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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.   Read the rest of this entry »


Nowadays it is widely agreed that growing up multilingual is a great benefit for children. What I sometimes hear, though, is that people generally agree but then qualify the statement: multilinguals may have great advantages in many areas, they say, but in their first language they won’t reach the highest level.

It is a statement worth thinking about. Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

S. finished year three in school and turned over night into a keen reader. Thanks to Harry Potter. The moment she got hold of the first Harry Potter book “The philosopher’s stone” she started reading and devoured it in less than a week. We were all quite surprised as S. hadn’t been too much into reading before. She read what she had to read for school, but that was about it. Read the rest of this entry »

Some days ago I came across an article on multilingual upbringing that pointed out the  importance of planning ahead. There are children, it said, who become bilingual without a specific plan, but often the language project fails because not enough planning is done. To make sure your child reaches a certain level of fluency, you need to know where you are heading, you have to provide enough exposure time and you have to react if milestones are not reached. Read the rest of this entry »

Every year after our summer holidays the inevitable decline of Scarlett’s fluency in German begins. The first couple of months she manages to keep her summer level, but when Christmas draws closer she slowly slips back into speaking Italian to me. This year, however, I was surprised how quickly it all happened.

Giving it a closer look I realised that it seems all down to exposure time. Read the rest of this entry »

When we went on a one-week trip to England this summer we were eager to see how good Scarlett’s English actually is. When Scarlett was born our plan was to turn her into a trilingual speaker, but what concerns English we somehow lost sight of this goal on the way. English has always been by far Scarlett’s weakest language, but in the past year her exposure to English had even dropped further. Scarlett overhears our English conversations, but she has spent less time with her English grandmother and our English speaking housekeeper.

Generally we had the impression that Scarlett understands English without problems, but we were not so sure about her ability to express herself. Scarlett usually answered in Italian to her grandmother and conversations with Teresa had become rather basic. So we were wondering in how far Scarlett would be able to interact properly with English children. Read the rest of this entry »

At a certain point in a multilingual education the question of what to do with reading and writing comes up. Scarlett got first intrigued by letters when she was 4 years old. She proudly started writing “SCARLETT, MAMA, PAPA or NONNA” on paper. We were happy to foster this interest, bought a big illustrated alphabet poster she studied intensively and wooden letter cubes she loved playing with. Read the rest of this entry »

A few weeks ago Scarlett said some sentences in the passato remoto, a tense that is used in Italian to talk about a distant past and has no equivalent in English: “E poi la regina morì” (Italian for: And then the queen died). I was quite impressed as the passato remoto is typical of a literary and elaborated language. But soon I realised that Scarlett hadn’t turned into a highly cultured speaker, she simply repeated the odd sentence from fairy tales they did in school and which are often told in the passato remoto. The episode however made me wonder how well Scarlett speaks and whether she will one day be able to reach a high level in all her languages. Read the rest of this entry »

When we came back from our summer holidays in Germany this year, Scarlett was perfectly fluent in German and never mixed in a single word of Italian. Back in Italy she switched beautifully between the two languages, but after a month, slowly but surely, she started slipping into speaking Italian to me. Read the rest of this entry »

Back from our long summer holidays. As every year we spent a whole month in Germany, two weeks at the Baltic Sea and two weeks at the German grandparents’. This year Scarlett switched languages without the slightest problem. The moment she saw her grandparents she spoke German and didn’t mix in a single word of Italian. Read the rest of this entry »

When I studied for my teaching degree in English about 15 years ago, I once had to get informed on the effect of bilingualism on academic achievement. I remember reading a great variety of texts, some of them arguing that bilingual children were disadvantaged compared to monolingual children, most others, especially the more recent ones, saying the opposite. The prevailing idea was that bilingualism didn’t have any negative effects on intelligence and academic achievement, Read the rest of this entry »

Scarlett has just turned six. She started primary school last September. But which is the right school for a trilingual speaker? Living in a big city we had the choice to send Scarlett either to an Italian, a German or an English school. In the following I will try to explain our thoughts. Read the rest of this entry »

End of  August, our long summer holidays are coming to an end. As every year Scarlett got her booster dose of English and German. Read the rest of this entry »

Scarlett is now five years old and interacting with other kids has become very important to her. When I pick her up from kindergarden she usually asks whether she can spend some more time with one of her friends or her cousin Emilia or she wants to go to the playground to meet other kids.

