A few months after moving to Australia bel marito found a full time job which meant that he would spend less time with the children which meant they would hear a lot less Italian. We were living with my parents at the time and I had asked dad to speak with the children in Italian but he just wasn't used to it. He would start speaking in Italian and then finish the conversation in English, much like my grandfather does with the children too. I don't think they even realise it half the time, but they just keep slipping in and out of either language which I don't think is helpful when trying to teach a child two languages! (We were not raised bilingual you see so my dad and my mothers parents are not used to speaking with any of us in Italian.) Other family members who speak basic Italian tried to help us by throwing the odd Italian word into their conversations, and often these words were wrong so in the end I had to spell it out straight to my family - choose just one language, which ever it be and stick to it. I thanked them for the odd Italian words thrown in with their English but it wasn't going to help the children identify which words go with which language. So the only thing to do was for me to switch from full time English to full time Italian.
I did it cold turkey. One night I said good night to the children and the next morning I woke them with a buongiorno. For the first day or two bel bambino was confused and he would only reply to me in English. After a few days his little mind clicked that mamma now spoke like papa' and he started speaking with me only in Italian. It was amazing to see and there has been no looking back.
At first it was a little strange for me to speak with my children in Italian. It wasn't that it felt unnatural since I was used to speaking with bel marito in Italian, it was just that I forgot and sometimes had to stop and think before speaking, making sure that Italian would come out of my mouth. It only took me a few days to feel comfortable with this full time Italian and now if I were to speak English to them that would be strange! I did have my doubts however as my Italian is no where near perfect, but bel marito liked to point out that most Italians don't speak perfect Italian and that even if the children learn my mistakes at least they can be understood in Italy which is the main thing! I worry that they will get my Italian accent which is not at all Italian but again bel marito doesn't mind. There is a chance they will get his accent but if they don't then hey, they will be able to speak Italian just with an Australian accent.
Since his second birthday bel bambino has turned into a little chatter box who just won't stop speaking (just like his mamma!). It is impressive watching him float between Italian and English. Other then bel marito and I he is surrounded by English everyday but I would say he is equally strong in both languages. There are words he knows in Italian that he doesn't know in English and vice versa. Sometimes he will speak to us with the odd English word, this is normally a new word he has learnt and normally doesn't know or remember in Italian. When this happens we ask him "come si dice in Italiano?" (how do you say it in Italian) or we say "si dice train in inglese, si dice treno in italiano." (you say train in English and treno in Italian.) The other day he kept saying train track in English and when we asked him how to say it in Italian he didn't know. That was no surprise as I didn't know so no wonder he didn't know! Once our translator aka bel marito had taught us that train track was binario in Italian he and I both learnt it and we able to use it in our conversation.
We try and get him to watch tv in Italian (not that he watches a lot of tv) and we put a cartoon on youtube, normally Thomas the Tank Engine in Italian. I am trying to see if he understands that he speaks two languages but I am not sure if he really realises yet. I ask him if Thomas is on in English in Italian and sometimes he gets the answer right, and sometimes not which tells me he has not yet registered the two languages. I think he only associates the language with the person. If he meets someone new who speaks to him in Italian normally he will reply in English but he speaks with his Italian relatives in Italian via Skype.
At the end of the day we are happy with his progress and we are happy with bella bambina too. Here we are living in Australia and her first word after mamma and papa' was ciao! So I think she is on her way to being bilingual too.