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!


Erica said...

I still can't do the French 'r'!! But it's interesting how he is picking up different pronunciations, and I am sure soon he will have the italian 'r' and 'c' also! Does he watch any French or Italian cartoons on tv?

Alice in Austria said...

Our speech therapist said at our last meeting that they have a lot of time still until they get all the sounds right. Some just come later, it's natural. Milo's only three and he will learn it sooner or later. My daughter's five and still can't get the 'r' in conjunction with consonants right all the time - our therapist said we shouldn't stress it, there's still time.... ;)

Lilian said...

Wow, Clo, this is so fascinating to me!! We only have two languages to deal with here, Portuguese and English, and I've been pretty lucky that my oldest son's Brazilian Portuguese pronunciation was absolutely perfect over 2 years before he started to really be most exposed to English and start to speak (which started last Fall). Even though my youngest is being exposed to English earlier, I don't worry too much about the interference...

I'd never even thought about the issues that you're describing here!

Now, are certain languages "easier" for children to learn the "correct" pronunciation earlier than others? Sometimes I think that Portuguese is very easy, as compared to English, and that it's normal for a 2 year old (or even younger child) to be able to pronounce all the language's phonemes correctly. Maybe Alice or Corey can answer that, or direct me to someone who can... I've been wondering about this for years now.