La Tela di Carlotta
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Raising multilingual kids: Oliver’s linguistic evolution at 3.5 years old

Apr 1, 2019

(Oliver’s now 4, it took me a while to post this, but I’ll post it anyway)

It’s been a while since I posted an update about Oliver’s and Emily’s multilingualism, and there’s a reason for it. I was getting nervous about him speaking ONLY English: even though I have studied how children’s brain works when learning languages, I started wondering if I was doing something wrong when mixing four languages in his brain and not being strict about asking him to reply in one or the other language. Even though I pretended not to care, people’s words “You’re confusing him, I don’t think he’ll speak Italian” we’re messing with my head.

You want the truth? As always, I didn’t have to worry at all and this experience taught me once again two important motherhood lessons:

  • Always trust your child’s potential. Follow the child.
  • Don’t let people’s comments affect what you have studied about children’s development. Inform yourself and follow the child.

Our experience with multilingualism

But let me back up, so if you’re new to my blog you can understand what I’m talking about: we’re raising our kids with Italian, Finnish, English at home and we live in Spain. We’ve always been using the OPOL (One Person One Language) method, which means I speak only Italian with the kids, and Alex speaks only Finnish.

With time, though, we noticed we had to adapt the method to our needs, because our family language is English and, for example, it didn’t feel natural to always address the kids in Italian and Finnish at the dinner table when the conversation between my husband and me was entirely in English.

Also, as Alex started having deeper conversations with Oliver, he found it more natural to speak English, as it has been his main language for over half of his life, and is more predominant in his brain than his native language.

Oliver took slightly longer to start expressing himself and when he did, he probably found English to be easier, so until he was 3,5 years old he always talked and replied in English, also when we talked to him in Italian or Finnish, and even if I spent most of the time with him.

Progress of the last 6 months

Here’s an update on Oliver’s multilingualism in the past SIX months.

ENGLISH

This is definitely Oliver’s main language (even if it’s not ours) and he’s very fluent. He has a big range of vocabulary, conjugates verbs, and can express pretty much anything (we’re now working on emotion vocabulary). His accent is funny as he doens’t have just one accent of reference in his life, but it keeps evolving.

We never correct him when he says things wrong (we actually adopt his vocabulary, it’s so much fun!). For example, he pronunces “pretending” a little bit like “parenting” which creates a lot of funny inside jokes between Alex and myself about parenting kids, or “pretending” to do it ;-) I’m really not worried about correcting him, as I know kids figure it out themselves: for a year Oliver called animals “amiols” (which was so cute and funny!) and then he eventually just corrected himself.

ITALIAN

For a long time, when I spoke to Oliver in Italian and he replied in English, it often came natural to me to repeat his sentence in Italian, although I was never very disciplined about it.

When I was in the hospital for three weeks, and the kids spent a lot of time with my mum and dad, Oliver started singing in Italian and when I went back home, he surprised me with his “new” acquired skill. Then a new kid (half Italian, half Indian) started in his school, they became good friends and Oliver’s learnt so much Italian from him (thank you, K!).

The more Oliver realizes he actually can express himself in Italian (because it’s all in his brain), the more he communicates, and in just four months he now has entire conversations with me in Italian: he mixes in some English words, but it’s now rare that he uses English with me when we’re alone. If Alex is there, he naturally switches to English, although I’m noticing he’s more and more switching between languages also when the four of us are together.

FINNISH

In the last year, Alex hasn’t been very disciplined about speaking Finnish with the kids, but as he spoke to Oliver only Finnish for the first two years of his life, Oliver understands absolutely everything. After his experience with italian, Oliver is now the one asking and reminding daddy to speak Finnish.

So Alex is now speaking more and more Finnish to them, but he mixes a lot: he uses a lot of Finnish in his daily life, but he often switches to English for deeper conversations. Will he prove me maybe using my beloved OPOL method is not so important after all? Can’t wait to find out!

SPANISH

The Venezuelan nanny we had in Canada told me Oliver speaks a lot of Spanish, but I never heard myself. Just recently, though, Oliver started playing with more Spanish kids in school, and when I heard him he could speak more than I thought. And that’s all from school, because our friends out of school are mainly English speaking.

