Every year Scarlett’s use of German follows the same pattern. After the summer she is absolutely fluent and speaks German without even thinking about it. Back in Milan she slowly starts using more and more Italian and within a year she speaks Italian to me most of the time. This process is interrupted at Christmas and Easter when we go to Germany for a week and Scarlett regains fluency quickly, even though not to the summer level.

This year Scarlett got out of the habit of speaking German even faster than in the years before. As the main influencing factor seems to be exposure time I had a closer look at the past months and, indeed, Scarlett has been less exposed to German. Not much, but apparently a small difference is enough to have an effect.

Straight after the summer we went to Umbria to see the Italian grandfather. We all, including me, spoke Italian almost all the time. Soon after I and the children went with Italian friends to the mountains where we spoke hardly any German. Back in Milan I went twice away on school trips, then only I and Quentin went for four days to Germany. Quite some days when Scarlett did not get any German input.

Exposure time, however, is only part of the problem. What also seems to have a big impact is the fact that I spoke a lot of Italian to the children. On the mountain trip or at the Italian grandfather’s I communicated all day long in Italian as I did not want to exclude anybody. I never asked Scarlett to speak German to me which I usually do from time to time. Speaking Italian to me became normal for Scarlett and she simply continued when we were back in Milan.

In the following months I tried to restore the language order but it was not easy. 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 my partner 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.