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Saturday, 11 February 2012

The burden of trilingualism?

I promised myself no "proud mum" posts on this blog - but I'm just itching to boast about Sofia's expanding trilingual vocabulary. She's got "bye-bye", "tschuess" and "au revoir" off pat now (you'll have to imagine the cute baby pronounciation), and she's using the right language with the right people. Other words she only says in one language for the moment, "Ball" (in German) and "night-night" being two of her most recent acquisitions. Oh, and not forgetting "meow/miau" for the cat (of whom she is still horribly afraid, although she's now bigger than the cat and much more mobile than she used to be.)

But to round this post off a bit, I thought I'd look at the word lists* we did for Annabelle and Leonard when they were learning to talk. The first thing I noticed was that there were four columns, not three. Ok, so one each for English, French and German - but the fourth one? That was for "own inventions", which are sometimes obviously down to immature pronounciation, but "afwa" for water? And "paco" for helicopter? Some bits are also just cute: they both said "heavy" when they wanted me to carry them because when Leonard, the older one, would hold his arms up to me like his little sister did, I would often say to him "Oh, you're too heavy to be carried now." So "heavy" became their short-hand for "pick me up!"

The distribution between the languages is interesting too in its randomness. There's not any particular type of word, either in relation to grammar or meaning which tends to be learnt in one language or another, other than "encore" (more in French) which all three of them mastered very early on and before they could say the same thing in English or German (this tells you more about baby psychology than reams of books by experts). There also isn't one language that dominates. I sometimes get asked which language the children learnt first, and it's a question I can't answer: it was all three at once.

The other odd thing about these word lists is the timing. Leonard didn't have more than a handful of words/meaningful sounds at 18 months, and he was approaching 2 before we had enough to even make up a word list of any significance. Annabelle on the other hand at 13 months had a page-long list! And Sofia is somewhere in between the two. I think within our family we probably span the typical range of baby language learning, from "not unusual but fast" to "not unusual but on the slow side" - so I'm happy to stick with the collective conclusion of "not unusual - and coincidentally doing it in three languages." 

*Are you cringeing at the mention of word lists? It wasn't just that, we documented everything - to begin with. It went from almost an hour-by-hour record of Leonard's every bodily function, to weekly, then monthly diary entries for Annabelle, and poor Sofia so far has about one page in the baby log! Yes, we are really that sad...
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