The weak point in S.’s trilingual education is without doubt English. In Italian S. is mother tongue, in German she is almost there. In English her level is decent, she is able to talk with peers and adults, but her language is simple and her vocabulary limited. S.’s passive understanding of English, however, is quite good.

This is not much of a surprise, as S. is exposed to English quite a lot, but hardly ever speaks herself. All day long she hears my partner and me speak English to each other, her English grandmother talks to her in English, but she usually answers in Italian.

Already a year ago I wrote in a blog that we have to find a way of pushing Scarlett to speak English actively if we want her to reach mother tongue level. But how to do this? S.’s life was already packed. She did afternoon sports activities, played an instrument and did an afternoon German course. Squeezing in more planned activities would simply have been to much. So we didn’t take action and postponed the problem to later.

Suddenly, a couple of months ago, the solution appeared out of the blue. Scarlett found an English speaking playmate, astonishingly in her afternoon German course. M. is S.’s age, originally comes from Portugal, but has lived in the German speaking part of Switzerland before moving to Italy. Now she is going to the German school and does the afternoon course to further improve her German as both her parents don’t speak German. S. and M. became friends and spoke German also outside of the classes, as M. speaks very little Italian so far.

But how did English come into the game then? S. was invited to M.’s house. As M.’s mother speaks neither German nor Italian, she talked to S. in English. And, more lucky coincidences, she also speaks to her own children often in English, as she had lived in Canada when she was little. So it turned out that M. is also trilingual, German, English and Portuguese. M.’s big sister even prefers speaking English, so when S. went to their place everybody spoke English and S. simply joined in, even though she was struggling a bit at the start.

The two girls now use their different languages depending on the situation. They speak English when they are at M. house and German when they are at our house or at the language course. They speak German when only the two of them are together and English when the big sister is with them. It becomes Babylonian when we meet as families. We adults speak English, but in the interaction with the children, depending on who talks to whom, also German, Italian and Portuguese are used.