Friday, December 14, 2007

Milo's first letter to Santa

Caro Babbo Natale,

quest'anno sono stato bene, ho giocato, ho fatto tante belle cose; poi tu vieni a mi comprare tutte le cose perche' Zeno non puo' avere dei cadoci, e' troppo piccolo e li puo' rompere, i giocattoli, Babbo Natale.

Puoi entrare da 3 camini, se vuoi puoi passare da quello nella nostra cameretta.

Per favore, Babbo Natale, io vorrei tre cose: 1 barca, 1 mappamondo, e 1 calendario di Cars. Puoi portare un Peter Pan a Zeno?
E vorrei anche un Spiderman per Mamma e Papa' , Babbo Natale.

Buon viaggio, salutaci le renne, e grazie mille che mi porti 3 cadoci per me e 1 Peter Pan per Zeno.

Milo (3 and 1/2)


Dear Santa,

this year I've been well, I played and I did many great things. Then you come to get us all the toys, because Zeno cannot have presents yet: he's too tiny and he can break the toys, Santa.

We have 3 fireplaces you can enter from; if you wish, you can use the one in my room.

Please Santa, I'd like 3 things: 1 boat, 1 worldplan and 1 Cars calender.

Can you please bring a Peter Pan for Zeno? and also a Spiderman for Mum and Dad, Santa.

Have a nice trip, say "Hi" to the raindeers, and thank you very much for bringing 3 gifts for me and 1 Peter Pan for Zeno.


Monday, December 10, 2007

MTK generation

This weekend we met up with Milo's godfather, who's Flemish and married to a Turkish woman; they live in Belgium, and their 5 years old daughter Dilara is also growing up trilingual (Dutch, Turkish and French), while starting English at school. They've been a great case study, giving us confidence in our multilingual project! Unfortunately this past year we haven't managed to meet as often as we'd like, but Milo and Dilara are good friends and were happy to see each other. I observed the interaction attentively; Milo takes his tame to warm up in this type of situations. At first he would not utter much, he'd reply with his head to questions in Dutch, to signal 'yes' or 'no'. But as the day unfolded, the two little rascals begun a curious exchange in..both Dutch and French! I'd say Dilara was mainly solicitating Milo in Dutch and he was mainly solicitating Dilara in French. But they had no trouble in communicating and come up with all sorts of tricks! Among the parents we were using Dutch (the fathers among themselves), French (me and Dilara's mum) and English (me and Dilara's dad); was some how this influencing Milo's choice of language? Does he associate French with playing? He did speak Dutch as well, mainly to his beloved godfather. I just can't help but smiling thinking that in 10 years Milo and Dilara will be able to choose among French, Dutch and English to communicate and will probaly use all three depending upon the situation and the mood.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Regarding Sinterklaas and a fascinating test

One of the undiscussed advantages of a trans-national family is that every month there is something to celebrate, coming from une culture or another! Today is Sinterklaas in Belgium and the Netherlands; tonight we will sing along the rhyme below while we will set the little shoes by the fireplace, before going to bed, hoping that Sinterklaas will fill them with sweets...

Sinterklaas Kapoentje
Gooi wat in mijn schoentje,
gooi wat in mijn laarsje
dank u, Sinterklaasje.

Nicholas I beg of you
Drop into my little shoe
Something sweet or sweeter,
Thank you, Saint and Peter

Although I love this tradition and the Sinterklaas figure (who's none but the ancestral figure of Saint Nicholas, hence Santa Klaus's grandfather), I am always a little wary of the illustrations featuring Zwarte Piet, Sinterklaas' morish helper. In this day in age, should we start censoring traditions and bed-stories and make them politically correct? I would instinctively not think so, but then again, I just read something that might change my mind: the Belgianite has recently given me a fascinating book called "Blink," by Malcolm Gladwell. One chapter introduces the The Implicit Association Test (IAT) , a mind-blowing experiment developed by Harvard University, to measures implicit attitudes and beliefs that people are either unwilling or unable to report. One of the tests associates images of white and/or black people to words which belong to either 'good' or 'bad' categories. Testers are asked to respond rapidly to different sets of associations, and the categories are alternatively associated to the white or the black race. It turnes out that 75-80% of self-identified Whites and Asians taking the test, show an implicit preference for racial White relative to Black. In other words, as Gladwell brilliantly puts it, even if we do not consider ourselves racist, we are somehow wired or brainwashed to associate negative words, sentiments, elements to black people, as well as the good ones to the white race.
One of the items that the test measures is also the attitude toward uniculturalism and multiculturalism. Similarly, pictures of multicultaral and unicultural groups are showed alternativel together with the category 'good' and 'bad', and a series of words have to be associated accordingly. I took the test confidently, thinking that my passion for multilingualism and multiculturalism would certainly have defeated any trick that those Harvard brains could have come up with. And sure enough, the astonishing response was:

" Your data suggest a moderate automatic preference for Unicultural compared to Multicultural. The interpretation is described as 'automatic preference for Multicultural' if you responded faster when items representing Multicultural and Good were classified with the same key than when items representing Unicultural and Good were classified with the same key. Depending on the magnitude of your result, your automatic preference may be described as 'slight', 'moderate', 'strong', or 'little to no preference'.

