A few weeks ago Scarlett said some sentences in the passato remoto, a tense that is used in Italian to talk about a distant past and has no equivalent in English: “E poi la regina morì” (Italian for: And then the queen died). I was quite impressed as the passato remoto is typical of a literary and elaborated language. But soon I realised that Scarlett hadn’t turned into a highly cultured speaker, she simply repeated the odd sentence from fairy tales they did in school and which are often told in the passato remoto. The episode however made me wonder how well Scarlett speaks and whether she will one day be able to reach a high level in all her languages.

In German I believe Scarlett is on a good way. Her active speaking is nothing special but she has a good passive vocabulary and is always keen to learn new words and expressions. At the moment we are reading German author Erich Kaestner. Scarlett loves his books „Das doppelte Lottchen“ (Lottie and Lisa) or “Emil und die Detektive” (Emil and the detectives). The language is challenging for a girl of her age and Scarlett often stops me to ask what certain words or expressions mean. She loves the books and I have the impression she picks up words and phrases that will help her a lot to become an articulate speaker.

Scarlett also shows an interest in the subtleties of language, which I reckon is the breeding ground for good language. She loves unusual words and expressions, especially puns and playful language. When the Sams in Paul Maar’s classic novel answers to „Unserem Plan steht nichts mehr im Wege“ (German for: Nothing is in the way of our plan): „Doch, da steht ein Stuhl im Wege“ (German for: Yes, there is a chair in the way), Scarlett smiles with delight.

Scarlett’s Italian is obviously more fluent than her German, but she is not more eloquent than other children of her age. She speaks well, gets good marks in school in Italian and her primary school teacher is happy with her language skills. The teacher told us that Scarlett is always very attentive when they read stories and has a fine sense for irony.

Scarlett is exposed more to Italian but maybe she has had more quality input in German as I have been reading a lot of German childrens book classic to her. And I believe that good books are the key to eloquent speaking. There are people who say that especially at an early age it is not important what you read to the children, but I find that the great children’s writers simply have an extra gear. My children love Grimm’s fairy tales and great German children writers like Otfried Preussler, Michael Ende or Max Kruse. The language is richer, the story lines are more gripping and I believe that children pick up a lot of good language. I also reckon that children notice the difference in quality themselves.

Books are without doubt indispensable in order to acquire a good language, but as important is our daily input. If an adult speaks to the children patiently and with attention, describes things carefully and answers to all their questions there is a good chance they will become attentive and good speakers themselves. But especially multilingual speakers need input from different speakers. So I am glad that Scarlett gets a lot of quality input from her grandparents. When Scarlett is in Germany they sit down with the children for hours on end, talk to them patiently in well chosen words or read good books or stories to them.

In English Scarlett is still far from being eloquent. Also her English grandmother loves sitting down with the children reading old-fashioned Rupert the Bear stories or inventing colourful stories about little Princess Victoria. I am sure that Scarlett picks up a lot of good language but she is not yet able to turn it active. The simple problem is that the input time in English is far lower than in the other two languages. We try to give some more input by putting English audio books like „Winnie the Pooh“ or “Robin Hood” when travelling in the car, but apparently it is not enough.

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