pne: A picture of a six-year-old girl (Amy)

Occasionally, I comment to Amy that a particular word is a homophone (such as sew and sow or rose “flower” and rose “went up”).

Yesterday, I mentioned hole (in a bucket) and whole (the whole piece of cake), and she said that for her, those weren’t homophones.

I asked her how she pronounced them, and she said that for her, they are (roughly) [hoʊ̯wəɫ] |hole| vs. [hoːl] |whole|.

Essentially, that boils down to “/ho:l/ as pronounced in English” versus “/ho:l/ as pronounced in German”! (The former with a diphthong and a velarised /l/, the latter with a long monophthong and a non-velar /l/.)

I wonder what the phonotactics of her particular idiolect of English are… it clearly seems to have at least one vowel phoneme that isn’t in, say, RP, for starters! And the rules about when /l/ gets velarised are clearly also different.

Fun stuff!

pne: A picture of a six-year-old girl (Amy)

Amy seems to be turning into a rhotic speaker; I’ve often heard her say things such as “car” and “are” rather than “cah” and “ah” as I do.

It’s still a bit unstable; this morning, she said “dinosaur” and “dinosaw” in separate sentences.

And not completely authentic, due to overgeneralisation/hypercorrection: she also said “girarff”.

I wonder why that is. More exposure to rhotic than non-rhotic accents due to films and the like?

Ah well. Let her talk however she wants, as long as she speaks English :)

pne: A picture of a six-year-old girl (Amy)

Amy made me two Easter cards (link goes to the Flickr photo set)… and signed her name in Gregg shorthand! (See the two “back” images.)

I told her a while ago how to write it (since I’m trying to teach myself Gregg shorthand, so it’s been on my mind quite a bit recently), but I’m still a bit surprised she remembered.

The proportions are rather off (it looks more like “Anner” than “Amy”), but still! She even remembered the “capital” dashes on one of the two cards.

To see what it should have looked like “by the book”, see this image (it’s also linked to from the set, but you can’t see anything in the thumbnail; it’s the white space just after the last image).

pne: A picture of a six-year-old girl (Amy)

Amy said today, “I’ve got a tummyache and Mummy doesn’t want me to eat any chocolate.”

What’s so impressive about this is that she used the accusative and infinitive construction for “want”, which English does but German doesn’t. This is a construction that she has never really used before, so I was pretty impressed that she got it!

(She’d usually word things the German way, with a subordinate clause, as in “Mummy doesn’t want that I eat any chocolate”, which is—I suppose—syntactically correct English but idiomatically unusual.)

Now I wonder whether or when she’ll give up saying “immer” for “always” :) I wonder whether she thinks that it’s also an English word, given her general reluctance to mix languages and how commonly she uses this German word.

Magic E

Monday, 31 October 2011 14:04
pne: A picture of a six-year-old girl (Amy)

In other news, I have introduced Amy to the wonder that is “magic E”.

pne: A picture of a six-year-old girl (Amy)

So, Amy is progressing well in reading German (recent letters included H and I, I think). She’s also getting taught the difference between “long” and “short” vowels, which she’ll need for English, too. (Regardless of what you call it, grasping the concept that one vowel letter can stand for multiple sounds is essential.)

Anyway, the other night we read Letterland ABC, and Amy had a go at reading the words in the boxes on the right-hand pages.

And I was surprised at her tenacity! English is not like German (though some aspects of the spelling are, fortunately, similar), and there are lots of letter combinations you just have to learn (ea ou oa, etc.), and the example words didn’t seem to have been chosen for ease of reading if you’re just starting out.

But she persevered! Even with longer words, she usually gave them a shot.

She used to get easily frustrated and just quit after a while, and I was fully expecting her to do so here, too, but no: we got through half the book (up to M) and she read (or attempted) nearly every example word. (She couldn’t always figure out what the word meant, i.e. identify the word she knows from the sounds she made, but at least she tried to sound them out.)

Well done!

LÜK = look

Tuesday, 20 September 2011 06:42
pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

Quick post, might be expanded later: Amy just said that her MiniLÜK thing is called LÜK because you have to "look" at it. So presumably she's equating German [Y] with her English /U/... which matches the fact that her English /u/ appears to be fronted a bit, so it would make sense that /U/ is, too.