I invite you to take the test as well, and let me know what do you think about this. As for me, I'm just hoping Sinterklaas will leave me some more open mindness in my shoes tonight...

Monday, December 03, 2007

The war against English

It was an interesting weekend form the linguistic point of view. First Milo officially forbid me to speak to him in French, which I do mainly when we are around French people. Sometimes at home I would sing along some of the French songs, and somehow he does not like my accent in French!

Then during the day he spoke English randomly...while drawing together with his Dad he suddenly shouted: "I do it!" He often simply picks up on my conversation with the Belgianite and then replicate the word at will, but very pertinently.

He heard me saying: "Amore, do you want to jump in the shower?" and he immediately mimicked me: "Amoooone, du-yu-wanna-jump-inna-shawah?" , and then he asked me in Italian: "Che cos'e' jump-inna-shawah?" I explained him and he then looked at me pensively and asked me if I just took a shower, and if I actually have been jumping in it!

Later in the day he managed to interrupt yet another conversation I was having in English with the Belgianite, and he tolds us straight out: "In Italianooo, per favore, parlate in Italiano!"
We had to address it. I asked him in Italian if he was bugged by the fact that he did not understand English, and he sais 'yes.' I proposed him to teach him English, but this time he was less inspired. I asked him if he'd prefer us speaking in French at home, and he enthusiastically said YES. We told him that from time to time we'd make an effort, but that he could learn English very easily and that would allow him to communicate and play with many more kids. He wasn't impressed.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Post 101

...I missed marking my first and my second year of blogging...but here is to my first 100 posts, to the amazing fellow bloggers I've got to know, to the whole multilingual community, and most of all to the source of my inspiration, that is my kids! Cin Cin!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Siblings talk

This weekend I tuned in to Milo and Zeno's exchanges. The Belgian grandparents were visiting, so Milo had the chance to boost up his Dutch big time: in two days he picked up a good 25 new words or so, not to mention new songs. For the fisrt time I also heard him address Zeno in Dutch, during an intricated game involving boats and commanders and other naval items. It is mainly in Italian otherwise, especially if I am around. And on some occasions, when Milo is playing by himself and is concentrated in his game, he would sometime mumble in French (perhaps repeating some of the games from kindergarden) and if Zeno wants to get involved, Milo would typically try to distance him in French.

Zeno seem to speak more clearly with us, the parents, when we solicitate a direct exchange on a specific topic. I make him repeat a lot of words when we eat, or when we read and look at pictures. With Milo the exchange is mainly very physical, he seeks his attention by stealing Milo's toys and running away, for instance. Yesterday also for the first time he tried to call Milo by his name: he woke up from the nap and I heard him from the crib calling out :" Mooooo!". Milo was rather amused. If you're interested in the subject, Suzanne Barron-Hauwaert, author of abook on OPOL and bilingual parenting, is currently researching case studies from multilingual families on siblings communications. Her blog describes her project and has a poll as well.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Back issues...

I have disappeared again, I know, and without even leaving an explanation apologies to my faithful handful fo readers, not to mention family, friends and supporters of Multi Tongue Kids. I've just been hammered with a nasty disc hernia which had me laying in bed pretty much all summer, and I'm just recovering. Not that I am trying to move you or get your empathy, but I was really unable to type (nor to think about) any post...the good news is that I took notes and I am back in action. Back with my back. And with lots of interesting insights, as Mr. Milo is now 3 and a half and has a very talkative personality, while Mr. Zeno is barely 17 months and is picking up fast the multilingual heritage!

  • Milo's French is impeccable and up-to-speed to his age level.

  • His Italian is perhaps a tiny bit more sophisticated, however he does make certain mistakes: he does not know all of the irregular past participle (he'd say prenduto instead of preso) and has an awkward use of the reflexive mode (devo mi lavare le manine). But he can entertain family and friends with pretty elaborate conversations!

  • His Dutch is lagging behind in vocabulary, and also he seems to wanting more and more speak Italian with the Belgianite. The latter is inflexible and keeps steering him back to Dutch, but Milo at one point said clearly "I prefer speaking Italian." I assume it's just a matter of (lack of) exposure, hence less motivation. In February they'll go skiing together with some Belgian friends, and that should help his Dutch to progress.

