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Scarlett 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 Scarlett 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 Scarlett’s use of German follows the same pattern. After the summer she is absolutely fluent and speaks German without even thinking about it. Back in Milan she slowly starts using more and more Italian and within a year she speaks Italian to me most of the time. This process is interrupted at Christmas and Easter when we go to Germany for a week and Scarlett regains fluency quickly, even though not to the summer level.

This year Scarlett got out of the habit of speaking German even faster than in the years before. Read the rest of this entry »

When I read an article about plants in the desert the other day, it made me think of Quentin’s German. The article was on plants like the desert lily that are invisible most of the year, as they survive the long dry periods in bulbs deep in the ground. The moment it starts raining though they spring to life immediately. Quentin’s German, I thought, is a kind of desert lily: it stays dormant most of the year, but springs to life when go to Germany. Unfortunately it also dries up again quickly when we return to Italy. Read the rest of this entry »

When we went on a one-week trip to England this summer we were quite eager to find out how good Scarlett’s English really is. Her exposure to English had been rather limited in the past year, she had spent less time with her grandmother and our English speaking housekeeper Teresa.

Generally we have the impression that Scarlett understands English without problems, but we are not so sure about her ability to express herself. Scarlett usually answers in Italian to her grandmother and conversations with Teresa have become rather basic, as Scarlett only communicates what is absolutely necessary for playing. So we were wondering whether Scarlett would really be able to interact with English children. 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 even said longer sentences:  “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).

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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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