When we were back in Milan from our summer holidays Quentin wanted to show me some skateboard tricks: “Ich gehe Skateboard fahren,” he said, “Ist schoen Skateboard-Fahren. Komm anschauen” (German for: I go skateboarding, is nice skateboarding, come and look). There is no doubt that Quentin’s skateboarding has improved a lot this year, but what I am really happy about is his progress in German. Quentin finally made a big step ahead in his speaking.

The big step is that Quentin always tried to speak German when he addressed his grandparents, me or any other German person: “Ich kann nehmen der Ball?” (German for: I can take the ball?), he asked when he wanted to go into the garden, oder “Du kommst spielen? Ich gewinne” (German for: Are you coming to play? I win.), when he wanted to play a game. A few times Quentin even spoke German to his sister, although their common language is Italian: “Ich gehe hoch.” (German for: I go upstairs.) or “Come sind die reingekommen hier?” (German-Italian for: How have they got in hier?”

Quentin’s sentences are generally grammatically complete, even if he often gets articles wrong or he uses the wrong word order. His main problem now is that he is not yet fluent enough to keep a conversation going. He often starts with a little sentence, but then struggles and either becomes quiet or resorts to Italian. The words are there, he knows them passively, but they won’t come out so quickly.

In a calm set-up Quentin manages to interact much better. Looking at a picture book he asks questions: “Was ist das?” (German for: What is that?), he makes short comments: “Guck, der Raeuber hier” (German for: Look, the robber here.) and sometimes gives longer descriptions: “Der kleine Wasserman steht hier mit Papa am Baum” (German for: the little water-sprite stands here with his dad close to a tree”). Also in these occasions Quentin hardly ever says more than a sentence, but we can perceive that the foundations are there, he simply needs more time to exercise.

The upswing of German started two and a half month ago, when we went to see friends in Freiburg for two days. Quentin played with his friend Henry and the first day he did not say a word, while Henry was talking to him non-stop. The second day Quentin slipped in some phrases like “Komm, schnell” (German for: Come, quick), “Was ist das?” (German for: What’s that) or: “Hier gehen, eins, zwei, drei” (German for: Go here. one, two, three). Quentin never went beyond this stage, but something must have clicked. On the way back in the car he said that we now have to study German for our holidays.

Back in Milan Quentin tried hard to speak German. He often used single words: “Spielen”, “draussen”, “morgen” (German for: play, outside, tomorrow) and sometimes said longer phrases: “Baum viel gewachsen. Ich klettern hier.” (German for: tree grown a lot. I climb here.) What he said was very basic and grammatically far from being correct, but I could feel he made a real effort.

At the end of June we went to Germany for our summer holidays. From the start Quentin tried to speak German to his grandparents and to me. He quickly improved, spoke more and more and his sentences became longer: “Papa, komm hier in das andere Zimmer” (German for: Daddy, come here to the other room). We then went to the seaside and Quentin would say sentences like: “Ich gehe schwimmen” (German for: I go swimming) and “Heute das Wasser ist sehr kalt” (German for: Today the water is very cold), “Da fallen viele Sachen raus” (German for: A lot for things are falling out”), “lass mich los, bitte” (German for: let me go, please).

Playing with other children gave an additional push.  At the start Quentin usually remained quiet as the other children were native speakers and therefore much more fluent in German. After some time Quentin became more talkative: “Komm, hier ist das Wasser tief. Wir muessen raus.” (German for: come, the water is deep here. We have to get out.) On the football ground Quentin said: “Komm her. Ich schiessen. Nicht naeher” (German for: come here, I kick, not closer.)

We now have been back to Italy for three weeks and Quentin still speaks German to me a lot. Unfortunately my experience of the past years has shown that with the return to full Italian immersion, German usually disappears quickly. It happened to Quentin a year ago and it happened to Scarlett for many years. My objective for the next months is to keep German alive as long as possible, ideally until we go to Germany again for Christmas. A long way to go.

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