Still, interesting!

pne: A picture of a six-year-old girl (Amy)

So Amy is 7 now!

She had a birthday party yesterday: four friends from school, two children from our road, for a total of five guests.

The ate cake, played party games, and generally had fun in between.

She also grew a centimetre since the last time we had measured her: she’s now about 110 cm tall.

pne: A picture of a six-year-old girl (Amy)

Out of curiosity, I had a look at Amy's homework today.

Apparently, they've gone beyond single words and are now writing (gasp!) entire sentences! Such fascinating, gripping novels as "Fu ruft Fara. Fara ruft Uta. Uta ruft Fu." (Foo [a sock puppet] calls Fara [another sock puppet]. Fara calls Uta [a girl]. Uta calls Foo.)

I guess your universe of discourse is necessarily rather limited if you've only got F U A R T to work with :)

I leafed through her workbook and looked at things with her.

At the beginning, there was a list of the children who would appear in the course of the book, and Amy surprised me by being able to read most of them (maybe two-thirds?)! Sure, it took a bit of laborious stringing-together of phonemes, but then she figured most of them out. (Even "Murat", which I'm not sure whether she has come across before.) She was even a bit proud of herself for being able to read names containing letters they hadn't "had" before, such as Ralf (no L yet, officially, yet she recognised it even in its lower-case form).

So basic to a literate adult, yet it felt pretty awesome to me to watch and hear her actually decoding the written word - words she hadn't read before!

pne: A picture of a six-year-old girl (Amy)

First day of school for Amy today!

Amy’s vocabulary

Thursday, 28 July 2011 10:41
pne: A picture of a six-year-old girl (Amy)

Based on my guesses as to which words Amy would be likely to know, thinks that her vocabulary probably consists of about 3'900 words. Not bad.

I wonder whether she’d let me do the test properly with her, for a slightly more accurate number.


Thursday, 7 July 2011 12:28
pne: A picture of a six-year-old girl (Amy)

Recently, it was "get-to-know day" at Amy's school: where the children who would start school next year would get divided up into classes, so they would get to know who would be their teacher next year and who would be in their class with them.

Amy will be in class 1a with Mrs Wimmer. Each preschool student was allowed to list three children they would like to have in a class with them, and all three of Amy's picks could be considered: her best friends Erik and Vivien and her friend Levin (the latter two from her preschool class, the former from our neighbourhood).

When we had sent Amy to preschool there, we had hoped that she would stay together with that group of children for several years, so we were a bit disappointed when we heard that the two preschool classes would be chopped up and divided among the three first grade classes. But in practice, Amy's group was divided up among only two classes and most of the other group seemed to end up in the third class (with all three classes being "topped up" with children who had not attended preschool there), so Amy knows eight of the twenty-three children in her class already, which is better than nothing.

The day started with the principal's greeting the children in the aula. Then they were divided up into classes and they went up to their future classrooms for about twenty minutes. Then they came back outside to the playground, where the parents would wait for them. They each got a little envelope with the time and day of their first day of school (since Amy is in 1a, her class has the first-day-of-school ceremony first on that day).

What I found interesting was that the envelope also contained an invitation to a going-to-school service in the local church. I wonder whether this was an official communication of the school (and if so, what happened to church and state?) or whether this was something the church came up with independently and got permission to distribute invitations via the school to children (and if so, whether other religious or non-religious groups than the majority Lutheran one would be able to get such permission, too, e.g. what would happen if a local mosque invited children to a service).


A couple of days later was the first parent-teacher conference, which I attended. The teacher introduced herself to the parents, and we introduced ourselves and our children briefly. There were lots of forms to fill out. The teacher also went over the class schedule - or rather, the subjects and the hours per week, since there is no fixed timetable. They'll have English right from grade one, though at one hour a week, it won't be more than a basic introduction, I imagine. Religion also gets one hour a week. Arithmetic and German get the most time, with subjects such as P.E. and drama in between.

There were several pairs of children with the same name in the first grade; I think I counted two Leas and two Eriks (and there was one Selina and another one who had that name as her middle name). For the most part, they are in separate classes, but Amy's class will have two Florians. We'll see how that works out. (Also in Amy's class are an Angelina sometimes called "Gina" and another child just called Gina. I expect that Angelina will go by her full name, then.)

pne: A picture of a six-year-old girl (Amy)

The other day, Amy said something along the lines of “wanted to know what it look likes”.

