Our Italian language experiment

The making of two little italian speakers

It started out as just an idea, a desire, a what if, a maybe, but it grew into our life. Into our creation. Into our everyday. By changing milk to latte and coffee to caffè, we changed our lives and made a little Italian world right here in our home. It has made me and I love it. It has made them...and I love it. It is our everyday adventure...and I love it.

Italian is in my soul...I knew it...I know it. From the moment I first started learning it I was sure that someday it would be mine, it always was, I just hadn't found it yet.  I was also sure that I would teach it to my children someday....somehow. And I would teach it to them from the very first day so that they felt it in their hearts. So that it would be a part of them...a part of their souls. I had rarely ever heard a word from another language until I was 20 but for them this would never do. They would know another language...and it would be Italian.

The beginning....the idea...

When my son was born in 2011 I had already been in love with the language for 10 years although I had never really committed to it. It was always just an underlying passion that I knew I would pursue on a deeper level someday. But now that this amazing little person was here in my life it was time, and I felt a whole new desire to learn and speak. I found that since my main passion and focus was to teach him I was able to learn more and hold on to it better because I wanted to share it. Even though I had found this new passion to learn and teach I still wasn't able to speak fluently to my son and so I had to find another way for him to hear it the way I wanted him to. I was determined. I wanted fluent Italian every day, but we didn't live in Italy or have Italian family and friends, and it wasn't going to come from me. It seemed a little impossible.  

I kept searching, wanting and asking for something to come my way and one day it finally did! I came across something on YouTube (which I had recently discovered) that sparked the idea of the possibility of shows for kids in Italian. What if? I didn't want learning videos that went slow and translated from English to Italian but real shows like Italian kids would watch. I decided to search and see what I could find. I kept it simple and searched for "cartoons in Italian" and to my happy surprise programs showed up. Not a lot (there is so much now) but there were actually cartoons in Italian! Ahhh!  The moment I discovered that I would be able to watch and listen to the most beautiful language in the world for free, without being in the country or even leaving my home, was probably one of the happiest moments ever. It wasn't perfect but it was something. It was it! My start!

On to what I did.....

I decided that if my son watched and listened to Italian everyday, in real life circumstances, he could and would be soaking up the way that the language sounded and the way that is was structured. I would fill in where I could with making sure there was some interaction with the language everyday. When I started all of this with him I was probably at an upper beginner level so I spoke the basics. Depending on the day, we watched an hour or two  (not always at once) and sometimes we would watch more...or not at all....or I would leave it playing in the background so that we could just listen to it. This was pretty much it at that point. Cartoons in Italian everyday and my little bit of speaking the basics. Life just kind of went on and I didn't really stress too much about it or change anything....I didn't really have any better ideas anyway :)

Changes...

When my son turned 1 and we had just moved to California, we temporarily lived in a house with some cows on the property. I remember my delight when asking my son "where are the cows" (in Italian) and he went to the window and pointed out at them. I was so excited, surprised, proud, excited some more....it was working. He just understood what I said! That was a big moment in all of this and it made me realize that something truly was happening...I couldn't quite hear it or see it yet but there was a lot going on in that beautiful little mind of his.

Time went on and I continued to talk with my son everyday in Italian as much as I could (I was always trying to improve and learn more too even though it was slow going) and he continued to watch his morning cartoons. As he started to get older he would say things here and there and I knew that he was understanding his shows and the things I would say to him regularly. But as my knowledge of the language starting growing, the adventure started growing and it became more and more amazing everyday. I would say something new to him or ask him to do something (never having said it before) and he would understand. Every. Single. Time. What! Wow! Those moments were always magical and exciting and they gave me drive to continue. Through his 2's, 3's, 4's and into the beginning of his 5's this is pretty much how it was. The only additions that we made were incorporating some Italian books (thanks to a trip to Italy) when he was about 3 1/2  and a beautiful perfect amazing baby girl that we welcomed into our lives in January 2016 :) More Italian speakers...yay!!

Now it was time for another change...it was time to go to Italy, so it was time to speak....

