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. When Quentin slowed down in German some month ago, I hoped it would just be a passing phase. I was rather confident that his German would come back when we went on our summer holiday to Germany in July, as it happened with his sister Scarlett. It hasn’t happened, though.

The first days in Germany were promising. Quentin understood everything and used single German words like “Wellen” (German for: waves), “Wasser” (water) or “Hunger” (hunger). Generally he spoke Italian, but with time he started mixing in the odd German word: “andiamo a warm duschen” (Italian-German for: let’s go and have a warm shower), “si mettono Hosen” (German-Italian for: they put trousers) or “Non sono un tote Junge, sono un cane tot” (German-Italian for: I am not a dead boy, I am a dead dog.) But this is where it stopped. Quentin never went beyond saying single words.

Admittedly I was slightly disappointed at first, but then I realised that Quentin’s passive understanding had improved a lot. Back in Milan Quentin asked me to put on CDs with stories in German, like “Bibi Blocksberg” or “Benjamin Bluemchen”. He would then sit down next to the stereo and listen attentively, sometimes singing along parts of the title songs: “Bibi Blocksberg, a kleine Hexe.” (German-English for: Bibi Blocksberg, the little witch). Quentin was also listening more attentively to my evening stories.

One day then we were looking at a picture book, where the letters of the alphabet were illustrated with a matching animal, e.g. the A with “Affe” (monkey) or “Ameise” (ant). Pointing at the A, Quentin said “scimmia” (Italian for: monkey). Scarlett corrected him and said that with an A you have to say “Affe”. Quentin then pointed at the ant and said “Ameise”. The same happened with the B where he came up with “Baer” (bear) and “Baum” (tree). I realised that the German words were there, Quentin just doesn’t say them as he is so much used to speaking Italian to us.

So I started trying to give Quentin’s German a little extra push. Whenever we have a quiet moment, we sit down on the sofa with a picture book. I point at an object say the word and ask Quentin to repeat it. Quentin happily does it. Also in our daily routines I try to push German. When Quentin says something in Italian “Possiamo giocare?” (Italian for: Can we play) I try to rephrase it in German: “Du willst spielen. Ja natuerlich.” (German for: You want to play? Yes of, course).

I soon had the feeling the effort paid off. Quentin started speaking some German to me: “Komm hoch” (German for: come up), “Lies” (German for: Read). He used German words in his Italian: “Questo è un Garten” (German-Italian for: This is a Garten) or “Perchè ci sono Linien?” (German-Italian for: Why are there lines?).

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