Thursday, November 26, 2009

It's Carnival time!

Check out the multilingual blogging carnival, a monthly get-together for all interested in bilingualism and in raising bilingual children and an opportunity to share experiences, info and best practices.

Organized by Bilingual for Fun, this month the carnival is hosted by Jan at Babelkid. Enjoy!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Zeno and his gift for synthesis...

Milo and the Belgianite were having this lenghty conversation in Dutch about a kite-surfer who lost his kite during a lesson; they kept going back and forth and, at some point, I lost track of it and could not understand anymore.
Zeno was playing alongside with his Lego.
I snuck up to him and whispered:
"Zeno, cosa ha detto Milo?" (Whad did Milo say?)
and he replied:
"Ha detto kite-surf!" (He said kite-surf)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Juggling four languages daily (how to stay zen when a pink flamingo becomes a pink Flemish!)

We spent a couple of days on the Cote d' Azur last week, to escape the first winter blues and to take a little deserved break. I purposely focused on our family exchanges and listened carefully to my kids, to what they were saying and how they were saying it. And for the first time I could grasp the depth of the puzzled looks we often generate when communicating in public places: I have indeed noticed in parks, on trains, at restaurants, bystanders after a few minutes stare at us or raise the one eye-brow, after having tried to decode our linguistic arrangements. Some give up and keep their puzzled look until we leave. Some brave ones manage to ask the question: "How many languages do your kids speak?"

This has been inevitable ever since our boys have been around. I, as an Italian native, could not speak anything other than Italian to them. But today, five years later, I sometimes address them or reply to them in French. The Belgianite, man of the North, stuck to his native Nederlands (Dutch). But since he learnt Italian in the meantime, he often does not realize being addressed by the kids in Italian (and replying in Italian as well). And the two of us having met in English, we have kept speaking in English to each other, despite having settled in Paris, France.

A random restaurant conversation can go something like this:

Me to Zeno (IT): "Zeno, vuoi mangiare lo steack haché con le patatine?"
Zeno to me (IT): "Siiiii, tante fritjes!"
Milo to me (IT): “A me solo fritjes, niente carne"
Belgianite to Milo (NL): "Nen, heeft u teveel frietjes gegeten!"
Milo to Belgianite (NL): "Maar ik houd slechts van gebraden gerechten"
Me to Milo (IT): “Non vuoi mangiare del jambon, allora?”
Zeno to me (IT): “Ioooo, iooo il jambon! Anzi, salame! Io voglio il salame!”
Milo to Zeno (IT) "Ohhh Zeno, ma mangi sempre il salame tu!"
Zeno to Milo (IT): “Se vuoi ti do due patatine!"
Zeno to me (IT): “Mamma…mamma….”
Me to Zeno (IT): “Sssshhh, non gridare!”
Me to Belgianite (ENG): “What are you gonna have?
Zeno to me (IT): “Mammaaaa…MAMMAAA!!! Mi hai interromputo!”
Belgianite to Zeno (NL): “Hoorde u wat de mamma's zeiden? Gil niet!”
Me to Zeno (IT): “Si dice interrotto, amore; cosa c’é?”
Belgianite to me (ENG): “I'm hesitating between the fish soup and the aioli"
Milo to Belgianite (IT): “Fish...hai detto fish papa'?”
Belgianite to Milo (NL): “Ja, fish betekent vis”
Milo to Belgianite (NL): “Ah, ja, de vis! Leker vis!”
Me to waiter (FR): “On peut avovir de l'eau petillante, s'il vous plait?”
Zeno to me (FR/IT): “Moi j'ame l'eau petillante! Con le bollicine!”

The waiter in the meantime has started to make drawings on his note-pad and is getting a headache! As much as our family multilingualism has become a natural status for us, I am realizing for the first time how, in the eyes of the observer, we are simply crazy. And no matter how much eventually the kids showcase a perfect French (or Italian or Dutch) diction and competence, we often receive the odd remark: "Aren't they confused with all these languages?"

I have asked myself the question several times in the last five years. And despite being reassured by the studies and literature on multilingualism, which are slowly becoming available to the general public, I cannot help wondering sometimes if we aren't overdoing it. A very nice lady recently commented on the positive effects that such a mental gymnastic must have on the brain, in the long term. I surely hope so, while on most evenings, by the time I go to bed, I am myself lost in all these languages and sometimes, under stressful conditions, I do not find my words in any of them.

The boys, however, seem to be doing fine: they have perfectly integrated all these languages, which was essential for us. We are also lucky that in our complex arrangement, our countries of birth are neighbouring France, our country of choice. Hence, frequent trips to our native Italy and Belgium have certainly contributed to the successful development of our respective languages for Milo and Zeno. Their schooling in French public schools guarantees a solid command of their French, which to this day is impeccable.
Of course their output in Italian and Dutch is not 100% perfect: in Italian they often create odd versions of the past participle tense of irregular verbs (interromputo instead of 'interrotto,' prenduto instead of 'preso,' etc.), and they sometimes make literal translations from the French (“Ho visto un fiammingo rosa,” instead of ‘fenicottero’(pink flamingo), translating literally from the French flamant rose – but actually translating flamand=Flemish!). But they have a good vocabulary and a solid grammar structure (they conjugate the subjunctive form correctly at 3 and 5, while it’s not the case with most Italian adults!), and once corrected, they immediately integrate the proper word. In Dutch their vocabulary is certainly limited and they do make up a lot of words from the French and the Italian, a phenomenon which, however, inevitably phases out with each trip to Belgium.

But no, they are not confused: they know perfectly well who speaks these languages and with whom they can use them; they are even intrigued in learning new ones.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Prunes scientifically proved to be helpful in English learning

A qualitative study conducted this month in our household has proved that the regular consumption of dried prunes is beneficial to English learning.

The study was conducted on a sample of two male specimen aged 3 and 5, regularly exposed to passive oral English and fed with dried prunes.

The following conversation was witnessed earlier this week:

Zeno (savouring a bowl of dried prunes): "Mmmmh. Delicious!"
Me (eyeing the Belgianite in disbelief!): "...!!!!!"
Milo: "Ti piacciono le prugne, Zeno?" (do you like prunes?)
Zeno: "Si! Tantissimo!" (Yes, very much)
Milo: " Mamma, come si dice prugne in Inglese?" (Mum, how do you say prunes in English?)
Me: "Si dice prunes"
Milo: "Zeno, devi dire prunes is delicious!"
Zeno: "Prunes is delicious!"
Me: "Braaaavi!"
Milo: "Good!"

For details on the miracolous prunes' specific brand, please email:

Thursday, November 05, 2009

English pops up...

We lit some candles on Halloween night, and we were peacefully observing their flickering lights in the dark after dinner, when Milo whispered sweetly:
"That's so cute!"
Literally. In English! This has been happening more and more frequently: from the "What's up, dude-mamma?" thrown in at the oddest times (thank you Carlo B. for teaching my kids!), to the occasional "Come on!", Milo  surprises us with a willingness to express himself which we found very moving (Zeno then repeats it out of emulation of his beloved big brother, but to his advantage since he's 2 years ahead of time!).
From time to time he misses the  shot (I asked the Belgianite if he could pass me a spoon and Milo asked me: "Is that a sponge?" since 'sponge' in Italian is 'spugna'!), but for the most part he gets what we are talking about and he's taking more and more action!

Therefore I updated  again our Family Language Diagram, which is getting more and more cluttered by the month:

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The debate online

For those of you francophones interested in the subject, here's the official website of the
French Debate on National Identity.