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Jun 17, 2010

Awareness of trilingualism

For the last several weeks, we had visitors in our home: the grand-parents on both sides, one couple right after the other. This means that our house has been immersed in German and French more than usual. Not sure if this is coincidence or if this new environment triggered new developments in Daniel's language abilities. In any case, he has shown interesting progress in the last few weeks.
First, his active vocabulary in both languages has increased a lot. For a long time, he has understood French and German quite well, but he has mostly spoken in English. Now, he still mostly speaks in English (and even repeats what we tell him in French or German in his own mother tongue). But he also started to incorporate more French and German words in his sentences. In most cases, the sentences are a mix-up of languages, though. He still far from mastering complex sentence structures in French or German to communicate his thoughts in one of these languages only. I hope that this is progress, though, even if it means that he now speaks broken English with us. I still think that when immersed in a 100%-English environment he can keep his English language intact.

And I am especially hopeful about this because, in the last few days, Daniel has started to show awareness for the different languages he knows. He frequently stumbles upon a word he knows in 3 languages and says: "Papa says Schule, Mama says Ecole, Teachers [at daycare] say school" for instance. This is very encouraging to me. I think it makes it easier to teach him my language. When I repeat something he says in English with my own French words, he will hopefully find it less confusing now that he understands Mommy does things differently. I don't know if he ever felt discouraged or surprised when I didn't proactively acknowledge his English vocabulary in the past. But if it was the case, hopefully now he will know why.

I also hope that it will help him keep a clean distinction between English and the other languages, eventually. If he understands that English corresponds to what teachers say, he will hopefully put as little German and French as possible when speaking to them and other English speakers.

Given the recent visits from the grandparents, we are reinforcing for him the motivation to learn how Mommy and Daddy say things. We are explaining that other people in the family also say things like mom and dad (and they wouldn't always understand English!). Hopefully it will be motivating for him to continue to learn French and German, so that he continues on his slow-but-still-progressing learning curve.

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