Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Entertaining and Educating your Toddler

We want our son to grow up to be bilingual.

We wish our son to grow up to be bilingual. He is now 15 months and beginning to speak. My husband is Italian but also speaks excellent English. From Louis’ birth, we have each tried to speak our own language to him, but as my husband is away from home all day, often not returning until late, Louis hears far more English than Italian. Will this affect his learning of two languages? We visit Italy once or twice a year and my aim is for Louis to be able to communicate easily with his grandparents, who speak no English.

Growing up to be bilingual is a great asset for any child. Most experts agree that the best way for this to happen naturally is to immerse the child in both languages from an early age. But this is not always possible, and in most households a child’s first language is likely to be the one he hears more frequently, usually the mother’s. In addition, you and your husband probably converse in English, so Louis is more likely to speak more English than Italian in the next few months.

Your husband may not spend as much time with Louis as you do, but make sure when he is with him, that he always speaks to him in Italian. Your husband may find that Louis understands Italian, but as he begins to speak he will answer in English. This is quite common amongst bilingual children. Often when they visit the country of their second language they begin to speak quite naturally, as if they realise that this is the only way to be understood.

Make sure you have plenty of Italian books for Louis to share with his father and buy some CDs of Italian nursery songs for him to enjoy. The more he hears both languages, the more likely he will be to pick them up spontaneously. As a final thought, if you are looking for some help with Louis, think about employing an Italian au pair or babysitter, which would help reinforce what he is learning from his father.