Do you dream of being able to speak Italian fluently instead of just uttering a few clichéd phrases? Being multilingual nowadays is a considerable advantage for even the youngest students.
That said, some parents are still reluctant to show their child any Italian vocabulary or grammar until they’ve fully mastered their mother tongue.
However, in addition to mastering Italian grammar and learning a new language, by doing Italian language courses, you can learn about the Renaissance, the history of Italian art and architecture, too. These, in addition to the language skills, can help give your child greater cultural awareness. Language and culture are inseparable, after all.
Furthermore, if they take an Italian course or learn Italian online, they'll be able to use it on your next trip to Italy!
So is there a perfect age for starting to learn about Italian culture and the language? How old should you be before you embark on your language learning adventure?
Here’s everything you need to know about children learning Italian!
Starting Italian Aged 3
At 36 months, is a child too young to start learning Italian? As you may imagine, the answer is no.
In fact, it depends on the type of learning. There’s no way you could even pressure a child to master the basics of English at this stage. What you need to be doing is steering them towards digital resources that present learning in fun and interactive ways.
There are also Italian courses geared at teaching very young children how to speak Italian. Of course, these aren't like your typical language course, they're more like a nursery where the learner plays and does activities while hearing Italian words and expressions.
See how you could start to learn Italian Toronto here.
Here are a few ways you could help them learn basic Italian:
Cartoons in Italian like Pinocchio and Geronimo Stilton
Educational videos for children on websites like YouTube
Lullabies in Italian such as Fior di Tomba, Micio Miagolio, and Nana Cuncheta
Games for learning Italian like Memotep, Lingua Ludica, and Marca Stella
Italian classes for children - just search for "Italian classes London" (or Birmingham, or Edinburgh...)
A child should learn the basic vocabulary before they try to do any serious learning. The goal isn’t to annoy them with languages but rather to show them a things in Italian that they may be interested in like games and songs.
The Perfect Age for Learning a Foreign Language
According to the experts, there is a perfect age for learning a foreign language and becoming bilingual.
In an interview with Unosel, Barbara Abdelilah-Bauer, a linguist and language professor, said:
“Until between 5 and 7 years old, a child learns a language intuitively by listening. Afterwards, they’re too anchored to their mother tongue to learn another language in the same way. At this point, a language will be learnt through studying.”
Therefore, if you want your child to completely learn Italian, they need to start learning it before they reach 7.
Of course, you can learn to speak a language fluently by taking classes as a teenager but the language will never become their mother tongue.
Remember that this age limit is also subject to heated debates amongst linguists. The main thing is that you don’t force your child to learn but rather encourage them to pick up vocabulary naturally and progressively.
Check out some of the best apps for children learning Italian!
Italian Tutorials from Academic Institutions
In the UK, children can take Italian classes for free if they’re studying it at GCSE or A Level. This means that your child will be taught by a competent and qualified teacher.
Italian lessons at schools are quite rare since languages like Spanish, French, and German tend to be more popular. However, if your child is at a school where Italian is taught, they’ll be able to get Italian lessons without paying a penny.
Children can learn Italian in:
Primary Schools (as of 2014, a foreign language must be offered)
Secondary schools at GCSE
Colleges and Sixth Forms at A Level
Learning Italian online at a young age can also help children perform much better at school. Since Italian is available at GCSE and A Level, if your child has already learnt the language, they’ll be able to easily pass these exams.
Remember that there are also language centres where your child can learn Italian outside of school. However, there are usually only a few hours of classes available per week which is far too little to become bilingual!
They’ll need to do some extra practise at home with a private Italian tutor or help from their parents.
Bilingual Italian Families
Families with parents who speak different languages often worry about the risks of teaching their child two different languages. Don’t worry! Learning two languages from a young won’t cause any problems for your child.
You might have to prioritise English so that it becomes their first mother tongue. Then your child can learn Italian as their second native language. It’s recommended that you don’t thrust too much Italian on them as it can cause them to mix both languages!
You need to make sure that when they learn Italian, they do so regularly and routinely with a few fun activities over the course of a couple of years in order to give them an intermediate level. It can also be useful to encourage them with Italian tutorials for children.
In addition to the Italian language, the child can also benefit from learning more about their cultural heritage. Teach them about the history of Italy, show them famous Italian people, and open their minds.
Are Multilingual Children more Intelligent?
Is bilingualism synonymous with intelligence? If you believe the experts, yes!
In a 2009 article on bilingualism in young children, the Canadian linguist Ellen Bialystok explained:
“Bilingualism in childhood is an important experience that can greatly influence a child’s future development. The most surprising result is that the benefits extend beyond just languages into non-verbal cognitive abilities.”
Bilingual children are lucky. By mastering two languages that share the same alphabet, they tend to be better when it comes to reading and writing and languages that they aren't really familiar with.
A child who learns Italian can develop:
Their ability to analyse texts
Those who learn to speak Italian will benefit from it in the future and also have a better chance and excelling in school.
Don’t Rule Out Learning a Second Foreign Language
While learning Italian is a good idea, it mightn’t be enough for the future. Italian is widely spoken in Italy. There are also a number of Italian-speaking communities around the world. However, Italian is only the main official language of one country, Italy.
Your child will probably get a number of opportunities to go to places where they speak different languages throughout their time at school. However, they might feel like their bilingualism isn’t really worth much.
Because a lot of places speak English...
However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider teaching them a second foreign language or going to Italy.
Once they’ve learnt Italian, they’ll also find mastering another Romance language much easier since In fact, since the closer a language is to a language you already know, the easier it is to learn. Why not teach them Spanish or French as their first real foreign language since these languages are spoken all over the world and being bilingual in Italy will make learning them quite simple?
So why not just learn Spanish or French from the beginning? Tonnes of people learn French and Spanish. If you give your child the opportunity to learn Italian, they’ll genuinely be one in a million (though as their parent, you already know they are).
Learning Italian will be a huge plus when they start looking for jobs and are one of only a handful of candidates who can speak this language fluently alongside English. Additionally, Italy is one of Europe's biggest economies and Italian is one of Europe's most spoken languages.
However, the number of people speaking Italian as a foreign language is significantly lower than the number of those learning languages like French and Spanish. That means that there's demand for people who can speak Italian but not the necessary supply of people who can actually speak it.
Hopefully, this advice has helped you make your mind up on whether it’s worthwhile teaching your little one a few Italian phrases and verbs as early as possible.
What’s left to do? Why not look for a private Italian tutor to help them? You can get them speaking Italian from day one with language lessons.