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marta
Reply with quote  #1 
Hi to everyone on this wonderful site,

My husband and I are expecting our first baby in a few weeks time. We live in London. My first language is Italian (I have two Italian parents), but English is now the language I feel most comfortable in. as I grew up and studied here. My husband is from Cameroon, so speaks French and has been learning English in the last two years since living in the UK. We currently speak English together, but I am also fluent in French.

We'd like our baby to grow up with good English and French, and some understanding of Italian.

The plan is for Daddy to speak French to the baby and Mummy & Daddy also to speak French to each other to increase the exposure. Then grandparents can speak Italian to him.
That leaves the issue of what I will speak to the baby.

Following the guidance on the website, I want to be consisitent, in which case I should just speak English.

However, I also have the idea that Mummy could speak different languages depending on the context, which is what I already do myself and seems very natural in our household:

 - English if I'm alone with the baby or out and about
 - French if we're all at home (to support the father with the French as he's now having trouble switching back as he's been learning English intensively!) -  Italian around my own parents.

Will that confuse the baby or will that help him to see how to switch and at the same time add extra exposure to the French and Italian? It sounds complicated, but may well be the more 'natural' solution than insisting that I only speak one language to him and then find I don't know what I should be speaking when we are in family situations.

Thank you very much for your comments,
marta
Erik K
Reply with quote  #2 
Your plan sounds perfect, except I recommend one change.

If you plan to stay in Britain for a long time, then you don't have to worry about the child speaking English. The child will automatically learn that language because of exposure to many other English speakers.

You should speak Italian to the child all of the time, not English. This will also be good practice for you!

I hope you arrange frequent trips to France and Italy when your child is a little older. This will greatly help with learning those languages.

Don't worry about confusing the baby. Any system should work if you are consistent about always using it.

marta
Reply with quote  #3 

Thanks for your reply Erik. My concern about speaking a langugage other than English directly to the baby is that it won't come as naturally to me. By speaking Italian, my husband will be cut out of the communication. Also, as the French is more important than the Italian in our context, would it not make sense for me to speak French then, to at least increase the exposure of that?

Erik K
Reply with quote  #4 
Even if the foreign languages won't come as naturally to you, that should cause no harm to the baby, as long as you can use correct words most of the time. But if you think that you will speak less when you are trying to use Italian, then that might be a problem in the beginning.

I don't know the answer, but maybe it depends on several things: how difficult speaking Italian is for you, how strongly you want the child to learn a third language, and how much you want to practice speaking Italian for your own benefit.

If your husband does not dislike the idea of you teaching Italian, then maybe he will not mind if he is cut out of some communication. You can promise him that you will repeat things in another language to him when you think he should understand. However, if you or your husband don't like this system, then I guess you would have to use Italian only when your husband is not with you.

It's true that you can increase exposure to French by speaking it to the baby, but I don't know how much extra benefit that will provide. Will the child will get enough exposure even if your fail to do that? Perhaps it depends on how often your husband will speak French to the baby and to you, and how often you will speak French to your husband; if you and your husband are reasonably talkative, then that should be enough exposure, even if you don't speak French directly to the child.

Does it seem inconsistent if you speak Italian to the child, but otherwise everyone is speaking French at home? I don't think it is; the only type of consistency that matters is that you always use the same languages in the same situations as you have done before.

Chen
Reply with quote  #5 
Hi Marta,

I think you are right to say that if you don't feel comfortable in Italian, it shouldn't be the main language you use with the baby. Through language we transfer feelings and mood and so much more than just the words. You should speak a language that feels natural to you.
However, f you want your child to learn Italian, your parents will need to meet with him very often and speak with him consistently (I'm presuming your parents also live in London now?). From my own experience, if the grandparents themselves are used to speaking the outside language already, they won't speak their home language as much. If your parents prefer Italian, it might be enough. Also, consider the possibility that your child will not speak Italian, but will understand well enough to have a basis, so that if he'll ever need to learn it at an older age, it will be easier.
About the French, if your husband is usually around and spends time with his child (as opposed to a hard working father who's barely home), it will be enough for your child to learn French. You don't need to join in.
In short, you should both choose the language you're most comfortable with. And keep in mind that experts used to say that it's important to have one person-one language, e.g. Mummy-English, Daddy-French, but nowadays the stress is on one language per situation. So you don't need to worry about talking French around your husband or Italian around your parents. The important thing is not to mix them in the same sentence.

Good luck


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