On 5th September Scarlett’s little brother Quentin was born. We are all over the moon and also Scarlett has taken her little brother to her heart immediately. There are millions of beautiful stories to tell but in this blog I will only talk about the linguistic impact of the new arrival.

Quentin’s birth happens to fall together with a drastic change in Scarlett’s exposure to languages. The two months before Scarlett and me had spent day and night together, as we had our long summer holidays. In July we were in Germany for almost three weeks and Scarlett spent a lot of time with her German grandparents. Her German improved greatly in this time of full immersion. Also in August I was very present.

In September the situation changed radically. The day after Quentin’s birth I started working again and spent far less time at home. Scarlett went to the kindergarten and was in an Italian surrounding from 9 am to 3:45 pm every weekday. Penny stayed at home as she was on maternity leave and spent more time with the kids. When I returned home I had to split my time between two kids. Even though I tried to spend as much time as possible with Scarlett, her exposure to German dropped sharply.

Initially Scarlett carried on speaking Italian to her mom and German to me. When Quentin cried she ran to her mom and said: “Quentin piange. Ha fame. Vuole latte” (Italian for: Quentin cries. He is hungry. He wants milk.). To me she said: “Quentin schreit. Will Milch. Milch di mama.” (German for: Quentin cries. Wants milk. Milk of mom (in the last sentence she used the Italian preposition ‘di’)) She also said things like: “Der kleine Quentin will Milch” (German for: Little Quentin wants milk”) or “Quentin hat Augen auf” (German for: Quentin has eyes open”)

As time passed Scarlett spoke more and more Italian to me. When I picked her up from the kindergarten she would initially speak Italian to me. My strategy was to repeat what she said in German and then to carry on. A friend of mine who also brings up his children bilingually was told that you should pretend not to understand when your kid talks to you in the “wrong” language. I personally disagree on this. Kids want to tell you what is important for them and sticking to such a strict rule would limit Scarly a lot. She makes most of her new experiences in an Italian surrounding and often she is simply not able to talk about these things in German.

 Thus our typical conversations are like the following, when I had just picked up Scarly from the kindergarten and she asked me about an injury I had:

Scarlett: “Papa, com’è la tua bua? (Daddy, how’s your wound?)

I: ” Viel besser. Meine Wunde ist fast verheilt” (Much better. My wound has almost healed)

S.: ” Sei andato dal dottore?” (Have you been to the doctor?)

I: “Ja.” (Yes)

S.: “Che ha fatto il dottore?” (What did the doctor do?)

I.: “Er hat ein bisschen Creme drauf gemacht.” (He put a little bit of cream on it)

S.: “Bisschen Creme drauf.” (German for: A little bit of cream.)

A minute later Scarlett came to me again and told me about something she had constructed with building blocks:

S.: “Io ho fatto una piccola piscina.” (Italian for: I made a little swimming pool). “Ein kleines Schwimmbad gemacht. Mit einem kleinen Kind.” (German for:  A little swimming pool made. With a little kid.)

Scarlett’s Italian sentence is grammatically correct, whereas in German the auxiliary verb is missing and the word order is awkward. In Italian Scarlett has generally improved a lot. She started using complex structures like the following relative clauses: “Ieri ho visto un signore che cadeva sul pavimento” (Italian for: Yesterday I saw a man who fell down on the pavement”.

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