  • His understanding of English has become impressive, and he really tunes in into our conversations and then asks the meaning of words. He has expressed the desire to learn it, so I picked a children book and randomly teach him sayings , colors and a little vocabulary. We are not doing this systematically or academically, just for fun, but I imagine that the daily exposure plays quite a role in cementing the words in his memory.

  • He is aware all together of the existance of different languages and loves to learn little words or phrases in Spanish from Zeno's nanny, or in Japanese (we met a Japanese woman on a flight to Italy, recently).

Zeno, on his side is another interesting case because he not only has a mum who speaks Italian, a father who speaks Dutch, a nanny who speaks mostly French, and his parents speaking English with each other: he also has an older brother switching back and forth among all of the above. And his brother is THE main point of reference when it comes to interplay, talk, communications. He seeks tremendously his attention. Zeno has a very playful personality and is very expressive, but I have a feeling that at the same age Milo said more.

  • He says a lot of bisillabic words (Mama, Papa, Dada, Lulu, Doudou, Dodo, nonno, nonna) and a few words that he picks up here and there ( ciao ciao, seduto, uva, auto, acqua) but he does not use them systematically.
  • He recently sapent 10 days alone with his dad and he picked up several monosillabic Dutch words as well (kjek, dag).

Milo speaks to Zeno mostly in Italian and has nicknamed him Zelol, or he calls him occasionally 'Piccolino'; from time to time , when he is playing alone, Milo would switch to French and he then occasionally addresses Zeno in French as well.

The most challenging of it all, as I predicted in one of my early entries, is keeping a fluid conversation at dinner; frankly, all the switching back and forth gives me headackes. Uncounsciously, I am addressing the Belgianite more and more in Italian directly, and he oftens replies in Italian to the kids as well. So, without any preconceived strategy, it's my language which is becoming the lingua franca of this euro-puzzled family, instead of the initial equilizer, that is English. But the wind can change fast...stay tuned for more anectodes of my two little polyglots in the making!

Monday, July 09, 2007

I saw this in several publications, articles and blog entries regarding multilingualism, and it helps 'mapping out' our situation from time to time. I think I'll review it yearly to see if new arrows and/or new colors enter the diagram.

Milo teaches Italian to his Dad

[This is a year-old entry from when Zeno was born, which I never got to publish...but it has become part of the family lexicon, so here it is!]

During my 'leave of absence' at the clinic following Zeno's birth, Milo and his dad got to spend a lot of time together. A heat wave stroke in those days and the Belgianite was preoccupied with the liquid intake of his son, proposing him all sorts of drinks regularly. One of the house summer favourite is mint syrup dissolved in water, a classic from my childhood. We call it simply 'acqua e menta.'

The Belgianite kept on proposing to Milo:
"Wilt u acqua e mente?" (which, from the original do you want water and mint, suddenly becomes water and mind or water and (he) lies !)
Milo said a few times: "Ja, papa, acqua e menta."
"Did you like your acqua e mente?" replied once again the Belgianite.
Milo looked at him seriously and stressed: "Papa: acqua e men...TA!"

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Creativity...within the lines...(or why Jackson Pollock could have never been French)

This weekend I had my periodical clash with the Parisian (and I choose voluntarily to avoid a generalization to the French) mentality. We took the kids to a lovely parc where each summer they hold a fun Summer Festival, geared toward young families: contemporary art installations are displayed throughout the park, a DJ provides ambience through the day, fresh fruits are distributed for free, and a series of activities engage parents and children in what it is supposed to be an initiation to art and creativity, one of these being a huge pre-print wall paper, which kids and parents are invited to color.

Milo and Zeno simply love to draw and ran toward the FlyingColorWall, as it is called. A few minutes later Milo comes back visibly upset, crying with huge tears, claiming a guy scolded him. As I did not witnessed the scene, I imagined perhaps some older kids just pushed him away, so I minimized the affair and invited him to join me again to the wall. He was scared to go back! So I took my time and eventually convinced him that there was no reason to be scared, and we both joined the wall again. Few seconds later a young man from the staff dealing with the festival organization, came up to me and told me that he had tried to explain to Milo that he was not supposed to draw wherever he wanted, but he had to color the existing drawings. I took a deep breath, and calmly addressed the young man:

" I understand this is a coloriage, but my son is only 3 and he was just drawing a little airplane in a corner there, don't you think you are exaggerating?"

