Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Trilingualism at its best: interview with a linguist

I had the pleasure to interview Jean-Marc Dewaele, a UK based Belgian linguist with a successfully raised 9 years-old trilingual daughter, and learn a little more on trilingualism. It’s published on the May (and first!) issue of Multilingual Living.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Republican Baptism: another outstanding French solution for areligious parents.

This post is an article originally published in the Eurapsody column, hosted by the BBFN.

Like 99% of Italians of my generation, I was raised Catholic, received all the due sacraments, went regularly to catechism class and mass until adolescence hit me and started having my own doubts about a lot of issues. This is not a post about religion, so I won’t go further with my own experience with that. But when our son Milo was born, his dad and I had this discussion about how were we going to handle his spiritual education. He had also been raised Catholic and at one point decided to dissociate completely from the church and has ever since been a professed atheist. On top of it, we are not married, so a baptism in church was not in our plans, as it would have felt extremely hypocritical.

Milo’s birth and first few months were very intense and required all of our energies, so to the insistent demand of my side of the family (“Are you going to baptize him?”) we finally replied a simple “no, ” to the dismay of some older uncle and aunt! However, as his first anniversary approached I felt the need to have some sort of special celebration, to properly welcome him in our life, to formally introduce him to our dear ones, to mark the time. I stumbled across an article which talked about the decline of the Republican Baptism in France. A little research revealed that since 1794 this ceremony had been available to the lay French citizen who wanted another option to the Catholic ceremony.

In Paris one need only to contact its own district city hall and inquiry if the local mayor is available to celebrate the ceremony. Not all the 20 city halls of Paris administer it! Those whose political orientation is more traditional will tell you that the demand is so overwhelming that they have ceased administering it! However, we found 5 mairies who were available on the chosen date.

The ceremony is brief and entails a speech given by the mayor. The parents can nominate a godfather and a godmother, whose engagement is only moral and has no legal value should the kid remain orphan. A certificate is then issued to the parents and the godparents.We celebrated it on Milo’s first birthday, with both immediate families coming over from Belgium and Italy, and a few of the closest friends in Paris. It was indeed very moving: the mayor integrated in his speech the information I had forwarded on our specific situation and talked about a new generation of truly European kids, raised in a pluricultural setting; the godmother made also a very tear-provoking speech. Later we treated everyone to oysters and champagne in a nearby brasserie, and that same evening we hosted a full party at our place! We felt happy with the lovely souvenir we created for Milo and our loved ones, and look forward to repeat the experience with our second son.

Introducing Multilingual Living

BBFN is launching its own online magazine called
Multilingual Living, "a trusted, intelligent resource for living multilingually and multiculturally." Don't miss the first issue!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

How to talk to an Italian dog

While visiting at my parents’ in Italy last weekend, Milo gave us a bright example of code switching, that is the ability that multilinguals have to switch from one language to another appropriately, according to the interlocutor.

His dad was showing off his dog educating skills with my parents’ dog Lillo, which is a nutcase cross between a Dalmatian and a Boxer, full of life and energy and impossible to get a hold of. The beast scares the life out of everyone and only my might 6'2" brother can possibly take him for a walk, not without coming back with some disclocated articulation.

Well, the Belgianite (a.k.a Milo’s dad) has this thing with animals, and while giving his commands in Dutch, he managed to have the dog seated and even laying down for about half an hour, gaining even more esteem and admiration from his in-laws, who did not fail to capture the miracle on camera!

Milo followed attentively the entire manouver and he fearlessly approached the dog at one point, looked at him straight in the eyes, lifted his little index finger and intimidated him with an undiscussable: "Seduto!" (that is be seated...in Italian)!

Because Lillo understands Dutch, surprisingly, but remains an Italian dog!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Blog of the month chez Expat-Blog

I'm delighted to announce that Multi Tongue Kids snatched the Expat-blog 'blog of the month' mentioning!

Expat-blog is an "online multicultural community dedicated to expatriates and their adventures all around the world," featuring a worldwide expatriate blog directory. It also has a very useful and entertaining forum, and it is developing a knowledge database for people on the move who can find out more about their destination country. I wish it existed when I first expatriated back in 1989!

Check out and subscribe tpo their monthly newsletter for more information!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The great French leap forward…

That’s it, French is becoming the main language for Milo. At barely two, the environmental language is taking over. This week I “caught” him a few times playing alone or watching outside the window and talking to himself…in French.

“Elle est ou la balle? Ah, elle est lá!” (Where’s the ball? Ah, it’s there!)
“Au revoir voiture…Au revoir pompiers…”(Goodbye car…good bye firemen)

In Italian he progresses steadily , especially when on the phone with the grand parents:
“Ciao Nonno! Tai?”( trying to say ‘Come stai?’, that is how are you).
“Papa bibi, papa dodo” (my dad is sick, he’s sleeping)
“Mamma uvette! Uvette! Pepapóve!” (Mummy (I want some ) raisins! Please!)

In Dutch he also has developed his vocabulary mainly around playing activities:
tekenings vliegtuig (to draw airplanes)
Auto maken (to build a car)
Genoeg, genoeg (enough!)

When I teach him new words, if he knows them in French already he makes sure to stress that the nanny calls them differently:
"Mamma Lumaca, Attatá escargot" (mum (says) snail (in Italian), Attattá (says) snail (in French)

We have also noticed that he’s imitating more and more the nanny, in her speech modulation, tone, inflection. We don’t always understand exactly what he’s saying, but it’s clear that he’s talking like she does with him (especially at the dinner table). Can’t wait to get the content too, it will be the best reality show-candid camera ever!