Saturday, November 29, 2008

Of Languages mixing, or when OPOL is harder with the second child ...

"Pas male, ik!" claimed proudly little Zeno (now 29 months old), using all of his three active languages in one sentence. This has been happening more often than not, and it is quite striking the difference with his older brother Milo, who had a similar vocabuary at his age, but did not mix.

Zeno learns a handful of new words each day, but seems to have a harder time at sorting out in which linguistic pool they belong. His mixing takes place mostly at home and especially when Milo is around. At his daycare they reassured me that he has long ceased speaking Italian, and his French level is perfectly comparable to that of monolinguals his own age.
But once he' s at home, his linguisting boundaries vanish and anything can happen!

One reason I can trace is that we ourselves have been less strict than before with OPOL; I catch myself replying in French to Milo when he uses French to tell me something about school; or, when he's tired he'd squeeze some French words into an Italian sentence ( "Mamma, i trois petits cochons hanno catturato il lupo e l'hanno messo nella marmitte"; "Non si deve mangiare i bocconi grossi se no le...joues...esplodono"). Milo often makes mixed setences (IT/DU) when talking to his dad, using Italian when he does not know the corresponding Dutch (ex: "Papa', perché metti de lenzen in de ogen?"). The Belgianite also might reply in Italian to Milo. And we code-switch frequently mid-sentence, inadvertly...

Secondly, Zeno looks very much up to his older brother, who uses indiscriminatingly all of the three languages throughout the day at his own will and need; therefore, Zeno has been lacking some strict parameters and boundaries.

Milo addresses him less and less in Italian, and more in Dutch and French depending totally upon environmental circumstances and topics. Zeno follows the flow and always replies in the right language. Within the day, their exchanges are equally spread among the three languages and they can switch back and forth from one to another within a matter of minutes, depending upon who's with them and the topic of their conversation. Zeno's meta-linguistic awareness however is lower compared to that of Milo's at the same age. Personality-wise he is much more outgoing, open and communicative than Milo at his age, he also benefits of his brother's established social network; as a result, he just goofs around in whatever language comes to his mind!

We have decided to pay more attention and came up with a few guidelines for this phase:

1/ We are back to strictly usig OPOL and doing our best not to mix anymore
2/ When Zeno addresses us in French I make sure I provide him with the proper corresponding vocabulary in Italian, and the Belgianite does the same for Dutch
3/ I try to read a book in Italian to Zeno alone every day
4/ The Belgianite and I try to spend some time alone with Zeno, especially during the weekend, in order to clar the semantic confusion in his head, and provide him with some solid and fluid blocks of time where Italian and Dutch are spoken only, by us respectively and specifically with him.
5/We begun naming languages for him again (In Italiano we French they say...etc.)

On the positive side, Zeno seems to be more at ease with us speaking the other languages, while Milo used to be uncomfartable when I'd speak French to him in a public situation (that is when I needed to be understood by the people present). In general I dare to say that it is just harder to provide the same quality time and stimulation to the second child: the time is just not there...but that is not an excuse to fail our second MTK!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

My boys and the girls...

This post has nothing to do with languages but rather behaviour between young males (in this case my boys) and the women of the future!
Milo has always been very popular, both in daycare and at the maternelle, with his female classmates; he's cute and kind, he's taller than everyone else and very protective toward everyone; on top of it, he applies strictly the rule thta says that in love wins the one who fleed! Girls just drop like flies. I cannot recount how many times we'd be strolling at a nearby shopping street and, all of a sudden, from the opposite siedewalk, I would spot a little girl waving and screaming "Miloooo! Miloooo!", to which Milo would react with total indifference, making sure it's clear he has not seen nor heard the girl! If the girl happens to be on the same sidewalk and dares to walk up to him and say "HI," he'd reply dryily: "Arret de me parler!" (Stop talking to me!) and walk even this point Zeno would step in and offer his best smile to the older, broken-hearted girl, he would pull one of his funny smirks and make her laugh while I jocke with the occasional mum, eventually taking the hands of the girl and beginning some playful dance; in a few years I can see him whispering: "Let me explain you about my brother, he's not like you and me..."

A few days back, upon arriving at Milo's school in the afternoon, one of his classmates ran to me and asked if she could marry Milo! Amused and surprised I told her that it was up to him; at that point Milo arrived and she basically cornered him, telling that they had become engaged that very same day, they were in love and they wanted to get married; I just looked at my boy and said: "Ah si, Milo?" providing him a way out, should he need one... but he was already blushing and said yes, the kind of yes one says when pulled by the hair!

The next morning as soon as we arrived at school, he tracked the poor girl down ans greeted her with the harsh news: " Je ne suis plus d'acord pour me marier"( literally: I don' agree to marriage anymore). That is how he set the record straight! The girl looked at me in disbelief, and all I could do was giving her a symphatetic gaze while squeezing my shoulders, denying any responsibility...deep inside I was releived: he is still MY little boy...but for how much longer?!