Every year after our summer holidays the inevitable decline of Scarlett’s fluency in German begins. The first couple of months she manages to keep her summer level, but when Christmas draws closer she slowly slips back into speaking Italian to me. This year, however, I was surprised how quickly it all happened.

Giving it a closer look I realised that it seems all down to exposure time. Scarlett was less exposed to German than in the years before. Straight after the summer we went to Umbria to see the Italian grandfather. We all spoke Italian almost all the time. Soon after we went with Italian friends to the mountains. Almost exclusively Italian again. Back in Milan I had to go away for some short trips without Scarlett and Quentin. More time without German input.

The lack of German input is only one part of the problem though. What seems to have an even stronger impact is the fact that the children hear me speak a lot of Italian. In the mountains or at the Italian grandfather’s I communicated all day long in Italian. The children must have thought our default language had become Italian and not German any more. Why speak German to a father who speaks Italian himself all day long and doesn’t have any problems in understanding at all.

It wasn’t easy to restore the language order the following months. Scarlett often stayed all day in an Italian surrounding and when she saw me she just fired away in Italian. I usually asked her to speak German at a certain point, which she then did, but soon after she was back to Italian as she also speaks Italian to her brother and her mother.

In December the battle seemed lost as the Italian grandfather stayed in our house for two weeks. Again I spoke Italian all day long and the kids did the same. There are people who say you should just continue speaking your language even in the presence of others, but it doesn’t seem right to me. I would exclude the grandfather from our conversations and thus create a strange atmosphere.

Scarlett loses the habit of speaking German quickly, but fortunately it also needs little time to reverse the process. When we go to Germany Scarlett speaks German immediately and regains fluency in no time. Already when Penny went for three days on a business trip, Scarlett got back into the habit of speaking German to me at home quickly. It only needs a short time of German only, uninterrupted by Italian interference.

This quick reversal, however, only works with German, not with English. Even though Scarlett’s English had improved a lot during our summer holidays, she swapped to speaking Italian to her English grandmother right away. She is simply used to it and the stay in England wasn’t long enough to break this habit. Only in certain  routines, for example when Daphne tells her stories about young princess Victoria, Scarlett comments or asks in English.

With our housekeeper Teresa however Scarlett talked in English quite well after our return. Teresa does not speak Italian, so Scarlett had no choice and made a real effort. Unfortunately Scarlett’s English is not yet as stable as her German, so she lost it quickly, especially as she didn’t spend much time with Teresa. After some months Scarlett still managed to communicate what she wanted to say, but her fluency had decreased a lot, she avoided more complicated discourses and started struggling for words.

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