Took me a sec until I realised that she had added the third-person singular present marker -s to the “verb” to look like. Amusing parse :)

However, she seemed to have realised her mistake; at any rate, two sentences later she had one with “what it looks like”.

Still fun :)

pne: A picture of a six-year-old girl (Amy)

Amy seems to be getting the hang of the difference between say and tell (which are the same verb in German, cognate with say): the other day, she said something wrongly, then corrected herself.

On the other hand, she still hasn’t internalised all the rules for auxiliary do: when (not) to use it and what forms it goes with.

Common errors are:

  • Using do not with the infinitive of the main verb, but with an inflected form (“It doesn’t works”)
  • Using do for negating even verbs which normally simply take not/-n’t, such as auxiliary verbs (“You don’t may come in”)
  • As a special case of the preceding one, using do with do, if you want to ask a negative question (“Why do you don’t know?”)
  • Using do to form the (positive, non-emphatic) past tense of verbs, especially ones with an irregular past; sometimes with infinitive (“At the circus, I did see an elephant!”), sometimes with inflected past (“Yesterday, I did went to school”)

She also tends to say “I were” instead of “I was”; getting the correct form isn’t helped both by the fact that it’s “you were” (and the “I” and “you” forms are identical for essentially all forms of essentially all verbs) and that it’s “ich war” in German.

She’s also starting to show more disfluencies where she’s visibly struggling to produce a coherent sentence: her lack of vocabulary and remaining unfamiliarity with the finer points of syntax make it difficult for her to always express what she wants to say. I wonder whether she’ll get to a point where her desire to communicate quickly and clearly is stronger than her desire to speak to me in English, and will switch to German. Ah well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

In other language news, she may be ready for having chapter books read to her; she has always strongly preferred picture books so far, so it’s sometimes been difficult to find appropriate books in the library’s English section.

But now she occasionally listens to stories on CD, and the other day, she let me read a few chapters of Yuit and, on another occasion, also some of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

pne: A picture of a six-year-old girl (Amy)

Yesterday was Amy’s half-birthday: she’s six-and-a-half now.

And as a present, her body gave her her first wobbly tooth! She’s all excited.

pne: A picture of a six-year-old girl (Amy)

Today at the library, some young girls (eleven years old or so) overheard Amy and me talking English to each other and were amazed that someone that age could speak English so well.

When I spoke with them, I learned that they were all (theoretically) trilingual themselves: one spoke Polish natively, German since coming here two years ago, and was learning English; one spoke Turkish and German, and was learning English; and the third spoke German and learned English and French.

So one of them was natively bilingual while the other at least had a reasonable command of two languages (her German seemed pretty decent, though not perfect—and she admits it took a lot of work to get there, telling me how she was jealous of the children who got to play during the summer holidays while she worked on her German, so that she wouldn’t have to do two years of the special school for learning German she had been in the year before but could switch to a regular school after the holidays).

Anyway, my point is that several times so far, people who have been amazed at Amy’s abilities are themselves bilingual.

I wonder whether this is because English is a prestige language, which they consider more “worthwhile” then their second language? Or the fact that English is (for people still in school) a school subject, where competence translates into a better mark? Because to me, a six-year-old speaking English in Germany shouldn’t be any more amazing than a six-year-old speaking Turkish or Polish (or Russian, or Albanian, or Zulu, or any other language not native to Germany).

Still, it seems to be English that intrigues people more.

(I’ll admit that it is handy knowing English in today’s world: so having that be her second language will confer her some practical advantages that many other second languages would not.)

Back to the specific situation, the Turkish girl said that Turkish was her weaker language: her father is from Turkey and her mother is Turkish (born in Germany), but they mostly speak German at home, so she’s still learning Turkish and her vocabulary is not as extensive as in German. Still, I always like hearing about families passing on their language to their children in some measure. (I asked her whether she could also read Turkish, and she said she thought she could, but she didn’t want to demonstrate with a couple of Turkish children’s books that were handy there: too shy, she said.)

pne: A picture of a six-year-old girl (Amy)

Today, Amy told me about her stuffed-animal rabbit “Mopple”.

