The other day I read an article about plants in the desert. Some of them seem dead from the outside, but they survive long and dry periods in a bulb deep in the ground. When it then rains they blossom immediately. Exactly like Q.’s German, I thought: dormant most of the year, but the moment we go to Germany his German springs to life. Unfortunately the analogy does not end her. When we leave Germany and return to Italy German dries up quickly again.

At the moment German has once more disappeared. Q. speaks Italian to me all the time. I hope though that his German is stored somewhere inside and will blossom when we go to Germany next time. For the time being, however, we can’t do anything but be patient and persistent in giving as much German input as possible.

These two qualities, patience and persistence, are the key to bringing up multilingual children. As in Q.’s case now, there can be a period full of progress and hope and then the language disappears as quickly as it came and for a long period nothing seems to happen. Sometimes multilingual children speak later, sometimes they don’t speak the minority language, sometimes there are sudden unexplainable setbacks. It can be frustrating at times and there are moments when you might even doubt whether your children will become multilingual at all.

With Q. I am definitely going through these moments. Q.’s older sister has always been good in her language learning. When she was Q.’s age, she was speaking German fluently and also her English was decent. Q., however, started speaking late, he was behind in Italian for a long time and hasn’t been speaking much German so far, let alone English.

Maybe Q. is not that gifted for languages? Maybe the circumstances aren’t right? Maybe we are making mistakes? According to most experts there is no need to  worry. Ups and downs in the learning process are normal, all children have their own pace. Just continue speaking the minority language to your child and be patient and persistent.

Despite theoretically knowing all this, we still can’t help worrying from time to time. Then it helps to simply look at the encouraging signs.

First of all, Q.’s passive understanding keeps improving greatly. When we read our evening stories Q. interrupts much more often than before and asks detailed questions: “Perchè vadono li?” (Italian for: Why do they go there?), “Chi dice questo?” (Italian for: Who says that?)

Secondly, there are clear signs of improvement in his speaking. Shortly after our summer holidays, for example, Q. for the first time used nouns with their articles: “Guck, der Apfel, der Herd, die Lampe.” (German for: Look the apple, the cooker, the lamp).

And lastly and most importantly, Q. always makes an effort to speak German. Even when he is fully back to Italian he sometimes throws in the odd German word: “Papa, perchè c’è das?” (Italian-German for: daddy, why is this there?) When we went to Germany for a long weekend, Q. at first wouldn’t say a word but then started speaking again: “Da kommt Zug” (German for: Her comes train). In the Christmas holidays his German picked up again and he communicated with his grandparent: “Ich kann essen das?” (German for: I can eat this?)

So I will have to repeat the multilingual mantra of being patient for some more time and hope that next time we leave the desert, beautiful German sentences will pop up.