" But drawing is not the objective here!" replies snobbily the young man.
"And making children cry is?" I defy him.
"But if everyone begins coloring all over the place..."
"..then you should not allow children to color this wall, I thought this was to initiate kids to color and art and expressing themself, not some sort of boot camp!"

The conversation continued purposelessly until I had to mention that I work for one of the main sponsors of the festival, and I did not find his attitude very constructive. He suddenly disappeared.

Perhaps we just stumbled across the wrong guy. Perhaps I keep being too pre-conceived about things here. Or perhaps I am simply an over-protecting Italian mum! But I found the episode alarming, filled with a conceptual contradiction which I will never get used to. I eventually explained Milo that we were supposed to color inside the drawing, which he eventually did. But I also made a point to tell him that his drawings were really lovely and I found them more interesting than the pre-print ones. And that we are not at all always obliged to color (especially to color!) within pre-set lines...

Multilingual Living Summer issue is available!

Don't forget to take with you your summer issue of Multilingual Living for a pleasant and educational reading during your holidays! Sign up at the Bilingual Bicultural Family Network for your yearly subscription.

...and what about Mr. Zeno?

I have barely written about my MTK #2, Mr. Zeno, but his arrival and presence has enriched our lives so much! Zeno started out as a quiet baby, he never cried, he slept a lot, he was ever smiling ans rather silent...until around the age of 6-7 months, when his real persona came out all of a sudden!
'Patented rascal' is the nickname he's earned so far! Zeno is slightly more precocious than his older brother Milo, he sat earleir, he stood up earlier, he walked earlier...and he is uttering his first (multilingual?!) words a little earlier too. All this probably mostly thanks to the extra stimulation he's receiving by Milo. He's also much more 'active' compared to Milo at the same age: ever since he's learnt how to walk, he's been unstoppable: there is no corner of the apartment he hasn't searched, examined and thoroughly manipulated yet! All this translates in endless trails of clothes, books, toys, and various objects I keep finding in any given room at any given moment!!! He's got a very developed sense of laughter and humor too, and he's definitely a greagarious type: he loves beeing with Milo or other kids at the park. His daily playing companion is a lovely girl his age named Louise, and I'm glad he's having this early exposure to a feminine world! Milo and Zeno get along great, Milo has naturally had some impulses of jealousy at one point, but I'd say his sense of protection and attachment to his little brother prevails! But it is actually Zeno who drags Milo into crazy adventures, often implying hiding in weird spots or making some creative mess... Zeno seems also to be gifted with the same unextinguishable endurance and when it comes to bed time, we now have two mongrowl to neutralize: they never fall asleep before 10:30, despite all of our efforts and strategies to keep them calm and quiet, reading happy stories, playing soft music, etc.
Zeno turned one last week, it seems hardly yesterday we came home with him...his vocabulary so far consists of Mamma, Papa, Dada (how he calls the nanny), Computer, and a few other syllables. He can't say 'no' yet, but he shakes vigorously and unmistakenly his head when he does not agree with something!
Milo talks to him primarily in Italian so far, although he sometimes uses Dutch if they are playing with the Belgianite.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The double last name backfires !

It was exactly a year ago, right before Zeno was born, that I was pondering if I should have jumped on the opportunity to add my last name to my sons, as the French law just changed to allow that. Your comments and shared experiences on the topic helped me substantiating my gut feeling, and right before the deadline expired, I decided to go for it. In the meantime, for every day life, I have been using mainly the Belgianite’s last name (for the kids’ doctor appointment, etc.), just as I thought. Milo’s application for his kindergarden is the first official document showcasing the double last name, and I haven’t had the slightest trouble fitting both in.

But the unthinkable just happened: as I realized that my passeport is about to expire, I asked the Belgianite to add the children on his passport as well, just to be on the safe side for summer travel. And then we smacked against the fantastic wall of pan-European legal discrepancies: the double last names are not legally recognized in Belgium! An operator at the Belgian embassy kindly offered the unbelievable piece of information:


Conformément au Code de la Nationalité Belge, "est Belge l'enfant né à l'étranger :
d'un auteur belge né en Belgique ;

"Double nom"

La possibilité prévue par la loi française de choisir, pour l'enfant, le nom de la mère, du père ou celui de ses deux parents n'existe pas en droit belge.

Le fonctionnaire d'état civil français doit appliquer la loi belge en matière de nom de l'enfant.

