Every night, we read to our children We use all kinds of books, both in Dutch and Italian. They grow up with the concept of books, images, words and letters to tell stories. Both of them are very interested! My son (21 months) knows that some letters go with a certain sound (he knows ‘E’, ‘N’ and ‘O’) and my daughter (45 months) is starting to write her first words. That’s hard enough as it is, but in a bilingual environment it’s even more complicated!
Learning the letters of the alphabet
When my daughter started to understand what letters are and that they have names, she wanted to practice the alphabet all the time. Piece of cake, you might say, but that’s not really the case when raising a bilingual child. Not when they learn Dutch and Italian anyway.
To start with a pretty relevant difference: the Dutch alphabet has 26 letters and the Italian alphabet actually only has 21. The letters ‘J’, ‘K’, ‘W’ and ‘Y’ are only used in foreign loanwords.
Also the pronounciation (or the name) of the letter tends to differ a lot in the two languages. I tried to describe as accurately as possible, how we would pronounce the names of these letters (phonetically) when practicing the Dutch and the Italian alphabet. Any help from native English speakers is welcome on the Italian part!
Obviously, we don’t want to complicate the lives of our children when we don’t need to. We ended up using the names of the letters (both in Dutch and Italian) to be able to learn and practice the alphabet. We decided to combine the letters with words that start with that latter, to help them get used to the sound that goes with the letter, rather than the name of it.
My daughters first letters were: ‘M’ for ‘mama‘ (‘mum’ in Dutch and Italian), ‘P’ for ‘papa‘ (‘dad’ in Italian and Dutch), ‘N’ for ‘nonno‘ (‘grandpa’ in Italian) and ‘O’ for ‘oma‘ (grandma in Dutch). With the help of some songs, videos and games, eventually she learned the whole alphabet. And my son is a real copycat! The other day he pointed at my sweater and said: “O, O, tanti O!” (“O, O, so many O’s!”).
Reading and writing words
While my daughter was learning the alphabet, we also started to write the letters. She’s still learning, and she enjoys it so much we can even start to write some words!
Her own name was the first word she started ‘writing’, followed by ‘mama‘ and ‘papa‘.
To enable her to learn how to read and write, we switched from the names of the letters, to the sound of the letters. That way, she’s able to spell simple words and repeat the letters until she ‘hears’ what word it says.
In order to be able to write some words, we say the word very slowly, let her try to individuate the letters and write them down one by one. It seems to work! She succesfully distinguishes the first and last letter of a word, and sometimes even some other letters. She likes to write down the names of her friends and family on drawings she makes and I’m impressed by her dedication!
About a month ago, we made christmascards for her friends at daycare and ended up making about 20 of them, because she didn’t want to leave anyone out.
You bet that’s good practice!
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