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Four months have passed since the summer and Q.’s German has remained surprisingly stable. „Es hat geschneit.“ he said, when we were in Germany and he looked into the snow-covered garden one morning: „Ein Vogel hat draussen gegraben.“ (German for: It snowed. A bird has dug outside). Usually Q. does not go beyond saying single sentences and what he says is quite simple, but he is still able to bring across what is needed: „Ich habe ein Haus und eine Strasse“, he says playing Monopoly, or: „Ist schneller der Schiff oder der Auto?“, he asked when he looked at a book.

Keeping Q.’s German alive is a great success as usually our children’s German speaking slowly withers away when they return to their Italian surrounding. Read the rest of this entry »

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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 »

The other day I read an article about plants in the desert. Some of them seem dead from the outside, but they survive long and dry periods in a bulb deep in the ground. When it then rains they blossom immediately. Exactly like Q.’s German, I thought: dormant most of the year, but the moment we go to Germany his German springs to life. Unfortunately the analogy does not end her. When we leave Germany and return to Italy German dries up quickly again. Read the rest of this entry »

For one year Quentin’s German had virtually disappeared, but this summer it came tiptoeing back. When we were in Germany for our long summer holidays Quentin still spoke Italian most of the time, but he slipped in more and more German words and used two or three word phrases again: “Jetzt kommt Papa” (German for: Now daddy comes). Every now and then he said longer phrases:  “Das ist ein Schwimmbad. Ein Becken.” (German for: This is a swimming bath. A pool.” or “Das ist eine Lanze und das ist ein Schwert.” (German for: This is a lance and this is a sword).

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 »

When you listen to our family conversations it is not easy to understand what our language background is. On a typical family day out Scarlett and Quentin are speaking Italian to each other while Penny and I are talking in English; then suddenly Scarlett addresses me in German while Penny says something in Italian to Quentin. We all switch languages all the time. The only who doesn’t is Quentin. He speaks Italian no matter who he is talking to. And, thinking about it, this is not a bad idea. Quentin understands what everybody else says while he himself always talks in his strongest language. He has become a receptive multilingual, a person who speaks one language and understands the others.

Quentin’s level of understanding the different languages obviously differs. 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 »

In the past months Quentin has gained a lot of self-confidence in speaking Italian. He is chatting away at home, he talks a lot to his friends and he speaks more to adults. This is a big step ahead as Quentin has always been a shy boy and never talked much outside of the family. Last year he didn’t say a single word to his kindergarten teachers, this year he is still timid but he talks when there is the need. He also talks more to our neighbours and his friends’ parents.

I suppose Quentin’s new self-confidence has been boosted by his exploding language skills. 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 »

Quentin might have been a slow starter in his language learning, but once he picked up speed he didn’t fade for a second. In the twinkling of an eye he has caught up with his peers, who only half a year ago were linguistically light-years ahead of him. In Italian Quentin is now able to express all he wants to say, his vocabulary and grammar have exploded.

We couldn’t be happier about Quentin’s progress in Italian, but there is a catch to it. It seems as if Quentin paid for the Italian upswing by dropping the other two languages. Read the rest of this entry »

Scarlett was born on 22nd January 2008. Little does she know she is supposed to be trilingual in a few years’ time. Read the rest of this entry »

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