Si l'un des parents est français et transmet sa nationalité à l'enfant, il sera possible de choisir le nom de famille dans l'acte de naissance. Cependant, ce nom ne sera pas reconnu selon la loi belge s'il n'est pas conforme aux règles du code civil belge. L'enfant portera alors deux noms différents selon sa nationalité. Ceci posera des problèmes tôt ou tard, puisque le nom sur les documents belges sera différent de celui sur l'acte de naissance et autres documents français.
A couple of days later I learnt that Italy as well does not recognize the double last name!
As Italy and Belgium allow multiple nationalities, the kids have both, but in theory we should need to issue a separate individual Italian and Belgian passeport for them with only the father’s last name (with all the potential risks of further confusion in creating another identity). And apparantly, it is all the 'fault' of the French clerks at the city hall, who should have known this (or at least checked on it) and should have forbid us to add my last name!

So, for the moment they stay on my passport, while we are hoping that the double last name regulation will be harmonized among European countries in a near future. I don't regret my choice, but I am afraid that the hassle has just begun...

Zeno 's first word!

I haven't written much about Zeno in his first year...he's been an adorable baby. He played it very cool his first six months, and then came out of his shell! He's a precocious walker, at 11 months (he actually took his first steps on my birthday! Attaboy!), and a fond explorer of the apartment! Sweet, smiling but stubborn, just like his brother! He's been singing a lot, saying the occasional ma-ma or pa-pa...but the other day, while observing very attentively his dad's laptop, the Belgianite challenged him:

Belgianite: " Zeno, dat is het!"

And there he uttered his first intelligible word:

Zeno: "" (with a Flemish pronunciation)

Milo was amazed as well!

Milo: " Mamma, mamma, Zeno ha detto computer!"

Sunday, June 17, 2007

More on mixing languages

It's starting to happen more frequently: Milo's Italian is polluted by the Fench, hence confirming the theory that the environmental language becomes gradually the strongest.

He's been saying things like:

Milo: " Il faut faut mettere a posto le auto...." [we need (in french) to eat (in italian)]

Me: " Si dice ' bisogna mangiare,' Milo!

Milo: "Il faut bisogna mangiare..."

Milo: " Guarda, mamma, non marcia piu'!" (Look, it does not work anymore)

Me: " Nooo, si dice 'non funziona' !"

Milo: "Questo aereo e' cassato..." (This plane is broken)

Me: " Si dice rotto, cassato non esiste in Italiano."

In Italian he also has a hard time with the irregular forms of the past participle: he says prenduto instead of preso, romputo instead of rotto, which is kind of amusing because it means that somewhere his brain has retained the rule and knows the verb, but he hasn't been exposed enough to the actual correct past participle form.

On a personality note, I am always baffled by his acute and active sense of observation; we took the bus on Saturday, it was his first time, and as soon as he was seated he asked me alarmed:

" Mamma, ma sull' autobus non ci sono le cinture di sicurezza?"
(How come there are no security belts on the bus?)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Milo’s first cross-linguistic jocke!

The sound ‘mooh’ in Italian is the equivalent of the cows’ sound ; in Dutch it corresponds to the adjective ‘moe’, which means tired.

Bedtime coversation:

The Belgianite: "Milo, betje moe ?" (Milo are you getting sleepy?)
Milo: "Ma papa, solo le mucche fanno mooh !" (Daddy, only the cows say mooh!) (He replies in Italian to his dad)

PS : The Belgian cows say 'boo'

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cafe Bilingue: tales form a multilingual French revolution

As posted here, my latest contribution to Multilingual Living was an article with an overview of multilingualism today in France. One of the best initiatives I wrote about is the parisian Cafe Bilingue, a series of periodical meetings held in Paris, allowing parents to exchange information and occasionally ask questions to experts. The founder is a remarkable woman by the name of Barbara Abdelilah-Bauer, a published author and an extremely active and convinced multilingualist! The article is kindly reproduced by the Familles Bilingues site (in English). I missed the last Cafe Bilingue since we were in Italy, but I count on attending the July 1st multilingual pique nique at the feet of the Eiffel tower! Will tell you all about it...

Thursday, May 24, 2007 English!

When we received the Chicco's bilingual farm in Italian and English, Milo was barely 1 years-old. I was thrilled at first, hoping that the toy would have been a smart ally to introduce Milo softly to speaking English. But over time I realized that he was mostly interested in the animal's sounds, and did not seem to be so aware of the two different linguistic registers available. I should have been more patient: the toy has been around for two years now, and these past couple of weeks he suddenly begun repeating the numbers in English. All by himself, without us prompting him! And he leart to count 1 to 10 in English! This has been a real door opener because now he is more keen in repeating other English sentences I occasionally present to him, or that he hears in the DVD 'Cars' (I cracked up at Santi's entry on the very same topic!). It would be the ideal moment to set up an English play group for him...but unfortunatelty I am lacking the most essential ingredient: time.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Milo's first mixed sentences!

It hapenned while we were in Italy: one morning Milo was looking for his teddy-bear and asked me:

"Mamma, dov'e' mon doudou?"

