When we went on a one-week trip to England this summer we were quite eager to find out how good Scarlett’s English really is. Her exposure to English had been rather limited in the past year, she had spent less time with her grandmother and our English speaking housekeeper Teresa.

Generally we have the impression that Scarlett understands English without problems, but we are not so sure about her ability to express herself. Scarlett usually answers in Italian to her grandmother and conversations with Teresa have become rather basic, as Scarlett only communicates what is absolutely necessary for playing. So we were wondering whether Scarlett would really be able to interact with English children.

Scarlett passed the test. Soon after we arrived she met an English girl of her age and they started jumping on a trampolin and doing cartwheels on the lawn. The girl explained something to Scarlett and soon after the two were talking. Scarlett was sometimes struggling for words, but she managed to communicate quite well right from the start. After some time she proudly came to me and said “Papa, una capriola is a flip, das habe ich erst nicht verstanden” (Italian-English-German for: A “capriola” is a flip, I haven’t understood at first).

The next day Scarlett played with other kids and quickly became more daring and more fluent. When we met English friends some days later Scarlett had already gained self-confidence and talked not only to the girl who was her age but also a lot to the girl’s grandmother.

Scarlett’s English became more fluent every day, her Italian accent became weaker, and Penny remarked that Scarlett would become fluent if only she stayed in England for some weeks. Of course her level of English is far behind her English peers but she has a solid base and is able to express what she wants to say. One of her shortcomings is for example that she usually speaks in the present tense when referring to the past: “Yesterday I go to the park and play with a girl”

A week later we moved on to Germany. The same procedure as every year. In the last months before the summer Scarlett spoke more and more Italian to me, but with her grandparents she used German right from the start, without mixing in any Italian. Initially she was a bit slower and sometimes she couldn’t think of the right word, but she regained speed and fluency quickly.

Every day she used new expressions and her language became more refined. Towards the end of our stay, after a month, we went camping with friends and Scarlett played with a German girl of her age. Scarlett seemed almost mother-tongue, she was talking freely and German didn’t limit her at all.

I say almost mother-tongue, as Scarlett makes the odd grammatical mistake or uses expression which are not really idiomatic, especially when it comes to children’s slang. Once I overheard Scarlett saying to her friend: “Ich weiss nicht so gut wie man das auf Deutsch sagt …” but then she continued without any problems. What actually gives Scarlett away as not being a real mother-tongue speaker is her pronunciation.

Scarlett speaks with a slight Italian accent, she for example rolls her ‘r’. Our friends always underline how sweet this accent is and it doesn’t affect understanding at all. Still it would be nice if she could get rid of it and indeed she improved a lot in the four weeks.

In August we then returned to Italy and Scarlett continued speaking German to me all the time. At that point Scarlett hadn’t spoken English for more than a month but when one day her English grandmother rang Scarlett spoke English all the time. She was sometimes struggling to find the right words but never resorted to Italian. The week in England apparently had changed something in Scarlett’s routine.

Advertisements