Girl Italian

Pata likes to hear a story every night before she goes to sleep. She has long tired of following along as I read, preferring instead to babble to her dolls or bears. Whenever I pause, she insists that she is listening. I ask her questions just to be sure.

“What is he looking at?” I ask, pointing to the Little Nutbrown Hare.

“The lune,” she tells me.

“What? A loon is a bird. What is that?” I ask, indicating a white crescent.

“The lune,” she tells me once again, giggling.

“That is the moon. It is not a loon.”

“Moon,” she says, smiling. “Moon,” she says again, emphasizing the ‘n’ so much that it sounds as though it is followed by a vowel. Laughing, repeats herself: “Moon-uh,” she says, as though it were a Neapolitan word.

In the parking lot of the municipio she wants to know why there is a pile of trash nearwhere N has parked the car. “Ma chi ha messo tutta questa sporcizia qua?! (Who put all this filth here?)” she asks him.

Dove? (Where?)”

“A terra! (On the ground!)” she exclaims, pointing to the pile.

“Dirty people,” I tell her, “dirty people put it there.”

“Where they are?” she asks, looking around.

“Where are they?” I correct her.

“I don’t know, Mommy. I don’t see them. I think they went to their home.”


She pushes her armchair next to mine and snuggles up to me. “Mommy, I want one thing good because I love you.”

“You’ve had enough today,” I tell her.

“Mommy,” she says, shaking her finger, “now I am angry to you because you won’t give me a caramella!”


“Papà’s mommy is nonna my,” she tells me, as she draws a row of faces on a bit of scrap paper.

“Oh, really, and who are you?”

“I’m the baby your,” she says smiling.

“Yes, you are my baby.”

A couple of minutes later, I see her jabbing at the table with the pencil. “What are you doing?” I ask.

“No Mommy, I’m not ruining your cloth table,” she assures me.

“My what?”

“This, Mommy,” she says, poking at the tablecloth with the pencil, “I am not marking up your cloth table beautiful.”


Preschool hasn’t caused Pata’s English to suffer as much as I feared it might, but it has made it clear that even though she is a native English speaker, it is not her first language.


5 responses to “Girl Italian

  1. This is so very interesting to me. Her sentence structures are not very surprising, but I wonder how long it will take her to self-correct those things. English is obviously the first language of my daughter (at I think it obvious, I could be wrong), but she makes many mistakes with prepositions in English that she likely would not make if the Italian were not in the mix. She used to place the adjectives after the noun but has since stopped making that mistake, though without my input. I don't correct much, except to repeat her sentences using the correct forms. It is all an amazing process.

  2. That is really cute! And Pata seems to have a large vocabulary too! My daughter prefers to speak Italian even though everyone around her except her father and Skype grandparents speak English. She also uses italian grammar with English words such as 'Car yellow" and "Table grande"

  3. Dana, it's interesting to hear that your daughter did some of these things. I assumed that Pata made these mistakes because she hears so little English, but based on your experience it seems to be just a phase of learning to be bilingual. I waver between wanted to correct Pata and wanting to let things go…it's hard because I see myself as her English teacher and wonder whether she will ultimately self-correct if she only has one other native-speaker. But you're right that speech development is an amazing thing.J. Doe, that is wonderful, I remember you mentioned that people were criticizing you for raising her bilingual, saying that it would delay her speech (which it obviously has not!)

  4. S says 'where they are' as well. I am constantly correcting her and she has been getting a bit better with that lately. The other thing she always says that makes me laugh is 'i please you' (ti prego) instead of please (can you…). i make a joke out of it by saying 'i please you what?'. Am hoping having an english speaking au pair here this summer will help wiht their english a lot, is so hard being the only source. Vanessa

  5. Yeah, verb placement is turning out to be a stickier issue than adjectives…she's been home from materna because we couldn't deal with her getting sick so often, and I haven't heard her put an adjective after a noun in English in a while. But the verb problems persist. "I please you" is so sweet! I think that's one of the most endearing mistakes I've ever heard of. I'll keep my fingers crossed for your English-speaking au pair!

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