At first I thought the French possessive adjective 'mon' ad been sucked in by the French word he uses to call his teddy-bear (doudou). However, later on I noticed that he substitues the French possessive adjectives in Italian for all kind of nouns:

Milo: "Dov'e' ma macchinina?"
Me: "Si dice ' la mia macchinina'!"

Milo: "Quella e' ma copertina!"
Me: " Vuoi dire 'la mia copertina'!"

Generally once corrected he retains the concept. But from time to time he still sneaks a French one in the sentence!

His staffilococcus fight is not over yet, he is still taking antibiotics and one of the wounds is still open and secreting pus. He is overall rather lively and hasn't lost his appetite, but I cannot wait for this to be over, and so does he...

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Staffilococcus II

Poor little Milo had to be operated again yesterday, as the left side had swollened as well to a very unhealthy size, filled with pus. This time I asked that he'd be sedated, to spare him the stress and the fear (not to mention the excruciating pain) he had experienced the first time last week. And the only possible sedation was full anesthesia...I will never forget the tight knot in my stomack when I saw him entering the surgery room, with his green gown, sitting up on the stretcher, white as a ghost, his eyes filled with terror. It all went very fast and within 40 minutes he was out and sleeping in his room. He woke up within few hours and recuperated his usual curiosity and energy level within the afternoon. We came home last night, reliefed and exhausted. We're going to have to go back daily to the hospital to drain the wound (it has been left open with a 'straw'), and it is going to take a few months before his lynphonodes resume to their ususal size and consistency; we still do not know exactly how he picked up this bacteria. We met a few children in the waiting room with the same problem, though. Milo has been very corageous, all considered. His mantra has become "non voglio più andare all' ospedale, basta punture" (I don't want to go to the hospital anymore, enough with the shots). He alternates it with "voglio andare a Parigi, devo andare a scuola" (I wanna go back to Paris, I gotta go to school). He's got a great bike as a reward, and he has immediately learnt how to enjoy it, riding it freely in my parents' courtyeard, reminding me of my carefree childhood summer afternoons...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Staffilococcus bonanza

We are in Italy supposedly vacationing since 2 weeks ago, and instead we are held hostage by a nasty staffilococcus which has sneaked in Milo's neck lynphonodes, swollening them to the size of an apple. It happened all of a sudden the day we arrived...he woke up from his nap with an "apple" in his throat. Ever since we have been at the nearest pediatric hospital almost daily, and 10 days later we are stil not sure what it is. It's nerve wrecking. The poor boy who already didn't have much sympathy for doctors, has developed a monumental phobia of the white shirts men...he has been administered massive doses of antibiothics, he has been cut without anesthetics to evacuate the pus on one side, he has been taken blood samples and submitted to we should finally have the last results and understand why the antibiothics did not work until now and the swolening persists and appeared on the other side as well. The good news is that he can come home at night and does not have to eat that terrible hospital food.The Belgianite is in the US for business and Zeno is taken care of by my parents, thank God...and I am running out of good reasons to motivate Milo to get in the car to go back to the hospital, AGAIN...let's hope it will be all over very soon.

Monday, May 07, 2007


About a year ago a phenomenal project born out of the passion
shared by a few women scattered on the globe and heralded
by a vulcanic Corey Heller, founder of the Bilingual Bicultural Family Network, came to life: Multilingual Living Magazine, a digital magazine dedicated to the modern global multilingual parent. I have had the honor to contribute to the first issue, and then my maternity leave kept me away from the keyboard for a few seasons...but with great pleasure I've come back to write for Multilingual Living; on this issue I describe the new French Multilingual Revolution and talk about the Cafe Bilingue (I'll write a separate post on this intelligent intiative and its inspiring founder). A special "bravo!" and "thank you!" to Corey and Alice, for an amazing editing and coordinating job.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Tomorrow Milo turns 3! It's hard to believe how intense and fast his first three years of life have already been...We are really enjoying the preparation, anticipation and festivities, as it is the first time he realizes what it means! We celebrated with the Belgian grandparents last weekend, we are going to have a cake at his daycare tomorrow, we will celebrate in Italy this weekend and we are going to have an Indian-theme garden party with his friends and neighbours upon our return from Italy! What are we going to do when you turn 18, Milo?!?!?!?
Tanti tanti auguri al mio tesorino!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Mars & Venus

I recently witnessed my first reassuring preview of my boy’s maleness; we went to the usual park one afternoon, where he met two lovely sisters he regularly plays with and gets along with just fine. This time Constance and Anne-Berangere were playing with another older girl, who was manipulating them into being bad witches. As Milo approached them to play along, they begun chasing him away repeatedly, blowing like kittens; I got closer to understand what was going on and I heard the older girl saying:

"On est les mechantes sorcieres, nous!" (We are the nasty witches! Watch out!)

