After Quentin’s German had remained surprisingly stable for most of the year he eventually slipped back into speaking Italian to me some weeks ago. As always I feared it would now take a lot of time and effort to reactivate it, but when his German grandparents came to visit us for Easter, Quentin’s German bounced back at once. “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 has reached the stability that allows him to activate his German whenever it is needed. Read the rest of this entry »


Four months have passed since the summer and Quentin’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 Quentin 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 Quentin’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 »

When we were back in Milan from our summer holidays Quentin 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 Quentin’s skateboarding has improved a lot this year, but what I am really happy about is his progress in German. Quentin finally made a big step ahead in his speaking.

Read the rest of this entry »

Scarlett 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 Scarlett 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 Scarlett’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, Scarlett started a little rebellion. She wanted to see the film in Italian, saying she would understand it much better. To my surprise Quentin 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 Scarlett’s use of German follows the same pattern. After the summer she is absolutely fluent and speaks German without even thinking about it. Back in Milan she slowly starts using more and more Italian and within a year she speaks Italian to me most of the time. This process is interrupted at Christmas and Easter when we go to Germany for a week and Scarlett regains fluency quickly, even though not to the summer level.

This year Scarlett got out of the habit of speaking German even faster than in the years before. Read the rest of this entry »

When I read an article about plants in the desert the other day, it made me think of Quentin’s German. A desert lily, for example, is invisible most of the year, as it survives the long dry periods in a bulb deep in the ground. When it rains it springs to life immediately. Exactly like Quentin’s German: it stays dormant most of the year, but springs to life when we go to Germany. Unfortunately it also dries up again quickly when we return to Italy. Read the rest of this entry »

When we went on a one-week trip to England this summer we were quite eager to find out how good Scarlett’s English really is. Her exposure to English had been rather limited in the past year, she had spent less time with her grandmother and our English speaking housekeeper Teresa.

Generally we have the impression that Scarlett understands English without problems, but we are not so sure about her ability to express herself. Scarlett usually answers in Italian to her grandmother and conversations with Teresa have become rather basic, as Scarlett only communicates what is absolutely necessary for playing. So we were wondering whether Scarlett would really be able to interact with English children. 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 »

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 »

End of  August, our long summer holidays are coming to an end. As every year Scarlett got her booster dose of English and German. Read the rest of this entry »

Quentin is talking much more, but the quality of his output varies a lot. He is able to say complete little sentences: “Dopo andiamo a Kuh?” (Italian, German for: Later we go to the cow?), but most of the time he says single words.  Quite some times he is desperately struggling for words: “me … ahhh … prendo …  ahh … me … giu … brrrm … brrmm … weeeeeh”. Quentin has become very keen on communicating, but often he is not able to bring across what he wants to say. Read the rest of this entry »

Quentin has grown a lot, he is the tallest and strongest in his kindergarten group. Physically he is a prodigy. When he zooms down the street on his running bike or his scooter, people turn around in surprise. Quentin is a clever and curious little boy, he has become quite social and plays beautifully with his sister.

On the language level, however, he is far behind his peers. Read the rest of this entry »

Scarlett is now five years old and interacting with other kids has become very important to her. When I pick her up from kindergarden she usually asks whether she can spend some more time with one of her friends or her cousin Emilia or she wants to go to the playground to meet other kids.

Scarlett has always been rather self-conscious, but now she starts talking more to other children. Matters however become complicated when I get involved. Read the rest of this entry »

Little Quentin is thriving and prospering, but his talking has remained rather minimalist. He is interacting a lot with his sister, his kindergarten friends and us, but doesn’t say much. Read the rest of this entry »

Back from our holidays. In July we stayed for a month in Germany. We first flew to Lübeck  and spent two weeks at the Baltic see, first week all the family, second week only me, the kids and the German grandparents. Then we spent another two weeks at the grandparents’ place, where Penny came to see us twice for the weekend. So quite some full immersion.

Oma and Opa were once more well impressed by Scarlett’s German. Read the rest of this entry »

Scarlett’s little brother Quentin is already a toddler but this is the first time I talk about him in this blog. I proudly recorded and published every little sound his sister Scarlett produced, with Quentin I have been quiet until now. This is partly the fate of the second born as we all know from photo albums where there are millions of pictures of first borns and hardly any of the second. Partly however it is due to the fact that Quentin’s language production so far has not been very prolific.  Read the rest of this entry »

A few more weeks to go and our summer holidays are about to begin. As every year we will spend a month in Germany, fully immersed into language and culture. A year ago this language boost was bitterly needed as Scarlett had over the year gradually slipped into speaking less and less German to me. This year German has proved much more stable. Read the rest of this entry »

Recent Posts