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. Obviously I speak Italian to her Italian friends, but Scarlett will always speak German to me. Not only do I feel strange to talk to her in Italian but more importantly we never manage to have a conversation including the others.

Also within the family we now feel a Babylonian confusion. When we sit down for dinner, I will speak English to Penny and Scarlett will listen attentively. From time to time she picks up on something and asks Penny in Italian or me in German. Penny answers in Italian and I answer in German. Even if we all understand what everybody says, the conversation remains somewhat unnatural. By choosing German or Italian Scarlett makes clear who she expects to answer. On top of this Penny gets easily cut off from our conversations as her German is often not good enough to understand all the details.

So this is the hitch in “the one person, one language approach“. As long as the children interact mainly with only one person there is no problem but when social interaction becomes more complex troubles lie ahead. Ideally we now would all speak English, but this is not easy to do since the “one person, one language principle” has been our holy grail for the past five years. And then speaking Italian or English to Scarlett feels quite awkward to me. Let’s wait and see what the future will bring.

Going back to the mere language skills there are no worries whatsoever. In all languages Scarlett is well able to communicate and is able to express complex thoughts: “Ich glaube nicht, dass Gott Himmel und Erde geschaffen hat. Ich weiß es. Es steht in dem grossen Buch, das unsere Lehrerin mitbringt.” (German for: I don’t believe that god created heaven and earth. I know it. It is written in the big book which our teacher brings to school). “Aber wenn Lukas Jim an sein Herz drueckt, wird er dann nicht flach wie eine Fensterscheibe gedrueckt?” (German for: But if Lukas squeezes Jim to his heart, doesn’t he then squeeze  him flat as a window pane.).

When we saw an abstract painting in an art exhibition she said: “Finché non mi dite che cos’è, non vado a casa” (Italian for: As long as you don’t tell me what it is, I won’t go home”.) No need to say that her sentences are not always as sophisticated as this and she still makes mistakes, especially when it comes to word order. She keeps saying: “Du liest?” (German for: you read?) or “du spielst?” (German for: you play?)

Scarlett’s vocabulary has grown a lot in all languages and she is definitely thirsty for more. While before she was listening mainly for the gist of good night stories, she now interrupts us every time a new word comes up: “Was heisst ‘Feuerpatsche’ ” (German for: What does ‘fire flapper’ mean?).

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