- James Yap and Michela Cazzola’s firstborn child, Michael James, nicknamed MJ, is starting to learn different languages.
- Mic said English became MJ's first language because everybody in their household understands and speaks it.
James Yap and Michela “Mic” Cazzola’s firstborn child, Michael James, nicknamed MJ, is starting to learn different languages at age 2.5 years old. That’s because at least four languages are spoken in their multilingual household — excluding baby talk, which is how they communicate with their youngest member, Francesca Michelle, who’s turning 1 in June.
James, a star player of the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters team in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), hails from Escalante city in Negros Occidental where the Visayan languages Hiligaynon and Cebuano are widely spoken. Mic, on the other hand, is an Italian expatriate working at a Philippine-based international financial institution who, aside from her native language, communicates in English and Filipino.
How to raise a child in a multilingual household
Mic told SmartParenting.com.ph in an email interview that the first language MJ learned to speak was English. “We did not plan it for any particular reason,” she said when asked if she and James had really wanted their son to speak in English first. “It just came naturally since everybody in the household understands and speaks English.”
“It’s a matter of being practical,” she added, “so everybody understands when we talk to each other and when I give instructions, I don’t need to translate. [That] would be tiring and time-consuming. So we went for the commonly spoken language in the house.”
Mic has started teaching her mother tongue to MJ, whom she calls Michael and whom James sometimes lovingly refers to as Bugoy. “I want him to understand and speak Italian because he’s also from Italy, and Italian is a beautiful language,” she explained.
“My parents and other family members can speak English, but of course, it is more natural for them to speak Italian. Also, we spend a lot of time in Italy, it is better that he knows the language, so I don’t need to translate everything! Italian has a complex grammar, best to learn it while young. For now, I am teaching him the simple basic phrases, he can pronounce. I just take it easy, so he doesn’t get confused.”
Though James doesn’t really teach his son the Visayan languages that he grew up speaking, Mic noted that MJ has picked up some words, and she’d love for the boy to learn more. “In the house, several people speak Bisaya,” she pointed out. “At the right time, will ask them to teach him.”
As for the Philippine national language, Mic shared an interesting revelation. “You may find it funny,” she said, “but am also the one who speaks Tagalog with the boy. For some words, he knows the name in Filipino but not in English, it’s funny.”
Challenges of a multilingual home
“Translating in real time is hard,” Mic admitted, “so sometimes I just say a word in one language and point at the item, for example, without translating.”
She also observed that her son easily picks up new words. “I think he also indirectly learns when I talk in Italian with friends or on the phone,” she said, adding that children in general readily absorb information. “They seem busy with something but in reality they listen to everything.”
Mic believes that being multilingual is beneficial to MJ. “In the long run, it may help with studies and work,” she pointed out. “It has cognitive benefits, too. It is also a personal achievement.”
She plans on consulting an expert in child development to nurture her son’s ability to learn different languages. “Maybe when he starts going to school,” she said. “So far, he has a private teacher who comes to the house, and the language used is English…He will start preschool in the next few months.”
Watch how Mic teaches MJ to speak Italian in this Instagram video: