As every year we spent a whole month of summer holidays in Germany and as every year Q. benefitted greatly from this time of full immersion. Above all his fluency improved a lot and he gained a lot of confidence. Read the rest of this entry »


When S. was born it was clear to me that she would go to the German school when possible. It seemed the obvious choice if we wanted her to become truly bilingual and bicultural. When she was three years old, however, we didn’t send her to the German kindergarten, as her German was already good enough. Three years later we considered the German school again, but then sent her to an Italian public school. Again there was no real need from a language perspective and her new Italian school was wonderful.

This year it was time again to choose: Italian or German school? Read the rest of this entry »

One of these mornings I read a newspaper supplement that talked about activities which are beneficial for a child’s development. The first article argued that musical education has a profound effect on the formation of a child’s brain and therefore should be fostered from an early age onwards. I fully agreed. The second article was on the importance of mathematics for a child’s general development. Again I fully agreed. Then there were articles on the importance of sports, on free play and on many other activities. I fully agreed with all of them, but obviously I could also see that you can’t do all at the same time. You have to focus on what is most important. Read the rest of this entry »

It is end of October, school started almost two month ago and our long summer holidays in Germany are a distant memory. In former years I always sat down right after the holidays to write my blog, as I was so thrilled about S.’s language improvements. This year it wasn’t so spectacular. S.’s German has generally become so stable that she manages to switch between German and Italian without problems all year round, the summer boosting effect has become less striking.    Read the rest of this entry »

Nowadays it is widely agreed that growing up multilingual is a great benefit for children. What I sometimes hear, though, is that people generally agree but then qualify the statement: multilinguals may have great advantages in many areas, they say, but in their first language they won’t reach the highest level.

It is a statement worth thinking about. Read the rest of this entry »

Last summer, almost a year ago, Q. made a big step ahead in German and for the first time was able to have longer basic conversations. Against my expectations he then managed to keep this level for several months, before he finally fell back into speaking Italian to me on an everyday basis. But even then he showed an unwavering determination to try and use German when we had quality moments alone.

Some weeks ago, however, German disappeared completely. But to me surprise Q spoke German immediately when his grandparents came for Easter: “Ich habe gebaut das Haus, guck hier mit einer Rakete” (German for:  I built the house, look, with a rocket) he said to them or “Ich habe Yoga in der Schule gemacht.” (German for: I did yoga in school). I breathed a sigh of relief. Quentin is able to activate his German when it is needed. Read the rest of this entry »

The weak point in S.’s trilingual education is without doubt English. In Italian and German she is on the right path, in English however she is far from being mother tongue. S. is able to have simple conversations with peers and adults, but her grammar and vocabulary are quite basic.

Not surprisingly, if I am honest. S. hardly ever needs to speak English. She listens to my partner and I speak English, to the English grandmother and to our housekeeper, who does not speak Italian at all, but she usually answers in Italian. Read the rest of this entry »

Four months have passed since the summer and Q.’s German has remained surprisingly stable. „Es hat geschneit.“ he said, when we were in Germany and he looked into the snow-covered garden one morning: „Ein Vogel hat draussen gegraben.“ (German for: It snowed. A bird has dug outside). Usually Q. does not go beyond saying single sentences and what he says is quite simple, but he is still able to bring across what is needed: „Ich habe ein Haus und eine Strasse“, he says playing Monopoly, or: „Ist schneller der Schiff oder der Auto?“, he asked when he looked at a book.

Keeping Q.’s German alive is a great success as usually our children’s German speaking slowly withers away when they return to their Italian surrounding. Read the rest of this entry »

Last month we sent S. for one day to the German school. Her own school was closed, so we took the chance to see how she would get on. I didn’t have great doubts that she would be able to follow the lessons, but when I left her in the classroom in the morning, I couldn’t help worrying a bit. So we were really happy to hear that S. enjoyed the day and came back full of enthusiasm. When I spoke to the teacher later she confirmed that S. was able to participate without difficulty and seemed to have liked the day a lot. More so, the teacher thought that S.’s German was really good.

The day encouraged us in our belief that S. is fit enough to go to a German school, but it is worth looking at the day in more detail. Read the rest of this entry »

When we were back in Milan from our summer holidays Q. wanted to show me some skateboard tricks: “Ich gehe Skateboard fahren,” he said, “Ist schoen Skateboard-Fahren. Komm anschauen” (German for: I go skateboarding, is nice skateboarding, come and look). There is no doubt that Q.’s skateboarding has improved a lot this year, but what I am really happy about is his progress in German. Q. finally made a big step ahead in his speaking.

Read the rest of this entry »

S. finished year three in school and turned over night into a keen reader. Thanks to Harry Potter. The moment she got hold of the first Harry Potter book “The philosopher’s stone” she started reading and devoured it in less than a week. We were all quite surprised as S. hadn’t been too much into reading before. She read what she had to read for school, but that was about it. Read the rest of this entry »

In our trilingual home there is a simple rule: we watch films in original language. And thanks to Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks English has become our default language. Everybody was fine with this rule until one day S.’s friends came for a sleep-over and watched a film in Italian. Some days later, when I wanted to set the language to English for our family cinema evening, S. started a little rebellion. She wanted to see the film in Italian, saying she would understand it much better. To my surprise Q. came to my aid and said: “Capisco lo stesso” (Italian for: I understand it the same). Read the rest of this entry »

Some days ago I came across an article on multilingual upbringing that pointed out the  importance of planning ahead. There are children, it said, who become bilingual without a specific plan, but often the language project fails because not enough planning is done. To make sure your child reaches a certain level of fluency, you need to know where you are heading, you have to provide enough exposure time and you have to react if milestones are not reached. Read the rest of this entry »

Every year after our summer holidays the inevitable decline of Scarlett’s fluency in German begins. The first couple of months she manages to keep her summer level, but when Christmas draws closer she slowly slips back into speaking Italian to me. This year, however, I was surprised how quickly it all happened.

Giving it a closer look I realised that it seems all down to exposure time. Read the rest of this entry »

The other day I read an article about plants in the desert. Some of them seem dead from the outside, but they survive long and dry periods in a bulb deep in the ground. When it then rains they blossom immediately. Exactly like Q.’s German, I thought: dormant most of the year, but the moment we go to Germany his German springs to life. Unfortunately the analogy does not end her. When we leave Germany and return to Italy German dries up quickly again. Read the rest of this entry »

As every year Scarlett’s German blossomed in our one month holidays in Germany. Before the summer Scarlett spoke a lot of Italian to me, but at her grandparents’ she used German right from the start, without mixing in any Italian. Initially she was a bit slower and sometimes she couldn’t think of the right word, but she regained speed and fluency quickly.

Every day she used new expressions and her language became more refined. Towards the end of our stay, after a month, we went camping with friends and Scarlett played with a German girl of her age. Scarlett seemed almost mother-tongue, she was talking freely and German didn’t limit her at all.

Almost mother-tongue Read the rest of this entry »

For one year Quentin’s German had virtually disappeared, but this summer it came tiptoeing back. When we were in Germany for our long summer holidays Quentin still spoke Italian most of the time, but he slipped in more and more German words and used two or three word phrases again: “Jetzt kommt Papa” (German for: Now daddy comes). Every now and then he said longer phrases:  “Das ist ein Schwimmbad. Ein Becken.” (German for: This is a swimming bath. A pool.” or “Das ist eine Lanze und das ist ein Schwert.” (German for: This is a lance and this is a sword).

Read the rest of this entry »

When we went on a one-week trip to England this summer we were eager to see how good Scarlett’s English actually is. When Scarlett was born our plan was to turn her into a trilingual speaker, but what concerns English we somehow lost sight of this goal on the way. English has always been by far Scarlett’s weakest language, but in the past year her exposure to English had even dropped further. Scarlett overhears our English conversations, but she has spent less time with her English grandmother and our English speaking housekeeper.

Generally we had the impression that Scarlett understands English without problems, but we were not so sure about her ability to express herself. Scarlett usually answered in Italian to her grandmother and conversations with Teresa had become rather basic. So we were wondering in how far Scarlett would be able to interact properly with English children. Read the rest of this entry »

At a certain point in a multilingual education the question of what to do with reading and writing comes up. Scarlett got first intrigued by letters when she was 4 years old. She proudly started writing “SCARLETT, MAMA, PAPA or NONNA” on paper. We were happy to foster this interest, bought a big illustrated alphabet poster she studied intensively and wooden letter cubes she loved playing with. Read the rest of this entry »

When you listen to our family conversations it is not easy to understand what our language background is. On a typical family day out Scarlett and Quentin are speaking Italian to each other while Penny and I are talking in English; then suddenly Scarlett addresses me in German while Penny says something in Italian to Quentin. We all switch languages all the time. The only who doesn’t is Quentin. He speaks Italian no matter who he is talking to. And, thinking about it, this is not a bad idea. Quentin understands what everybody else says while he himself always talks in his strongest language. He has become a receptive multilingual, a person who speaks one language and understands the others.

Quentin’s level of understanding the different languages obviously differs. Read the rest of this entry »

A few weeks ago Scarlett said some sentences in the passato remoto, a tense that is used in Italian to talk about a distant past and has no equivalent in English: “E poi la regina morì” (Italian for: And then the queen died). I was quite impressed as the passato remoto is typical of a literary and elaborated language. But soon I realised that Scarlett hadn’t turned into a highly cultured speaker, she simply repeated the odd sentence from fairy tales they did in school and which are often told in the passato remoto. The episode however made me wonder how well Scarlett speaks and whether she will one day be able to reach a high level in all her languages. Read the rest of this entry »

In the past months Quentin has gained a lot of self-confidence in speaking Italian. He is chatting away at home, he talks a lot to his friends and he speaks more to adults. This is a big step ahead as Quentin has always been a shy boy and never talked much outside of the family. Last year he didn’t say a single word to his kindergarten teachers, this year he is still timid but he talks when there is the need. He also talks more to our neighbours and his friends’ parents.

I suppose Quentin’s new self-confidence has been boosted by his exploding language skills. Read the rest of this entry »

When we came back from our summer holidays in Germany this year, Scarlett was perfectly fluent in German and never mixed in a single word of Italian. Back in Italy she switched beautifully between the two languages, but after a month, slowly but surely, she started slipping into speaking Italian to me. Read the rest of this entry »

Quentin might have been a slow starter in his language learning, but once he picked up speed he didn’t fade for a second. In the twinkling of an eye he has caught up with his peers, who only half a year ago were linguistically light-years ahead of him. In Italian Quentin is now able to express all he wants to say, his vocabulary and grammar have exploded.

We couldn’t be happier about Quentin’s progress in Italian, but there is a catch to it. It seems as if Quentin paid for the Italian upswing by dropping the other two languages. Read the rest of this entry »

Back from our long summer holidays. As every year we spent a whole month in Germany, two weeks at the Baltic Sea and two weeks at the German grandparents’. This year Scarlett switched languages without the slightest problem. The moment she saw her grandparents she spoke German and didn’t mix in a single word of Italian. Read the rest of this entry »

When I studied for my teaching degree in English about 15 years ago, I once had to get informed on the effect of bilingualism on academic achievement. I remember reading a great variety of texts, some of them arguing that bilingual children were disadvantaged compared to monolingual children, most others, especially the more recent ones, saying the opposite. The prevailing idea was that bilingualism didn’t have any negative effects on intelligence and academic achievement, Read the rest of this entry »

Quentin’s progress in Italian has definitely gained momentum. Grammar, sentence structure and above all vocabulary have improved a lot Read the rest of this entry »

Scarlett has just turned six. She started primary school last September. But which is the right school for a trilingual speaker? Living in a big city we had the choice to send Scarlett either to an Italian, a German or an English school. In the following I will try to explain our thoughts. Read the rest of this entry »

Finally Quentin made a big leap forward. He is now able to say whole sentences and his vocabulary has grown a lo Read the rest of this entry »

Summer is over, we are back in Milan and little Quentin started going to the kindergarten. His language is improving slowly but he is still far behind his peers. While most kids of his age already speak fluently, Quentin’s language is still rather basic. There has, however, been great progress and we are confident he is on the right path. Read the rest of this entry »

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