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!

1 comment:

giovanni said...

Pas male ik... me encantaría usarlo when I have (ceate) the opportunity! My wife hates it when I mix languages, it's one of my favourite games. Sono bad yo!

Now back to the real protagonista, you seem to have a nice home, without boundaries! My mother used to say she liked "onbeperkt" (unlimited) and only later realised the meaning of it: she hated "perkjes" (van bloemen, ask your Belgianite...).

Ay, me encanta "perchè metti de lezen in de ogen?" How cute! (you see the way I'm reading your post...)

Follow the flow... and don't fail (is my summary of the remainder).

Éxito, and compliance! Et, ne pas faillir !

Bonsoir famille italienne/belgienne(grapje)/française, et bonne nuit