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Gillian Aquilina
Reply with quote  #1 
We seem to have an uncommon problem as I havent found that any of you shared this dilemma in your posts.

I am Maltese ( mother tongue English ) and my husband is Italian. We live in Italy and have spoken to our almost 4 year old boy, Nino, in OPOL but my husband and I speak to eachother in Italian.

I have spoken to my child in English since day 1 and it seemed to be his stronger language at the beginning. When he started playschool a year and a half ago, almost immediately i could sense that Italian was becoming his stronger language. He understands both languages perfectly and his vocabulary in English is good ( we read many books and play games and he knows all the animals, objects in the house, vegetables, fruits etc. ).

He is able to construct sentences in Italian quite adequately but in English this is not the case. I have always repeated what he says in Italian in English and asked him to try to say it. Now 2 months away from his 4th birthday he is using both languages in one sentence eg. Sono andato to the beach or i am thirsty, voglio water.
I know that he knows how to say I went to....the beach or I am thirsty, i would like some water because in other instances he uses these words. In the same day he will then say I would like some carne ( meat ) which proves that he knows those words.

i cannot understand why this problem has arisen. Is he trying to please both parents? He does sometimes get a little bit frustrated with me when I ask him to say it in English insisting that i dont understand him when he says it in Italian.

Has anyone got a similar problem? and more importantly a solution? i would be ever so grateful to receive some advice.

I forgot to mention that my child is also exposed to Maltese ( though im not trying to teach it to him ) but he hears it when we visit Malta or when my family is over though I try to encourage them to stick to only English. Also we live in sicily so he is also exposed to this dialect. could it be that he is feeling like there are 4 languages around him and therefore very confused?

Thank you
Reply with quote  #2 
Hi Gillian!

HAHAHA - I know exactly what you are talking about! :-) My two boys have grown up trilingual (Danish, English, Spanish) and that has resulted in LOADS of funny sentences made up of words from all languages. DON'T WORRY! Have a laugh about it, but do not worry! It will definitely sort itself out. My oldest was 5 before he could seperate the languages properly, so your son will manage too. Don't get upset, and don't show him that it upsets you. Have a laught with him - "Hey, you said ...... - that was really funny". My boys are now 9 and 12 and we still have a good laugh about the funny things they said -"I want to wear short-ærmet t-shirt idag", "Can I have rugbrød with ham and queso?" :-)
Enjoy the time when learning more languages is fun - mine are now studying French in school and it's suddenly not so much fun anymore. I guarantee you your son will eventually learn to seperate the languages perfectly. :-)

PS. Don't tell your son you don't understand him, when he speaks Italian - he knows perfectly well you do. Pretend you didn't notice he spoke to you in Italian - everyday conversations can be turned into a challenge/conflict if you are too strict with this - just relax and enjoy. He clearly understands and speaks both languages and that's your goal.
Reply with quote  #3 
I have the same situation (Dutch/Spanish/English). My daughter just turned 3 and she says the most funniest things. Today she said: I don't want to "pis" on "stok". (I don't want "to stand on" <Spanish = Pisar> on the "stick" <dutch=Stok>
The other thing she does a lot is say the sentence in English and when we ask her to say it in Spanish then she repeats the verb in both languages. For example, she says something like "I want quiero jugar" . 

My biggest problem is that my husband doesn't speak Dutch and sometimes when I am talking to my daughter he doesn't understand, so I have to say it again in Spanish. Will that confuse her? That I talk to my husband and his family in Spanish and to the teacher in English? And only with her in Dutch? That's my concern....
My daughter started to speak a lot of Spanish in the beginning, but now that she has friends at preschool she is talking a lot more in English. Her Spanish has even an accent!! But the good thing is that she understand the 3 languages and that she knows she speak 3 languages...she says that she speaks like daddy when she speaks Spanish and as school when she talks English... and she also has the interest to ask how to say something in Dutch or Spanish sometimes....

Well, I hope our stories turn out as good as Caroline's! You did a great job! :-)

Reply with quote  #4 
Hi Ann,

Thanks, I'm sure your story will follow mine :-) It sounds like your daughter is well on the way to mastering all three languages.

I had the same problem as you - my husband doesn't speak Danish (or Spanish for that matter), so eventhough I kept speaking to the boys in Danish at home and to others in Spanish outside home; when he was around I often had to translate into English for him. It didn't seem to confuse the children at all. We made it into a joke - "Will we let Daddy know what we are talking about - or not? ;-)" They were not very old when they started themselves to translate for him when necesary, so it was natural.

I believe a child can learn any number of languages - as long as it considers them important enough to communicate with loved ones. Your daughter has of course already figured out that you speak Spanish and English too, so you need more motivation for her to keep up the Dutch. Depending on where you live, you should be able to find Dutch playgroups or families to spend time with and encourage her to improve her Dutch. My experience is clearly that it's an advantage to be very solid in the minority language before they reach the age og 4-5 y.o. - this is when they make their own choices as to which language they favour.

PS. My boys "adopted" accents too in all of the languages - they'll go away again as they get more confident! Occasionally they still come home from school with yet another accent - I think multilingual children are more tuned to accents and can pick them up or drop them easily.
Gillian Aquilina
Reply with quote  #5 
Thank you all for your encouragement and you are right Caroline, it should be treated more as a fun thing than as a constant badgering to speak the minority language.

I have searched for ages, for English playgroups in my area, to no avail. However, reading your experiences I feel more confident that Nino will grow up to speak both languages well.

Its a pleasure to have joined this discussion group.
Thanks again
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