My question is: how to choose a language when the mother is bilingual herself? We live in France, so our community language is French, while our home language is Italian. The point is that I’m bilingual myself, Italian-French, so which language should I speak to my 2-year-old son? It is natural for me when I’m outside or alone with my son, to speak to him in French, but when of course dad is around we speak Italian to him. Is it confusing for my son the fact that I speak two languages to him depending on the occasions and with really not strict rules? Should I speak to him family or community language?
Thank you very much!
Thank you for your question about choosing which one of your two languages to speak with your son.
I will answer your second question first: is it confusing for your son to hear you speak both French and Italian? The answer is No! – you will not confuse your son by speaking both your languages with him. As you describe, you will be choosing which language you speak with your son based on the situation you are in. He will become accustomed to the switching of languages, and you are behaving like a great role model for a bilingual person. Children are actually very apt at distinguishing different languages and you can continue the way you use languages at the moment, if that is what feels most natural to you.
You do not mention how much time your son will be exposed to Italian. Does daddy come home before your son goes to bed in the evenings, so that there is some time when all of you speak Italian each day? I am asking, as what may happen if your son’s Italian exposure shrinks to very little each week, then he might prefer speaking French only. If he starts attending daycare in French, then French will become an even more dominant language for him.
What I would recommend is that you continue the way it feels right for you, but keep an eye on how his Italian progresses. If you notice that he is reluctant to speak Italian or that he prefers to answer in French even if his dad speaks Italian with him, then you could consider speaking Italian also when you are alone with him. A natural way to do this is for example to read more Italian books to him, have Italian music on at home, (if he watches TV) choosing Italian cartoons, engage extended Italian family in Skype calls and so on. It does not mean that you have to fully switch to Italian, just that you help with the exposure.
Wishing you a successful bilingual family journey!