To which Milo pulls a very aggressive face and replys:

"Et moi, j’ai deux moteurs!" (And I have two engines!)

The French girls, rather baffled, did not know much what to reply. I had no clue what he meant either, and I kept picking my brain, until I remebered that at the moment his favourite DVD is the Disney movie 'Cars' !

Men are definitely from Mars and women from Venus from the very beginning !

Friday, April 06, 2007

Zeno speaks Russian!

You would not believe it, but the impossible has happened: my 9 months-old little Zeno has begun Russian! Without having never heard it before! You don't believe me? Here is what he says:

" Da....da.....da....da...!"


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

English peeking up...When Dutch isn't Dutch!

Few days ago I overheard Milo singing by himself: “…Mister mamma… uduiufinkuaaaaah…”
It took me a couple of amusing seconds to figure out that he was mimicking me singing:
“Mister Milo…who do you think you are,” a parody itself of the great Aretha tune ‘Mr. Bigstuff.’

Milo is becoming increasingly aware of languages, and interested in the English he hears spoken between mum and dad. I have been wondering if this would not be a good time to introduce English more systematically, since he’s showing curiosity; he often repeats what we say, when he manages to decode it:

  • “Zeno woke up” he kept on saying this morning, after he heard me announcing it to the Belgianite.
  • “It’s ready!” he repeats every night, after I bring dinner to the table.

Somehow I think I should leverage off his curiosity, but I don’t want to add too much to the plate either. For the moment I let him fish for sounds and words and expressions.

A few months back I begun naming languages for him; up until then we had been using expressions like: "Mamma says cane and papa says hond; the nanny says chien..." One day I finally set the record straight:

"Milo: Mamma parla Italiano, e papa' parla Olandese” (Mum speaks Italian, while Dad speaks Dutch)

This statement caused a family riot, as the Belgianite jumped on his horses and almost got offended at the 'olandese' part. He immediately corrected me:
"No, I speak Nederlands."

What followed was a complex conversation:

Me: “Yes, but Nederlands in Italian is Olandese, just like in English you say Dutch.”

Belgianite: "You don't understand! Holland is a region of the Netherlands, and so Olandese, as you say it, is a dialect. In Flanders, as well as the offical language of the Netherlands is Nederlands."

Me: “But there is no equivalent in Italian! We still would say Olandese. Although, in French for instance you’d say Neerlandais, now that I think of it.”

Belgianite: “Can’t you say 'neerlandese' ?”

Me: “No in Italian it is Olandese, I’m sure. You’re gonna have to explain Milo the distinction with Nederlands in Dutch.”

At this point Milo, who has been following the ping-pong match among his parents, intervened in my favor:

"Papa, tu parli olandese!!! Ooooh!!" (you speak Dutch, and that’s it!)


Monday, March 19, 2007

Lingusitic milestones: when the French “r” strikes…

The moment I have been fearing has suddenly spooked up on me this past Friday. As I was walking home with Milo after picking him up at his daycare, he suddenly rolled his ‘r’…the French way!
“Mamma, quella é la caserrrma dei pompieri?” (is this the firemen's station?) he asked me. I dropped on my knees and asked him to repeat the word caserma a dozen times. He kept on pronouncing it with the french ‘r’, while just the day before he would have said ‘casemma’. I was partly mistified and partly horrified, the metamorphosis I had been witnessing in my italo/french friends' kids was suddenly happening in my own child as well. It was exciting as when a baby takes his first steps, and scary at the same time...What am I rumbling abut, you might be asking yourself? It all has to do with the following:

Pronounciation issues

Giovanni’s comment to my previous post was right on the spot on a subject I wanted to address: Milo is almost 3, and when he speaks Italian or Dutch he still has a hard time at reproducing certain consonants:

  • Like most Italian kids, he does not roll the “r”. He would say caiota, instead of carota, or ioma instead of Roma, pecché instead of perché, guadda instead of guarda etc. He has however reasorted to solve this creatively when he has to pronounce words starting with BR (like bravo, briciola, braccio: he forces the br sound on the lips, like when you want to make the sound of a motor or a car, or when you want to signal it is cold(brrrrrrrrrrrravo)!
  • The hard “c” (or k sound in English) is also tough for him: he substitutes it with the “t” or the “p” (Tavallo instead of cavallo, papelli instead of capelli, máttina instead of macchina, ciottolato instead of cioccolato, and in Dutch 'kek' becomes tet; the Belgianite constantly defies him :”k…k…konen” to which Milo replies: ”k..k…tonen!”
  • He says butandine instead of mutandine, but he says mucca correclty.