It was fall 2016 and we had a family trip planned to Italy for March of 2017. I was thinking how much I wanted him to be able to interact with the Italians. I had never really asked him to try and talk to me in Italian, and I mean really talk to me, with some good back and forth communication.....but now it was time. I wanted him to speak to the Italians and not just listen. As I started doing some research I found that for the most part I should have been asking him to speak the language all along. Oh well...no time like the present. Let's speak! This is where it all really changed. Where I truly realized what all of this had done. When I asked him to speak to me....he did. My son spoke Italian and he not only spoke it he knew it! Maybe not perfect (he was only 5 anyway) but it was in his heart. In his soul. He wasn't translating it or taking time to think about it. He had it in there! How in the world did that happen! You mean it really worked? This crazy idea worked! Even though it had all slowly unfolded before me, it still felt a little unreal. 

I did it! Let's go to Italy....

Our Italy experience was beyond anything I could have imagined and most of the time I felt like I was in a dream. Not a wine sipping, relaxing in the Tuscan countryside type of dream, but a driving around Italy with with two kids in the back, pushing a stroller down cobblestone streets, running around in piazzas and cleaning off dripping gelato adventure kind of dream. It was glorious! Every second! It was personally exciting for me too because I spoke and understood Italian so well this time around and it felt amazing. To connect with the Italians on an even deeper level threw me into an entirely new world. A world that no one can open up to you in any way, and I must say, it is worth every moment of work. My daughter was too young to speak so she just smiled most of the time but my son got to try out his Italian many times. He spoke and he understood. Every once in a while the Italians would speak a little faster than he could respond but really he had only been trying to speak the language for about 5 months so I couldn't have asked for more. It was truly smiles all around. We felt loved every step of the way as our Air B&B hosts, waiters, strangers, and friends welcomed us with open arms in a different way than I had ever experienced.  I can't wait to take them back...and the next time they will both be speaking ;)

Now...

 My daughter is now 2 1/2 and she speaks just as much Italian as she does english and it is the cutest thing I have ever seen! I have never been around baby Italian babble before....love it so much! Her experience has been totally different from my son's because I try to speak Italian to them all day as much as I can. My son also speaks to her (even though I may have to remind him a lot) and my son and I speak to each other so she has been surrounded by it. We still continue to read books in Italian, and after our family trip we started listening to Italian music on YouTube. We have learned kids songs in Italian like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and the Itsy Bisty Spider (again YouTube) that we sing at bedtime every night. So, pretty much I pretend to be Italian :) Most of the time I feel like pinching myself because it worked and continues to work. In the beginning of all of this I could have never imagined the outcome or how happy it would make me to speak Italian with my children so much. Never imagined the incredible adventure or the joy and friends that it would have brought our way. Never imagined how many times in a day I could say "parla Italiano" to my son. But above all I could have never imaged how much he would turn into my teacher. He knows the language on a different level and so he is able to help me when I can't remember endings or words. He helps me figure out what my daughter is saying and he teaches me new words all the time. It is all truly incredible and inspiring and I am so proud of them....and me.....AND my wonderful husband who has been there every step of the way supporting it all. 

Below are a few videos of the kids talking a bit...something that was harder to capture than I had imagined. The moment you start taking a video everything they are doing comes to a halt....hahaha :)

A little final note...

At the time when we started this we had nothing that would have made me think I could teach my children another language.  I want other people to know that it is possible even when they don't live in that country or even have a relative that speaks that language...or money...or experience of any kind. It is possible and if I honestly think about it, it hasn't been that hard. It has been a change I decided to make everyday and it has been something I have been dedicated to, but if you want anything in life you kind of need to be. You kind of need to jump even when you're not sure how or where you are going land. I've heard so many people say that it's too difficult or they already should have been doing it with their kids so it's hopeless now, or they just seem to act like they couldn't do it or their kids couldn't. But kids are amazing and your kids would learn the same way as mine did. I also want people to know that I am a very busy person. I own and operate a wedding cake business, my husband works full time, I home school my son and I have my hands in lots of other things (like this blog) so Italian is not the only thing I am doing with my days. I also want to add in a little something about the amount of time that we watch/watched Italian because some people might think that it is too much but really the little bilingual miracle that has happened is nothing but positive even though some of it has come from a screen :)  So listen and watch...learn and play....dance and sing....and enjoy ever second of the adventure! 

A presto,

Lonielle