I was amused that she had anglicised its name from the German original “Moppel” when talking to me: instead of quoting the name (as she would with, say, her friend Erik), she turned it into English /mɒpl/ (i.e. variously [mɒpəɫ]~[mɒpɫ̩]—with English velar/“dark” L rather than German “light” L—or [mɒpoʊ] with L-vocalisation).

In spoken German, reflexives and reciprocals are sometimes not distinguished; thus, sie brachten sich alle um could mean not only “they all killed themselves” (mass suicide) but also “they all killed one another” (mass homicide). (The basic meaning of the pronoun sich is reflexive, I would say.)

If desired, one can distinguish with sie brachten sich alle gegenseitig um “they all killed sich reciprocally” vs. sie brachten sich alle selbst um “they all killed sich themselves”, or with an explicit object rather than a reciprocal/reflexive construction sie brachten einander alle um “they all killed one another”.

Anyway, this optional lack of distinction in German has made Amy occasionally mix up reflexives and reciprocals in her English. I don’t remember any examples offhand, though, so I don’t remember whether she consistently chooses one of the two or whether she sometimes gets it wrong one way and sometimes the other way. (I vaguely recall something like “They all fell down and hurt each other”, but I’m not sure whether that’s a real memory. That would be reciprocal when reflexive was intended.)

pne: A picture of a six-year-old girl (Amy)

For Amy, them seems to have no distinct strong form; instead, she has generalised the weak form /ðəm/ (for her, [dəm]) for the strong form as well.

For example, recently we were looking at a car where the windows on our side had frost on them and we couldn’t see inside; she suggested, “Let’s see whether there’s frost on the other windows, otherwise you can look through [ˈdəm]”, with a stressed final them. But her stressed form still had a schwa / neutral vowel in it, which doesn’t really work in English phonology (though it’s perfectly cromulent in some other languages, Albanian being an example that comes to mind). (For me, for example, that word in that position would be [ˈðɛm] with a DRESS vowel.)

Fun stuff.

pne: A picture of a six-year-old girl (Amy)

Amy still shows little interest in reading or writing, though she’s getting better at “What letter does ____ start with?”: fricatives such as /s/ or /f/ were easy, but she’s starting to recognise plosives such as /t/ or /p/, too. (She still gets unsure with B vs P, though.)

She’s getting better at arithmetic (especially addition), though, even though this isn’t something we practice. But she comes up with things such as, “If there are four children and we join them, then there will be seven in all” or the like.

She’s also getting a lot better at drawing.

pne: A picture of a six-year-old girl (Amy)

The other day, to say that there was the fewest of some object or other, she said that there were “the little-bit-est”.

Heh :)

On another Amy-related note, we were talking about words that sound the same, such as letters of the alphabet that sounded like words (such as “T” and “tea”), and she thought about whether any numbers sound like words.

And she came up with this one: “/fri:/ is a number, and it’s also a word!”

I was wondering which word she was thinking of, so to check, I asked her, “Do you mean like an animal that’s not in a cage, so it’s free?” and she said yes.

The funny thing is, I assumed that she could hear the difference between /θ/ and /f/, even if she can’t (reliably) produce the difference. (She’s making slow progress on that front, though.)

But either she can’t (and she consideres them allophones or something), or that particular word got stored as /fri:/ somehow.

At any rate, I told her that actually, the number is pronounce /θri:/ and the other word is /fri:/, so they’re not quite the same.

And on another phoneme distinction note, a word pair she has problems distinguishing in her pronunciation is “colour” and “collar”: reliably distinguishing the vowel sound in the first syllable (STRUT vs. LOT). Admittedly, the two are pretty close together, and one of them (STRUT) isn’t even in German in the first place. (Well, German “short o” isn’t quite the same as a UK near-RP “short o”, either, I suppose: it’s a bit more close, though both are rounded.)

And I’m not sure whether I’ve mentioned this one before, but her pronunciations of “arrow” and “owl” often sound very similar: they’re both something like /awo/ (with a vocalised L in the case of the latter, like “puddow” for “puddle” or even “fio” for “fill”: not uncommon in some native speakers’ English [1]).

[1] or, for that matter, in Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian: compare the -o of the masculine singular past participle to Polish -ł /w/ (which still echoes the spelling, if not the original pronunciation) and Russian -л.


pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)
Philip Newton

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