Scarlett has always been rather self-conscious, but now she starts talking more to other children. Matters however become complicated when I get involved. Read the rest of this entry »

Back from our holidays. In July we stayed for a month in Germany. We first flew to Lübeck  and spent two weeks at the Baltic see, first week all the family, second week only me, the kids and the German grandparents. Then we spent another two weeks at the grandparents’ place, where Penny came to see us twice for the weekend. So quite some full immersion.

Oma and Opa were once more well impressed by Scarlett’s German. Read the rest of this entry »

A few more weeks to go and our summer holidays are about to begin. As every year we will spend a month in Germany, fully immersed into language and culture. A year ago this language boost was bitterly needed as Scarlett had over the year gradually slipped into speaking less and less German to me. This year German has proved much more stable. Read the rest of this entry »

In all the three languages Scarlett is improving steadily. Her level has become so good that we don’t usually notice her progress any more. The times when everybody was over the moon whenever she said something new are over. We sometimes need people who don’t see Scarlett on a daily basis to remind us of her improvements. Read the rest of this entry »

I have many times pointed out that Scarlett’s language skills in English are remarkable. Her passive understanding has always been impressive, her active speaking has improved continuously. Compared to the other two languages, however, English has always been far behind. Read the rest of this entry »

Only two month ago Scarlett’s German was completely pushed aside by Italian. Like a small furry animal in a world of dinosaurs, German only survived in a niche of evening stories. During the day it sometimes peeped out timidly, but then disappeared again when a mighty Italian dinosaur came near.

Now Scarlett wouldn’t even dream of speaking Italian to me. Her German has become fluent again, she is able to express almost everything she wants to say. What has happened? Read the rest of this entry »

Scarlett’s Italian was already good a few months ago, but now it is really flourishing. She is talking like a waterfall, her vocabulary is rich, her sentences are long and detailed. It is easy for me to monitor her progress in Italian as she even speaks Italian to me (which obviously is a bit disappointing). I continue speaking German, she perfectly understands, but struggles to say things herself. It seems as if all her thoughts and experiences are stored in Italian. Read the rest of this entry »

Scarlett is now three years old and Italian has clearly become her strongest language. She uses present and past tense, speaks fluently and has a good vocabulary. Read the rest of this entry »

On 5th September Scarlett’s little brother Quentin was born. We are all over the moon and also Scarlett has taken her little brother to her heart immediately. There are millions of beautiful stories to tell but in this blog I will only talk about the linguistic impact of the new arrival. Read the rest of this entry »

Scarlett’s active vocabulary keeps growing in all the three languages. She usually knows the right word for an object in more than one language. Read the rest of this entry »

In her exploration of the vast country of language Scarlett has now discovered the verbs. We hear them in all shades and colours, in English, Italian and German, in combination with subjects, objects and both, sometimes grammatically correct and sometimes incorrect. Read the rest of this entry »

Scarlett is now using two- and three-word-structures more frequently. When she sees a blue crayon on top of the table, she says “Papa, blau oben” (German for “Daddy, blue up”). Read the rest of this entry »

Scarly’s passive vocabulary has grown at the speed of light. Read the rest of this entry »

Having worked for many years as a scientific assistant at uni, I thought I would monitor my little girls language progress with scientific accuracy. The idea was to keep a kind of diary in which I keep record of every single word she says. Little Scarlett has brought me back to earth, I had to accept that it is not easy to be a hobby scientist in between nappy changing and reading fairy tales.

Anyway here is a (maybe incomplete) list that I made when Scarly was 21 month old. This was her active vocabulary: Read the rest of this entry »

Scarlett started walking at 14 months and since then has set out to explore the world. With this unlimited energy of children she runs up and down and to and fro all day long. Scarly is a curious and observing kid and her motorical skills have improved enormously. She is definitely not a baby any more but a cute little toddler.

Her understanding of what is happening around her has improved tremendously, both on a conceptional and a linguistic level. She understands a great deal of what we say to her. Read the rest of this entry »

Scarlett speaks. A month ago she said her first words. Read the rest of this entry »

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