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Four months have passed since the summer and Quentin’s German has remained surprisingly stable. „Es hat geschneit.“ he said, when he looked into the snow-covered garden one morning: „Ein Vogel hat draussen gegraben.“. (German for: It snowed. A bird has dug outside). Usually Quentin 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 Quentin’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 »

When we were back in Milan from our summer holidays Quentin wanted to show me some skateboard tricks: “Ich gehe Skateboard fahren,” he said, “Ist schoen Skateboard-Fahren. Komm anschauen” (German for: I go skateboarding, is nice skateboarding, come and look). There is no doubt that Quentin’s skateboarding has improved a lot this year, but what I am really happy about is his progress in German. Quentin finally made a big step ahead in his speaking.

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In our trilingual home there is a simple rule: we watch films in original language. And thanks to Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks English has become our default language. Everybody was fine with this rule until one day Scarlett’s friends came for a sleep-over and watched a film in Italian. Some days later, when I wanted to set the language to English for our family cinema evening, Scarlett started a little rebellion. She wanted to see the film in Italian, saying she would understand it much better. To my surprise Quentin came to my aid and said: “Capisco lo stesso” (Italian for: I understand it the same). 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 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 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).

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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 »

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 »

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 »

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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