe language skills of any level are a life-long gift and through your efforts you have given your daughter a great start in life :-) Fiona PS: My website is http://www.lingobaby.co.uk
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Fiona, thank you so much for the kind words! How neat that you are teaching French to your son already. Do you plan to add German? If so, do you know anything about whether you speaking all 3 languages will confuse the child? I ask this because many of the methods discussed on this website seem to assume each parent speaks no more than 2 different languages to the child....