When do you know you’re bilingual?

Dutch Italian

My experience as grandmother of bilingual grandchildren is great! I’m so proud to see Julia develop. About a year ago, she didn’t know she had to speak Italian with her Italian family, so we had to remind her. Now, she knows perfectly how to express herself and she naturally switches from Italian to Dutch, based on the persons she’s talking to. I’m so curious about in what language both my grandchildren will communicate, based on whether they are in the Netherlands or in Italy.” – Nanna Caterina from Italy.

So sweet! And interesting of course. Because: when do you know you’re bilingual? Google won’t give me the answer (in Dutch, English or Italian), so let me give it a try:

1 year old: understanding both languages, using them at random

As long as they don’t really make phrases, single words in both languages are being mixed. My 17 month old son understands both languages, he’s just not able to speak them both. When I asked him to point out the shoes (in Dutch) in a book the other day, he did it and said “capa” (scarpa – Italian for shoe).

2 years old: understanding both languages, trying to use the right one

Just after my son was born, my daughter had just turned 2 years old, the Italian family was in Holland. She chatted in both languages, we just needed to remind her that one grandmother only understands Dutch and the other only understands Italian.

She tried to get her head around this.

After a few months, we were taking a walk with the Italian nanna. In Dutch, I told her we were going to stop for a second to tie her shoes. She looked at me and said: “mommy, you should speak Italian, otherwise nanna won’t understand.”

3 years old: understanding both languages, (automatically) using the richt one

At the moment, she switches from Italian to Dutch and back, without effort. She normally answers in the language in which she’s being talked to. She clearly knows what words are Italian and what words are Dutch. Today she was just teasing me:

She: “Mommy, how do you say ‘thursday’ in Italian?”
I: “Giovedì”
She: “and Monday in Dutch?”
I: “Maandag”
She: “OK. So Sunday we’re going to pick apples?”

You bet she understands she’s bilingual.

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