When S. was younger it was always amazing to see how much her German improved when we stayed for a month in Germany for our summer holidays. Actually, she needed her German full immersion desperately, as during the year her fluency in German deteriorated and she was slowly slipping into speaking more and more Italian with me. These times are over. S.’s German has become so stable that she manages to switch between German and Italian without problems all year round.  

The Germany effect is therefore not so striking anymore, but without doubt S. still benefits greatly from being fully immersed for a month. She becomes more fluent and more refined in her speaking. Above all she picks up all the little details and peculiarities of the language that you can only pick up in the country. In her case it is often the typical children’s language, as here in Italy her German contacts are almost exclusively adults.

After only a short time in Germany S.’s default language changes to German. In Italy it is obviously Italian, as all her friends, her mother and basically everybody around her but me speaks Italian. Even when she speaks to me she often starts in Italian and then in the course of a longer conversation she changes to German. In Germany it is the opposite. Everybody speaks in German apart from her brother who speaks Italian to her. So German quickly becomes her default language.

S.’s level of German has become really good, but there is still room for improvement. She makes some mistakes mother tongue speakers wouldn’t make. Such as getting the third person possessive pronoun wrong: “Lily liest in seinem Buch” (anstatt ihrem Buch)” (German for: Lily reads in his book) or using the wrong relative pronoun: “Der Mann, das die Strasse entlang geht.” Both mistakes are due to the fact that Italian has different rules concerning possessive and relative pronouns.

These are minor mistakes though and according to her German grandparents S. is very precise and differentiated in her use of vocabulary and expresses herself well. Generally people wouldn’t think German is S.’s second language, if it weren’t for a slight Italian accent. Most of the sounds she pronounces perfectly well, but a slightly rolled ‘r’ gives her away as Italian influenced. Again a minor issue.

What S. needs now to further improve her German is quality input from different sources. Our hopes lie in reading. In Italian she has become an ardent reader in the past two years, she is devouring books. In German she also started reading some time ago, but she said she found it much more difficult. The books she read were therefore rather short and simple. This seems to be changing.

This summer we went to the local library in Germany and Scarlett got two “Bibi Blocksberg” books, written in big letters for beginning readers. She finished them in two days, so we returned to the library and got a proper book. She read “Die wilden Huehner” without problems. Then she got the next proper book “Lotta Leben” and read also this without batting an eyelid.

 

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