At the end of the school year, my daughter brought home some of her school work. For religious education, she was asked to write why she's special. Like any mother, I read with interest, in the hope of discovering something that I don't already know about her, something that she values about herself. And under the title "I am special because...", she wrote: "I speak English, Italian and Farsi".
How can I describe how I felt when I read this! All the effort that we made to bring her up trilingual, all the conversations often interrupted to make sure that she speaks in the correct language, all the nagging to speak Italian, not to mix her three languages, and suddenly it was all worth it. She demonstrated not only awareness of being trilingual, but also showed to value her trilingualism. And I guess in some sense this also means that she values the three different cultures that she is exposed to every day.
Thinking back to when she was a toddler and started speaking, we initially struggled to help her stick to one language. She'd come home from nursery and ask for 'water' instead of 'acqua' and we would ask her to speak only Italian. But what does this mean to a two-year-old? What is Italian?
Understandably, she didn't get it and we struggled to make her see what we meant. Until one day my husband came up with an idea. Instead of asking her to speak a certain language, he would ask her to please speak like mum and not like Karen (her carer at nursery), and that made sense to her!
Six years on, and I still ask her to speak like me or her dad, rather than a specific language. One of the reasons for this is that I don't want to create a sense that I prefer Italian over English or Farsi, and I don't want her to end up disliking Italian because of my persistent interference. Rather, I'm trying to create a connection between the language and her mum, in the hope that this contributes to her sense of identity. And it seems that this approach might be working....