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.

This is in so far amazing as Italian has become even more dominant in Scarlett’s life. She goes to an Italian primary school from 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. Afterwards she speaks Italian with her little brother Quentin or with her friends. Of course I still speak German to Scarlett, but when her friends or cousins are around, I also speak a lot of Italian. When we are alone we have our German quality moments, such as the bedtime stories or playing time, and Scarlett speaks German to me, but sometimes she slips into Italian. Even Germany is no longer a place of perfect full immersion, as Scarlett and Quentin are playing and talking in Italian for hours.

All this hasn’t had any negative effect on Scarlett’s German. Right from the start of our stay she talked really well. At first her word fluency was lower than in Italian but she improved quickly. Every day her German sounded more natural. Towards the end of our stay she interacted very confidently with her German playmates. And she switched to and fro between Italian and German without batting an eye.

I have often mentioned that Scarlett’s grammar and choice of words are really good, but her pronunciation still sounds Italian. Most sounds are fine, but she for example rolls the ‘r’ the Italian way. Until last year she pronounced the ‘w’ the English way but that has disappeared. This summer Scarlett corrected a mistake for the first time through a conscious and rational approach. One day she asked: “Was macken wir jetzt? (German for: What are we doing now?)” mispronouncing the sound ‘ch’ (a fricative in the back of the throat). As always I reacted by repeating the word correctly: “Du willst wissen, was wir jetzt machen?” (German for: You want to know what we are doing now?). Scarlett looked puzzled and asked me why I pronounced the sound differently. I explained it to her and she said that she had never realised. Afterwards she pronounced the sound properly, often especially stressing it.

This episode illustrates that Scarlett makes a great effort to speak German properly. For Scarlett speaking German is an affair of the heart.  When she was asked in school what she likes she wrote “going to Germany and speaking German”. Apparently this is not always the case. Sometimes multilingual speakers become reluctant to speak their weaker languages at one point. I am rather confident this won’t happen to Scarlett, as she uses all the three languages in a natural way and they are all associated with positive emotions.

Scarlett’s Italian has obviously benefited greatly from the increased exposure time. Especially primary school gives a quality input, also thanks to a great teacher who Scarlett dearly loves. Scarlett goes to school happily, she gets good marks, in Italian even the top mark. In her first year Scarlett learnt to read and write. The teacher used a playful approach, where the children one day had to make a letter from salt dough, the next day from modelling clay. At first many parents were sceptical, at the end of the year however the method had proved successful.

As with German also Scarlett’s English had to weather a reduced exposure time. Scarlett spends less time with our housekeeper and she has to share her grandmother’s attention with her little brother Quentin. Daphne however does a great job both as a grandmother and as a language teacher. She picks up the kids quite often from school and spends time with them. Once a week she spends an afternoon with Quentin alone, one night she has Scarlett sleep at her place. In English Scarlett is able to express what she wants to say, but her sentences are more simple than in the other languages and she speaks with a rather strong Italian accent. A month ago I was however surprised that Scarlett suddenly talked to an Irish friend of mine. A historical moment, as Scarlett had never spoken English to anyone but grandma and the housekeeper before.

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