Friday, 15 October 2010

Language lessons from a three year old

Last weekend, we were getting ready to go see our friends up near Oxford, and my husband was telling the kids all about what we would be doing there, and about who we were going to see. M's little friend Patrick, sweetly referred to as Patrick-ino, is half italian and half scottish, so the conversation went a little like this:

M:  And Patrick-ino's mummy is Italian, isn't she? And that means she's from Italy.
Danger Boy (in the background):  Paaaaatch-INO.... Paaaaatch-INO.... Paaaatch-ICK-INO
Daddy:   That's right, so when we say "Hello" to her, we need to say "Bonjourno". Can you say "Bonjourno?"

Silence. A curious and confused stare. We speak a bit of a jumble of French and English at home, with a little bit of Franglais and some made-up words thrown in, and at 3.5 years old, M already has an ear for language. She just plucks new words out of the air and somehow knows how to pronounce them properly (except the word "necessity") and how to use them correctly in context. So I was surprised at the silence.

Until she finally opened her mouth and said,

Daddy, it's not "Bonjourno". It's "BUON-GIORno".

I've since found out that at nursery she teaches her friend T how to say things in French, and T teaches her italian. Isn't that the most incredible thing ever? Two preschoolers hanging out in the Home Corner, teaching each other their minority language? I love it.

Suddenly curious about the italian language, M has been asking loads of funny questions, like "How do you sing in Italian?" (I responded with an italian version of Zoom, Zoom, Zoom: Zuma Zuma Zuma, andiamo alla luna), and "How do you laugh in Italian?".

And this morning, we had this little gem:

M: "Mummy, there's a special way of speaking italian when you're busy eating breakfast".
Me: "Erm..OK, let's hear it."
M: "Mmmm-MMMM-mm.  See, that's how you say Buon-gior-no when you have weetabix in your mouth"

I'm smiling just writing it. To think, I'm in for a lifetime of such moments.


  1. That's lovely!!

    Growing up, noone in our family spoke another language. We're Australian, and when my brother went to uni in Canberra, our little sister (who was about 5) asked him, "How do you say 'chair' in Canberra?"

  2. What a sweet post, and our 5 year old is just the same :-)
    I love reading about the precious little moments of growing up Bilingual. It helps remind me why we do it.