The main developement is that at age 3, Zeno is an official 'speaker:' he makes full sentences in Italian, French or Dutch, depending upon the need; he does not mix anymore, nor screams! He finally feels he can express himself, and he feels listened to and understood.
Milo and Zeno's development of their 3 main languages has been constant and solid. Incidentally, their personality shifts a little with each language too, which is something very peculiar to witness. They tend to be softer in Italian, and a little rougher in French, the language of play and school mates. Milo also has a new trilingual Dutch- speaking class mate (Dutch dad, American mum), and we are excited at this new opportunity of interaction, to further strenghten his Dutch vocabulary.
Milo has increasingly been paying attention to the English exchanges of us, parents, and has been delighting himself in detecting the meaning of words and expressions, sometimes by asking directly ("Mamma, cosa vuol dire "It's ready!" ?), some times just by using his own deducing skills and by replying to me in English at the oddest moments "Thank you, mamma!"). American friends visiting us have increased his curiosity and need to grasp the language in order to express himself. I still feel reluctant to introduce a formal training in English; I have been thinking about play groups , or watching DVDs together more consistently. But, honestly, I have my time filled just by handling the Italian, the French and the Dutch and making sure the kids learn the same vocabulary in all three languages harmoniously...for the moment their English learning activities it's just their daily passive exposure to my conversations with the Belgianite, an occasional conversation, a book read first in Italian then in English, etc.
Another language has been tickling the fancy of my two mini-polyglots: Spanish. Ever since we took a trip to Valencia last year to visit some friends, they have been very curious. We have DVDs, CDs with songs, books and we know a few Spanish speakers: one of Milo's classmates Mum, one of our baby-sitters, a neighbour, etc. Milo often asks me how do we say this and that in Spanish and loooooves singing some songs (the current favourite is dancing hit 'Cada vez que te veo"!)
Zeno is still very much in emulation of his brother and benefits of much of his curiosity. His French last year has developed flawlessly; he occasionally makes up words with the Italian or Dutch roots when he does not know the equivalent in French, but in general his mixing habit have progressively melted away. And frequent trips to Italy and Belgium have helped tons. He has definitely a musical ear: when he hears music, even at a distance, he's captured and feels an irresistible need to dance and move. This, I am convinced, is another ingredient for success in multilingualism; he differs from Milo in this who has built his personal multilingualism on priviledged individual attention. Zeno lacked at least 50% of the time we spent reading and talking alone to Milo, but his musical hear supplied for that.
He started kindergarden this year, he's in the same school as Milo and I am often moved when I pick them up in the evening and they tell me : "We have seen each other at the cafeteria today and we said CIAO CIAO to each other!" Surprisingly, their main language of interaction is still Italian, although I assume this year French will rapidly take over, and Dutch is also used when playing with Dad .
As for my Dutch learning, I am slowly getting there, a word at a time! Despite my doubts in a previous post and the impressive results of the poll on the right hand side bar, where 84% of you advised I should learn Dutch formally, I never took a course (so far!). "I just don't have the time," seems to be the most plausible excuse! But...I am listenting. Just as my kids are listening to English every day, I am listening to Dutch, and I am understanding more and more each day!
Sometimes, when I am alone with the boys, I try out on them a little sentence in Dutch...at first Milo would look at me bewildered and would ask me shortly to just speak Italian! Now they are growing more tolerant of us crossing boundaries (The Belgianite speaking Italian, me speaking French or Dutch) and they just limit themelves to correct my (pitiful) pronunciation. The last time I was even congratulated: "Not bad mum!" (I was talking about balletjes, some meatballs they love to eat in Belgium).
I always thought that our little crazy family one day would settle naturally on one lingua franca...maybe Italian, on really good days...maybe French, on more realistic ones...or English, if I felt particularly daring! I am now witnessing a gradual softening of the OPOL practice and am starting to feel that, perhaps, our 4 languages are such an essence of our nucleus, that they will all be used by all members at some point, and I must admit: I like this scenario. It's who we are, it's how we are. That we might be able to express a certain feeling or opinion in a certain language because we think it captures its essence, and we might be understood bt the other members of the family, is a huge luxury and freedom.