Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The amazing wonders of built-in meta-grammatical awareness

I try to read books daily to my kids, and in a perfect world,  I should read only in Italian to them. The reality is that, when I come home after a long day at work, tired and famished, and they ask me to read one of the many French books they love from their library, I just read it in French: my brain, on certain evenings, refuses any collaboration, and if I try to simultanously translate in Italian, I sound like a foreigner! The kids don't mind it, but while Zeno keeps interrupting me with 1000 questions about the story (that is, focusing on the content of the story), Milo cannott help correcting the occasional pronunciation mistake I make (a nasal vowel, a missed liaison...).
Tonight , though, he went a step further and he simply blew me away! I was trying to read the following sentence:
"Ils entrent dans la salle..." which means they enter the room; while the final 's' is normally not pronounced in French words, in this case it needs to be pronounced because it provides a liaison which helps the listener capting the plural nature of the verb.

So I stumbled a few times around the sentence: "Il rentr...ils rentre?" and Milo shed the light for me:
"Si dice Ils rentr, mamma: se fosse stato uno solo avresti dovuto dire il rentr, ma siccome sono due..." (You read it ils rentr, mama; if it was just one person you would have read it il rentr, but since it's two persons here...).

The kid is still in kindergarden (he will turn 6 soon, and start primary school in September), and while they work a lot at school, grammar is definitely not on the program yet!
How could he come up with such a logical and grammatically oriented explanation for something he knows only by ear, in theory?
I'm stille in awe!


she_the_founder said...

Give yourself a pat on the back. This means that you've managed to maintain proper Italian (or was it French?) more often than not.

Many kids should be able to do this, in their native language (or 3, as is Milo's case) if their parents and environment speak in proper fashion more often than not.

I could do that in English when I was 4 or 5 also. (My cousin has the horrible habit of saying "What'cho name is?" and its been driving me crazy for as long as I've known the kid.

Her parents knew proper English, but tended to speak improperly all the time at home so that was what she internalized, as opposed to internalizing proper English and understanding slang/improper. She internalized improper and spoke improper.

You dont have to know grammar from a book to know what "sounds" right. As a child, did you never say something in Italian, but known it was wrong--even if you didn't know how to make it right? Or heard someone say something that you know wasn't right even if you couldn't say why?

I think its the same thing. It only makes sense that a kid would do that. Its the same in the way that kids learn how to use prepositions properly in their native language by the time they are 4 or 5.

Prepositions vary from language to language and since their such important words, using the wrong one can be silly, embarrassing or bad. (Eng: Put the plates ON the table. Spn: Put the plates IN the table. Eng: Turn ON the lights. Arabic: OPEN the lights. etc.)
Yet we learn to use the properly and we are the first ones to laugh when we have a slip of the tongue and use the wrong word.

Many adults don't give kids or the human mind, nearly enough credit.

she_the_founder said...

PS. The title should be "The amazing wonders of BUILT-IN meta-grammatical awareness" unless its British English or something.

Did you notice the grammatical errors in that first post?

Sarah said...

I would absolutely be blown away if Griffin could correct my French! How cool that not only he recognized the difference in meaning between "il" and "ils" (which are usually pronounced identically, as are their conjugations which end in -e and -ent) but he articulated how to pronounce them and why!

Clo said...

She- thanks for the heads up, I corrected the title! I agree with you on the importance of speaking properly to the kids. I am not surprised that my kids know how things are pronounced, but that they also understand the grammatical difference and implications!

Sarah - I think this episode speaks highly of the environmental language importance. will write more on that, as the 2 siblings are increasingly iteracting in French!

she_the_founder said...

She- thanks for the heads up, I corrected the title!
--You're Welcome!

I am not surprised that my kids know how things are pronounced, but that they also understand the grammatical difference and implications!

--Well, Milo has struck me as a thoughtful young man for a while now. I believe you wrote in one of your posts that he declared he has 3 countries and 3 languages, right around the time you made that post I began to envision Little Milo as a little linguist of some sort. The fact that he was disturbed by his inability to properly pronounce R in Italian also led me to believe he was VERY aware of linguistic details. It only makes since that by having 3+ languages, Milo would have began to understand the REASONS behind the grammar, as he has something to compare and contrast each of his languages too. I understood English grammar early on, but I couldn't have explained it, at 4 years old because I had nothing to compare it against. Its quite possible that Milo figured out the REASON behind the grammar in that moment while witnessing you flub it up. I think most of my breakthroughs came during conversations with my siblings, who were older than me. We'd be talking about something and it was only when I was trying to explain or convince them of something that I touched upon the actual REASON for it.

Again, try not to under estimate the abilities of both the human brain and a child.

meims said...

I agree with you, it was kinda amazing.

My husband (Flemish) took an Indonesian course last term, and he had homework and stuff. Sometimes he was too lazy to look up words in the dictionary, and asked me the meaning of this and that words, which led me to tell him sternly that's what dictionary's for..anyway, he since learned to have our son sat next to me to explain to him Indonesian words he either too lazy to look up or he can't' find in the dictionary.

Listening to my son (5 at that time) explaining an Indonesian word in mixed english and dutch to his father left me in such awe. He even gave examples! (in sentence and situations...)

giovanni said...

Chère Clo, I like your 'I'm stille in awe', as if you were pronouncing 'still' in the French way, and I think Milo just inherited his feeling for languages from his parents. Possibly grammar comes natural before it is formally teached?
Un abrazo

Lilian said...

This is AWESOME. And I don't know what happened to me when months ago I updated my blogroll and made it into a "feed reeder" one and for some accident didn't include your blog. what an unforgivable mistake! Thankfully, seeing you on facebook reminded me that I hadn't read your blog in a while. I hope you forgive me, OK?! And I'm thrilled that Corey finally launched the website.

Canadiagaditana said...

There is hope for my Spanish yet! I will wait for my kid to correct me.

baresytapas said...

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joven said...

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Busy as a Bee in Paris said...

very happy to have found your blog. i write some occasional stories on my blog about multilingualism. we are a trilingual family english, spanish, french living in a suburb of paris! come visit

sheena said...

The post was very nice to read. this would be a very good post about "The amazing wonders of built-in meta-grammatical awareness". I haven't read like this post.
Thanks for sharing. Keep it up!!


joven said...

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she_the_founder said...

When are you going to update this blog? I hope its soon. 4months is a Looong time to go without!

she_the_founder said...

I thought 4 months was a long time, but 7 months is even longer. *sigh*.

Please update soon.
sil vous plait, update soon. Grazie!

she_the_founder said...

If you don't update soon, we'll all be forced to conclude that something terribly sad has happened! (Oh, le horror! tre horifique!) Please update soon, I loved your blog!

Sarah said...

I concur with she!

Hope all is well with you and your family.

Martina said...

che forza Clo, ma dal 2010 niente piu' post?? dai raccontaci qualcosa di recente :-)) un bacione

Father of a trilingual child said...

It's a shame that nothing has been updated on this blog for such a long time - it was always really interesting and I followed it keenly.

- father of a trilingual child

Philipp von Plato ( said...

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Quite sad, that such a long time was nothing posted at all.

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Lupita said...

Another informational, enjoyable post to read.......thanks for putting it together.