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My husband is Italian but we live in the UK – and our children are now 15 and 11. Here’s how things worked out in practice for us.

We used the ML@H approach because I knew that our children would learn English eventually. It was an odd experience for me to use Italian with them when they were little because although I speak Italian fluently, I didn’t have much experience of how Italians speak to young children. I also worried a bit about certain UK traditions – such as nursery rhymes being lost – as of course they don’t have these in Italy.

My experience confirmed my original belief that ML@H is better than OPOL in the kind of circumstances you describe. In the early years my children spoke Italian better than English (despite being exposed to some English through my family and through a series of nannies) – but once they started kindergarten, English quickly became the dominant language and Italian used only on occasion. Once children have friends coming round to the house, you have to ‘reveal’ to them that you speak the dominant language too, and once they know that, they tend to shift to the dominant language because it’s more attractive. (They’re much more interested in speaking to other children than they are speaking to you.) We now speak a mixture of Italian and English at home, but always speak Italian when in Italy – which we visit once a year. They speak good Italian (though not grammatically perfect) and understand everything around them (including TV, other children, etc.) More importantly perhaps, they are enthusiastic language learners and have done well in French and German at school (they don’t have the chance to study Italian). Their English, I should add, is indistinguishable from that of the monolingual English-speaking children in their classes at school.

I got some funny reactions from English speakers so if you decide to go for ML@H so it’s important to explain to people why you are doing it and why it will work in the end. They need to know that in the early years your children may not be as fluent in the majority language as other mononlingual children, but that they will catch up, and that being bilingual is an advantage in life. You also need to check out how the kindergarten and the school you expect to send your children to will respond. I had to send my children to a private school rather than the local primary because the staff there had very negative reactions to children whose English was less than perfect. In the private school, there were a lot of bilingual families, and my children grew up thinking it was normal for people to speak two or three languages.

Good luck! In bocca al lupo!

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Joanna – great post. Thanks for sharing your experience. Your sentiments about using Italian mirror my own. I am British and my husband is Russian and we live in New Zealand. We have decided to use ML at home as I speak fluent Russian but also worry about the language I use with the baby. We will probably only visit Russia once a year but luckily there is a Russian creche/Kindy where we live.

What language did you speak to the kids in when you were all with your non-Italian speaking family members?Did you just use Italian when it was just you guys together?What did other family members think about your system?


Best wishes and thanks again



Cristina Zago

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this is so interesting.

we are a multilingual family living in London. I am  Italian native and my husband is Turkish native. I speak only Italian to our 2 years old daughter and my husband speaks to her in Turkish. we have a baby sitter who speaks to her in English even thought her native language is not English. our daughter is speaking lots of English, Italian and some Turkish. however she seems to understadn most of what is told to her in the 3 languages. I visit often my Italian family in ITALY and we visit only once a year Turkey.

I am now making more efforts to get  a reply in  Italian from my daughter as she is picking up English faster than we thought. I try to make it into a game and say to her that if she learns Italian she can speaks and play with her cousins whom she is very found of. 

my husband and I speak English to one another as we cannot speak each other languages fluently. So she is hearing us speaking in English. the most difficult situations are when we are all together, our shared language is English however at this stage we feel it is better to focus on development of our own indivdual native languages. so my husband and I try to speak our individual l native languages to her and try to understand one another. another difficult situation is when we are with other English speaking friends. I keep talking to my daughter in Italian however she tends to reply in English.

I am worried at times that our daughter will not speak mine or my husbands’ language and at other times that she will not have sufficient English by the time she goes to school. Only time will tell.

has anyone else a similar experience adn wishes to share more thoughts, ideas and outcomes?

many thanks



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Hi Joanna
Great post it really made me feel so much better to read it after the week I have just had with my 4.5 year olds pre-school.  Thank you soooo much.  I must say that you are right about choosing a school where your child will fit in and the teachers will not hassle about the language choice.  At the moment my 4.5 year old feels more comfortable speaking french than english (english is our majority we use OPOL).  At the pre-school its all english but they say that he doesn’t speak it enough and therefore must require a speech therapist.  This is rubbish because I know he understands fully the english language because he has a father and two brothers who speak english as the majority language.  I think at the moment he just feels more at home with the french vocabulary and eventually his english will be better and probably be preferred.  He is “hopefully” going to the bilingual french school next year where I am sure he will blossom. 
Many thanks again for reinforcing my thoughts on the matter – fantastic and great to hear your kids are still going strong – well done.



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