Seriously, guys, the language superpower the kid brain has is amazing, never ever think children will be confused if you expose them to many language at the time. Between 0 and 6 years old, kids really are geniuses at learning languages!

What about Emily?

I rarely compare my kids to each other or to other kids, I don’t care if “they can already“ or “can’t yet” do something. But I always noticed that Oliver started expressing himself later than his friends, and I thought it was because he had four languages in the mix. Then Emily arrived and started formulating full sentences when she was a year old, thus proving that that’s not true.

The amount of languages doesn’t matter at all in how slow or fast the linguist development is (material for a new blog post): kids have their own time, they develop their interest for languages sooner or later and as always, the best thing we can do is not to force them, but simply to accompany them.

Emily, who had the same mix of languages since birth, started communicating with verbs when she was one year old, she’s always been interested in repeating everything we say (something that Oliver didn’t used to do), so she now speaks a lot and her ability to express herself in English and Italian always surprises us (the other day I was reading a Spanish book to her and she surprised me again by repeating everything).

Multilingualism is a fascinating journey: I was always amazed by the way my little students learnt English, but seeing it in my kids and following their natural development, it’s ten times more fascinating, and motivates me even more to write about it.

Tell me what you think

Did you like it? Do you agree or disagree? I'd love to hear from you.

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The blog

I write mainly about Montessori, parenthood, and multilingualism. Here are some recent posts.

Montessori
One day a few years ago my husband came home and said, "Why don't we put a mattress on the floor in the baby room? It'd be much more natural". "Never" was my reply. That's how our Montessori journey started. Since then we've been living, breathing and applying the philosophy at home day in and day out, starting from ourselves. Because educating children starts from the parents.
Bean and seed mosaic
I'm not perfect. I'm aware
DIY yoga cards for kids
Children at the restaurant: let's recalibrate expectations
Don't ask your children to share their toys
Those "good job" that erode our children's confidence
Our Montessori birthday
Two alternatives to screens that my kids love
Using fear and threats to control children is never right!
"Stop crying!" doesn't work
Living sustainably
Living sustainably for me doesn’t only mean to have a more eco-friendly lifestyle. It means to make decisions that are sustainable for our planet, the people on it, but also for our life, our lifestyle, and our happiness. It means to take any daily chance to evolve and be happier, healthier, kinder, more responsible and more caring human beings—the only sustainable way for a meaningful future.
Face yoga is an act of self love
Why you should wear the same outfit twice on Instagram
The power of creating habits (and why you should do it, even if you then break them!)
Responsible eating is the diet of the future (Would you like to teach it to your kids?)
The power of NOT complaining: can you do it for a whole month?
Clean up your planet, please!
Infographic: 8 steps to switch to cloth nappies (a guide for reluctant parents)
A personal note on happiness
A personal note on social media
A change of life always widens your horizons
New to La Tela?
I’ve prepared collections on various topics that I’ve written over the years. Perhaps you’ll find one that interests you.

Travel

We sold everything to travel the world for two years. We're currently in New Zealand.

Books

In 2020 I wrote 4 books for the Italian collection “Gioca and Impara con il metodo Montessori” curated by Grazia Honegger Fresco. The collection is a project by Il Corriere della Sera and La Gazzetta dello Sport.

We also implemented the workshops of the last 15 volumes of the collection with Oliver and Emily.

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On my podcast, “Educare con calma”, I talk about various topics, from Montessori to sustainability. Only in Italian!

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Why La Tela di Carlotta?
I dreamed of the name La Tela di Carlotta. One morning I woke up and in my dreams I had created a blog named just like the American novel (Charlotte's Web). Many years and endless ups and downs later, this web of thoughts and stories is my work. It took me a long time to understand what kind of online presence I wanted and today I know: I'm transparent, I show real life, I don't advertise, I only recommend sustainable brands (and not only because they pay me) and I believe in the value of my blog and my courses—because if we don't believe in the value of our work, no one will believe in it for us.
Carlotta
Carlotta dreaming of La Tela
I know! I don't want it to be over yet either.