Is it possible to teach Italian to a foreign child… at home?

You want to teach Italian as a foreign language to your children or grandchildren abroad. How to do it?

Certainly, a more ‘serious’ type of teaching can provide your little one with good foundations. So, if possible, choosing a competent private teacher or a course with other children is definitely a good option. The child will know that they ‘must’ pay attention for those 30 or 60 minutes and will surely end up learning something.

However, that ‘official’ time is not enough! It’s up to you, then, to integrate those lessons with activities at home, to be carried out in everyday life. Warning: arm yourselves with a lot of patience. You’ll need it!

Take advantage of the environment, use the things of everyday usage to train the child to the new language and to immerse them in it. For example, you’re at home, you take an object and you name it. If you take an apple from the fridge, you say “MELA” and you wait till the child repeats it.

You can do it with anything: the food in the fridge, the clothes in the wardrobe, his games…
But you can also do it outside, for example at the park or at the supermarket. The context will help the child to learn and remember the vocabulary more easily.

No one learns a word as soon as they hear it. It would be great, no? But just as we adults need repetition, children need it too.

Don’t demand them to learn a word just after hearing it once, but keep repeating it day by day. Only like that, after hearing it many times in the end they will learn it.

Probably, at the beginning your child (who is already learning the names of things in their first language) won’t understand why they should learn other words, in a different language, for the same objects. The risk is that they would continue to call objects by their names in the first language.

Therefore, a good solution would be to focus on Italian for 10, 15, 20 minutes every day. So the child would know that during that time they should only use Italian. For example, during the car journey to go to school. Or before dinner. Or even during snack time. “Ok, adesso si parla in italiano. Pronti? Via! Chi sa come si chiama questo oggetto?” And so on.

Obviously, you have to make sure that during that period of time, only Italian is spoken. You must interact with the child only in Italian, and if they start to respond in their first language, you must pretend not to understand what they said and that you cannot help them.

For example, if they want milk but ask for “milk” (or use their first language), you should not give it to them until they say “latte.” Eh eh… a little (but necessary) suffering!

Another good way to help learning could be to learn one word every day, every day at the same time. In this way, the child will wait for that moment the entire day.

And obviously, that would be a good chance to revise all the words learned up to that moment. Repetita iuvant!

It’s well known that we learn more while we have fun. For this reason, games and interactive activities are a very good way to teach your child Italian as a foreign language.

Examples of useful games are:
WITCH SAYS COLOUR: as the name suggests, this game is perfect to revise or learn colours. You say “Witch says colour… (name of the colour)” and the child will have to run to touch the colour mentioned. If you manage to catch him before he touches it, he’ll be the witch the next round. Obviously, the more the merrier.
HIT THE FLY: write down many Italian words on pieces of paper (they should be fly-shaped). Then, ask how it is called a specific object in Italian. The child has to hit (with the hand or something else) the piece of paper/the fly which displays that word.
FLAG: for this game at least 2 players are required, 3 people altogether. One has to wave a flag and the others two, starting from the same position, have to try to catch it. The first who catches it, has to answer a question in Italian. If he answers right, he gains one point.
CHARADES: each player has a (secret) word and has to mime it to make the others guess it. The one who guesses more words wins.

Children tend to get bored more than adults doing anything. Therefore, to teach Italian to your children, it would be good to continually vary stimuli through always different resources.

Want to watch cartoons? Well, they have to watch Italian ones.

Do you want them to sing or dance a little? Use Italian songs. There are many for children, like those from the Zecchino d’Oro, a sort of music festival entirely dedicated to children.

Want to spend time on the tablet? Every app you download will be in Italian!

Even the stories you read to them at night before bed could be entirely in Italian.

You can also stick notes on objects with their names in Italian. So they will always see them. Or you can print photos or images and write the names of things in Italian on the photos.

You can also do activities with them involving senses like touch, taste, and smell. Let them try different flavors and offer them the right words to describe them (one for each: sweet, salty, bitter…). You can also blindfold them and have them try to guess the right taste. The same could work with smells, or sounds.

Words and phrases must be simple and as direct as possible to ensure the child’s understanding. Do not use roundabout expressions and complex sentences, it would only confuse them.

Finally, perhaps I shouldn’t say this, but it’s important: don’t worry if they make mistakes with verb conjugation or with feminine or plural forms.

Over time, you can explain the differences between these things to them. First, make sure they learn as much information as possible. You can’t expect them to learn endings right away!

These are small gestures we have suggested that can make studying a language easier (and also more interesting) even for young students! If you liked this article and want to stay on topic, take a look at the vocabulary related to fairy tale expressions.

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