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!