Scarlett is now using two- and three-word-structures more frequently. When she sees a blue crayon on top of the table, she says “Papa, blau oben” (German for “Daddy, blue up”). When she shows her new toy watch to her favourite doll (whose name is “Petit”) she says “Petit, Scarly Uhr” (Petit, Scarly watch). She now combines adjectives and nouns. She says “Big black dog” when she sees a big black dog on a stroll with her English grandma. She points at a blue car and says “blau Auto” (German for “blue car”), then she points at a grey car and says “grau Auto” (grey car). Grammatically these forms are not yet correct, as adjectives need to be inflected in German and it has to be “blaues Auto”.

When I say more frequently, however, it does not mean she talks like a waterfall. Scarlett usually just points at things and makes an “eh”-sound in order to attract our attention. The  two- and three-word-structures are still rare enough to make us sing and dance when she uses them.

It is not by chance that I mention the situation when Scarlett talked to her doll Petit. She does it quite often. One night I heard Scarlett’s voice in her room and I sneaked up to the door to see what was going on. I saw her sitting on the floor, Petit on her lap, and she was reading from a book, exactly like we do with her. Her reading was very melodious, at first it sounded like real words to me, but when I came closer I noticed that she was making up fantasy-words.

One big issue about bringing up multilingual children is mixing languages. It is said that at a certain point children mix but eventually it gets all sorted. We have always had the impression that Scarlett was very good in using the right language with the right person.  She knows she is supposed to speak German to me. Initially, however, multilingual children often learn a new word only in one language. Scarly for example learnt the word ‘ciucciu’ (dummy) first in Italian. When she desperately wanted her dummy and only I was around she understandably asked me for a “ciucciu”. We adults do the same thing when we speak a foreign language. When we do not know the word, we try our mother tongue and hope the other person understands. Whenever Scarlett said “ciucciu”, I said “Willst du deinen Schnuller haben?” (German for “do you want your dummy”) and she answered “ja” (yes). After some days she said “Schnuller” (dummy) to me. When Scarlett knows a word in different languages, she usually uses it correctly with the right person. The other day when we were both in the room she pointed to her mouth, turned to Penny and said “bocca” (mouth). Then she turned to me and said “Mund” (mouth).

Another day Scarlett said “picco, picco” to her grandma. Daphne asked whether she meant ‘piccolo’ (Italian for “little”).  Then grandma asked in Italian “piccolo cane?” (Italian for: “little dog?”). Scarlett said “Over moon”. Even though Grandma had talked in Italian, it triggered off the image of an English nursery rhyme grandma often had told her: “Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon, the little dog laughed to see such sport, and the dish ran away with the spoon.” So it seems there is a general image stored in Scarlett’s brain that she refers to independently of the language (but maybe depending on the person who says it).

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