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Monday, 10 January 2011

Mixing and matching

I spent most of this evening listening for examples of the children mixing their languages, and all I have to offer is one "Papa, ich habe kein paper mehr" (I don't have any more paper), and one "Bring the Songbuch" (song book), both addressed to their father. I guess this shows a number of things:

- English is still their strongest language, as they almost never throw a German word into an English sentence addressed to me.
- Their mixing with their father goes both ways i.e. a German sentence with a sole English word and an English sentence with a sole German word.
 - The mixing happens in different ways. I think for the first one, Leonard just couldn't think of the German word as quickly as the English one, so he used English because he knows his father understands English. I wonder though if the sentence would have come out differently if he'd been speaking to his German grandmother who speaks no English? And for the second one, Annabelle was wanting to sing a song in German, so I would guess that was what prompted the German vocab.  (See Prof. Grosjean's expert blog on reasons why multilinguals code-switch, as it's know in the trade).

I also noticed that they don't only mix on a lexical level, but on a grammatical level. The one I heard tonight was "Mama, look at our dinosaur pink", so Leonard applied the French rule of putting the adjective after the noun to an English sentence. Annabelle will in fact often say, "Me, I want to do xxx", translating the French construction "Moi, je veux faire xxx" into English. Not heard her do that in German though, I don't think.

However, what amazes me again and again is that they are learning all these different characteristics of three different languages, which is just phenomenal in itself. And mostly they DO keep the right rules and words in the right language boxes. Fantastic.


  1. Hi Joana, great blog which was pointed out to me at Krabbelgruppe! Congratulations to your trio!
    Regarding bilingual childrend's notions of different grammars:
    My son (4) recently told me about a friend at creche and his "Flash MacQueen" shoes. After a while he said: "Auf Deutsch sagt man MacQueen Flash!". I was really amazed to see how he apparently analysed the fact that the word order is often inverted in German as opposed to French: bouteille d'eau vs Wasserflasche etc....

  2. Hi Elisabeth,

    Thanks for your comment, pleased you enjoy the blog! Am I thinking the right person, with also a daughter, M., who must be about 2 by now?

    It is amazing how quickly multilingual children develop this metalinguistic knowledge that some adults would have difficulty with even if it were explained explicitly to them.

    Best wishes,

  3. Wow, I'm impressed by your memory skills! M. was exactly 2 years and 2 days old on the day of your post!

    Yes, it's impressive how language-aware multilingual children are, while most others at their age don't even know what a language is....

    My son recently said, after a guided tour in a Swiss German museum (in Swiss German, which he apparently had difficulty understanding): "Mama, when I'll go to school, will I learn all other languages?"


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