In French he does not seem to have this problem, he’s got a perfect French “r” and for the rest the Director of the day care he’s attending reassured me that he speaks very properly for his age and his vocabulary has nothing to envy to that of his monolingual class-mates (in some cases being even more evolved). In his class incidentally there are two other MTKs: a French/Spanish and a French/German boy.

For the moment I don’t stress, but I monitor the situation and I try to expose him daily to the proper pronounciation, waiting for the day it will all fall in its place. The parameters to evaluate the normal development of language in kids vary significantly from country to country, and sometimes even among clinical traditions. In Italian, pronunciation problems as the ones described above are known as ' dislalie,' and are considered normal until the age of 5, 51/2.

Until not long ago, Milo would call himself Mimio. Then one day he suddenly could say 'Milo,' and now when we call him 'Mimio' he gets mad! Go figure!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Milo ramps up his Dutch!

Frustration is the name of the game: I have hundreds of episodes a week to chronicle about, and zero time to type them up and post them…here’s a brief recap of recent events!

Milo has spent a week on the Alps with his dad and some other Belgian friends (for a total of three fathers with a kid each). It’s winter school holidays season in France; I could not really take time off from work, and on top of it, I have a major hernia which is limiting my activities…but, above all, we thought that a week with Dad would be a good strategy to ramp up Milo’s Dutch, which was starting to lag behind his fluent French and Italian.

For one thing, he had figured out by now that daddy speaks and understands Italian, so most of the time he was addressing him in Italian. And even when the Belgianite would ask Milo a question in Dutch, he would reply in Italian. If invited to repeat the phrase in Dutch, he would supply to his lack of vocabulary by inserting “ye ye” in the place of (often) the verb he would not know…thus making his Dutch sentences very obscure. Alternatively, he would take the word in French or Italian and chop it short with a guttural sound: he would make the Dutch up himself! (‘de martel’ instead of ‘de hamer’; ‘de montagn’ instead of ‘de berg’).

The week went by fast, I missed him a lot! And I took advantage of my privileged time alone with little Zeno, who’s now 8 months, starts crawling and is so communicative!
We had daily telephone conversation with Milo who would tell me about the snowmen he made, or his performances on the snow, or his games with the other two Belgian girls.
Mission was accomplished: he leant how to ski, and came back with lots of new words and songs and games in Dutch! Lesson learnt: a full immersion here and there can only help.

Another interesting phenomenon is his use of Dutch when interacting with English speakers!
At this point, we still do not address him in English and he hears it passively when the Belgianite and I speak to each other. We sporadically meet with some American friends whose kids, slightly older than Milo, are bilingual (French/American). They often play in French, but I caught the girl explaining to Milo how to surf on the Disney website: she was speaking English to him (“click here, press the space bar there, right over Donald Duck, good job!”) and he would reply in Dutch – somehow he sees the link…

Yesterday when he arrived he was very happy to find Zeno back! And Zeno was also very excited that big bro had come back to liven'up the scenario…he was trying to attract his attention and showcased his first syllable sentences: "ta ta ta ta ta ta!” he screamed, right at Milo. Milo looked at me and asked: "Mamma, Zeno parla Francese?" (is Zeno speaking French?).
Hard to tell, for now!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

6 months, 2 MTKs and many words later...

Good night ritual conversation, last night:

Me: “Milo, sei il mio tesorino?!” (are you my little treasure?)
Milo: "Si! E tu…sei il mio tesoro!” (yes, and you are my treasure)
Me: "E papá?”
Milo: "E’ il tesorone!” (papa is the big treasure)
Me: "E Zeno?”
Milo: “….e’ un nanetto!” (he’s a dwarf)

So, my first MTK Milo who’s now 32 months, is entertaining us daily with all sorts of conversations, showcasing a fluent Italian and French, and a very proper Dutch.
He’s also showing increasingly interest in English, he repeats songs and little phrases he hears from me and his dad.

Particularly, he does not like to be “excluded” by our English conversations at dinner. Last night he interrupted us and asked us both, swinging his head from one to another, in Italian:
"Mamma e Papá, é andato bene il lavoro?” (mum, dad, did you have a good day at work?) , which melted us with joy…

The last six months have been of unrivalled intensity and I am very sad not to have been able to write …I probably missed some milestones of Milo’s language development. I did take a few notes here and there and I’ll try to resume some of the main anecdotes.

In the meantime, I’m glad to be back online and in blogosphere, and look forward to catching up with the whole world of multilingualism. A very joyful and multilingual 2007 to all!