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). Quentin’s skateboarding definitely had improved a lot, but what I was really happy about was his progress in German. “Habe gebaut eine Skateboard-Bahn,” Quentin continued, “Jetzt ich rutsche. Sehr schoen” (German for: I built a skate-board track. Now I slide. Very nice).

This summer Quentin has finally made the big step ahead in German that we have been waiting for for a long time. Before the summer he hardly said a word, but now he is able to express most of what he wants to say. His choice of words and grammar are simple, but he manages to communicate, sometimes in two or three word phrases, sometimes in a sentence and occasionally he even puts two or three sentences together. One example for his improvement is when we look at picture books. Quentin asks questions: “Was ist das?” (German for: What is that?), he makes a lot of short comments: “Guck, der Raeuber hier” (German for: Look, the robber here.) and he is also capable of giving detailed 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”). A giant step ahead compared to last year.

In everyday spontaneous conversation, however, Quentin remains rather limited. He starts off well, but when the conversation gets longer he either becomes quiet or resorts to Italian, if he can. The important point though is that Quentin tries to communicate in German all day long. He is so much into German that he even mixed German words into Italian, when he talked on the phone to Penny:  “Oggi siamo andati al Strand, c’erano grosse Wellen” (Italian-German for: Today we went to the beach, there were big waves). Occasionally he even spoke German to his sister Scarlett: “Ich gehe hoch” (German for: I go upstairs) or “Come sind sie reingekommen hier?” (German-Italian for: How did they get in here?)

Quentin’s success story started two and a half month ago, at the start of June. We went to see friends in Freiburg for two days. Quentin played with his friend Henry, while Scarlett played separately with Henry’s sister Mira, which meant that Quentin couldn’t speak Italian to anybody. The first day Quentin did not say a word, while Henry was talking to him non-stop. The second day he 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 more German. In the park he said: “Baum viel gewachsen. Ich klettern hier.” (German for: tree grown a lot. I climb here). Often he used single German words: “Spielen”, “draussen”, “morgen” (German for: play, outside, tomorrow). Surrounded by Italian it wasn’t easy to carry on speaking German, but I could feel that Quentin 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. On the football ground Quentin said: “Komm her. Ich schiessen. Nicht naeher” (German for: come here, I kick, not closer.) Quentin often went with Scarlett to see their friend Joah, but usually he remained quiet as the other two kids were older and much more fluent in German. Some time later Quentin, Scarlett and Justus, a boy of Quentin’s age, went in a rubber boat on a little river and finally 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.) Quentin spoke German all afternoon and managed to take part in most conversations.

We now have been back to Italy for three weeks and Quentin still speaks German to me a lot: “Du kommst spielen? Ich gewinne.” (German for: You come and play. I win). Quentin is able to communicate in a basic way and now we could start working properly on his German. Unfortunately my experience of the past years has shown that with the return to full Italian immersion, German usually wanes away quickly. It happened to Quentin a year ago and it happened to Scarlett for many years, even though her German was better. 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.