Raising a bilingual household has its own unique set of challenges. We spoke to linguist and mamma blogger, MammaPrada, to find out her top tips for encouraging bilingualism in your children; where parents can find support and how to get started with blogging.
MammaPrada is a great resource for parents; could you tell us more about it and how it first came about?
MammaPrada was created due to my Italian husband and I trying and testing lots of language learning resources with our children. We’ve been looking to find what works and what doesn’t as we are raising our children bilingually. I started to realise that this was information which could be useful to other parents and that people were also interested in how we’re combining our cultures at home. We also feature our favourite things and brands we come across from both Italy and the UK.
What have your own language learning experiences been like?
My husband arrived in London 17 years ago and had a very steep learning curve! He knew very little English but now speaks it brilliantly. He’s often mistaken for being English.
I learnt French and German at school but rarely used them afterwards which is a great shame (I plan to go back to them!). I started learning Italian just before I met my husband. I have been studying it on and off, between having children, ever since!
What was the moment you first realised you wanted to raise a bilingual child? Have you encountered any difficulties in doing that?
I think as we’re both very open to other cultures we have always wanted our children to learn both of our languages. It’s harder learning as an adult (although not impossible) so to have two languages from birth we do see as a gift.
Raising a bilingual child like any aspect of parenting will always have challenges. When children are very small they just copy. My daughter who is about to turn two just picks up everything she hears and repeats it.
My son however is now five so although he now understands and speaks two languages, he notices that he is different to some of his friends. There are times when he thinks that’s brilliant – he recently wrote some phrases in Italian to take to school. Then there are times where he doesn’t want to speak Italian because it takes more effort.
Have you had the chance to speak with any other parents in a similar situation to yourself?
Yes, living in London we are exposed to lots of parents of different nationalities or who speak several languages. We also hold play dates with other bilingual children, we share tips and discuss challenges we’re having or things we’ve tried that really help our little ones.
What do you think are the main benefits of being bilingual?
Being bilingual is beneficial for many reasons. Should you ever wish to travel, work abroad or work with people from another country you will be seen on a more equal footing. We forget that actually the majority of the world speak more than one language and this is not exceptional, it’s considered the norm.
But most importantly speaking other languages improves your understanding of the world and other cultures. It creates empathy and acceptance that diversity can be a positive thing. We start to realise we are not all that different from one another, we just express ourselves in different ways.
Where do you think languages are headed in the UK?
I think young people will always be keen to travel and explore the world and in doing so will see the benefit of being able to communicate in other languages. I hope that this will drive a desire in the next generation to keep studying.
Also as we approach leaving the EU I actually think having a second language will become more important.
We will, whatever the outcome of Brexit, need to have contact and do business with our European neighbours and there will be less allowances made for us in the future. We are (no matter how great) a small country and won’t be able to expect that people will always speak our language or have a need to.
For any other parents out there thinking about starting a blog, what advice would you give them?
Go for it! I would start with WordPress or Blogger and just start writing as regularly as you can. Don’t worry about it being perfect at first. Think about who you would like to read your blog but be open to your audience being different to your expectations.
It takes time. After writing for a little while you start to find your voice and define your purpose. You start to make friends and become part of online communities.
Google a list of linkys! Linkys are links hosted by established bloggers. You can link your blog to their site on a certain day of each week to get more exposure. They significantly improve the exposure of your blog!
There is a big base of Italians in Bedford, where One Third Stories first originated. What role do you think language has played in their integration?
A huge part! There’s no doubt that learning the local language improves your experience of a place. You feel more at home, have better opportunities and are more welcome. This is true of anywhere in the world.
However, we are all guilty of just wanting to be with those we know. In the past, areas like Bedford had specific streets where all residents were Italian. This is the same of Peterborough, some areas of Wales and Clerkenwell in London.
If we look at areas of Spain where British people have settled, they often live in mainly British communities. They open businesses. They sell or serve English products or cuisine. We all want a little bit of home wherever we are.
The key is to realise that you need both. For example, my husband made a point of not just socialising with Italian friends when he came to London. It would have been much easier but he knew his English would not improve enough. His understanding of British culture would be limited to that of a tourist. He would not be seen as someone invested in where he was living. It’s not easy to integrate but you have more fun in the long run if you do. And he wouldn’t have met me!
Are there any communities you’d recommend that linguist parents look into and become a part of?
I would definitely make an effort to find out about other parents in your schools/nurseries who are raising children either with your minority language or even just children speaking more than one language at home. It helps for children to identify with others who have parents with mixed nationality. They realise other families are like their own.
There are also lots of great resources such as classes, playgroups and online communities. Some which we’ve found useful are: