To drink or not to drink…

To be honest, I wanted to write about this topic for years, but always hesitated because I can’t find a  way to talk about “to drink or not to drink”… But when a friend linked to this article on facebook, I decided it is time to write about it.

Cultures where drinking is a no go, and others where it is part of a rite of passage into adulthood

I grew up in a country where people don’t need to drink alcohol to enjoying themselves and where being drunk is frowned upon (cfr. Italy). From a very early stage on I realized that this was one of the major differences between the local culture and our “home culture”. My parents are German and grew up in the post-war era. Every time we visited family and friends in Germany, I observed that it was considered normal to drink alcohol at gatherings. I don’t mean the usual glass of wine or two during a long meal, no, it’s the massive drinking the one where most of the people would end up drunk, where being drunk was one of the goals of the gathering… People would pressure each other to drink more, to find out who is the most trinkfest (hard-drinking).

In cultures where you have to drink in order to “belong” , it is perceived as a faux pas if you refuse a drink and is only accepted if the person is ill, pregnant or a child under 14. In Germany it was (or still is) part of the rite of passage into adulthood for confirmands. From that moment on, one is allowed by society (but not by law, see here below!), encouraged and expected to drink alcohol at social gatherings.


What is allowed in private settings is not legal…

Apparently German teenagers consume less alcohol nowadays, like stated in this article on Deutsche Welle Teenager trinken weniger Alkohol: “only every tenth teenager between 12 and 17 yo drank alcohol once per week in 2016, whereas in 2004 it were twice as many teenagers and in the 1970ies it was every forth teenager” (Jeder zehnte Jugendliche zwischen 12 und 17 Jahren trank 2016 einmal pro Woche Alkohol – im Vergleich zum Jahr 2004 ein deutlicher Rückgang. Damals konsumierten noch doppelt so viele Jugendliche einmal in der Woche Alkohol. Schaut man auf die 1970er-Jahre, war es nicht nur jeder fünfte, sondern sogar noch jeder vierte Teenager.) The quantity of alcohol consumption is not mentioned as the main objective was to point out it is already a regular habit for children of this age group. Also: teenagers tend to have their first drink at age 15 – “quite “late” compared  what happened in the past…”

A study from the OECD in 2015 stated that “85 % of the 15yo Germans has experienced alcohol compared to 25% in 2002″ and that the general alcohol consumption among youngsters is increasing – not decreasing! (cfr. 85 Prozent der 15-jährigen Deutschen haben schon Erfahrungen mit Alkohol gemacht – 25 Prozent mehr als noch 2002. Laut OECD nimmt auch in vielen anderen Ländern der Alkoholkonsum von Jugendlichen zu.)

Bildschirmfoto 2017-07-24 um 13.48.42Bildschirmfoto 2017-07-24 um 13.48.53Bildschirmfoto 2017-07-24 um 13.49.03Bildschirmfoto 2017-07-24 um 13.49.14Bildschirmfoto 2017-07-24 um 13.49.25

cfr. OECD data about alcohol consumption (in litres per capita) and other sources about alcohol consumption in 2017 


Binge drinking, Rauschtrinken or colloquially Komasaufen, is part of a drinking-culture that is hard to understand for someone who grew up in a country where drinking is not common.

What I find interesting (disturbing!) is that these studies consider alcohol consumption starting even before age 16 or the legal age for purchasing alcoholic beverages:

Legal age for purchasing alcoholic beverages


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When and why does it start?

I wonder why entire societies find it acceptable that children drink alcohol.

I think that more than reacting to the phenomenon itself, one should ask where and when this starts.

The country I grew up in is known for allowing young children to have a sip of wine when they’re really young. I have witnessed this a few times myself and have been offered “soltanto un goccino” as a child, “only a sip”, it’s like medicine… When asked why they would do that, they responded that it was more a joke – but still: what if a young child enjoys the regular “goccino”?

What about those young mothers or parents, who openly share their longing for their evening drink, because they “deserve it” because parenting is so stressful?

What about those parents who head to the pub every week and are unresponsive the next morning? What is the message they send to their children? That it is normal to get drunk once a week?

Is it ok for parents to drink in front of their children to “relax” or to “enjoy their free time”? Aren’t they modeling that “if you are stressed, upset, tired, drink a glass of wine/or other drink and you’ll be fine”, that it’s perfectly normal and ok to drink to relax and enjoy?

Cfr. About the effect of drinking alcohol in front of your children 

What would be a healthy way to approach this?

Many schools teach how to approach this in a healthy way. They explain the side effects and how our awareness is clouded by drinking too much, that it is difficult to recognize ones boundaries. “Being responsible is taught from an early age in school and at home. Pupils in our locality (in the last year of primary school) completed an awareness program on peer pressure, social behavior, drink and drugs awareness because research in an older group of students (i.e just started secondary school) showed the risk of alcohol use was rising”, said my friend in the facebook post, “raising this awareness in children doesn’t stop the use but is believed it can reduce the incidence abuse.”

I believe it is the responsibility of families, friends, to foster a healthy approach.

Is it possible to do without…?

I seriously had this discussion with some friends who didn’t believe that one can really enjoy each others company without alcohol.

Not only can I confirm this myself, as I only enjoy a glass of wine occasionally and always with a meal, but I have many friends who don’t drink any alcohol and they genuinely enjoy gatherings, get togethers (and surely don’t have an easier life than others!).
Teetotalers are abstinents from alcohol either because of their faith, religion or conviction.

Don’t get me wrong…

I don’t condemn adults drinking alcohol occasionally. What I worry about is excessive alcohol consumption among young people and the social pressure they are exposed to in some societies and settings.

I am also concerned about the social pressure internationals are exposed to concerning this aspect. It can become a real social barrier.

  • What is your experience with this?
  • Do you find it acceptable that your teenagers – starting from what age? – drink alcohol on a regular basis (weekly)?
  • What are your family rules when it comes to alcohol consumption?


Interesting reads on this topic:

Social and Cultural Aspects of Drinking

Religion and Alcohol






Why aren’t I instead of amn’t I?


Why don’t we say “amn’t I” instead of “aren’t I”? If we say “am I” why don’t we say “amn’t I”? Isn’t “aren’t I” grammatically incorrect? – I recently had a long discussion with my son about the fact that using aren’t I doesn’t seem right, at least not if we learn that the correct form for the first person is “am”.
Why don’t we use amn’t I instead? This made me curious to look up if this form was ever used and why aren’t I is the current, accepted form instead.

The contraction of I am not in questions is not a logic form for English learners – and teachers: the form I’m not should be Amn’t I ? (with postposition of “I”) in a question.

Why don’t we say “amn’t I” as the the negative form? If in declarative sentences we use the standard form I am not and in questions am I not, and in declarative case, the standard contraction is I’m not, so why don’t we apply this in questions where speakers feel the need for a negative contraction like in “isn’t it” or “aren’t they”?

The contraction ain’t seems to stand for am not and is attested since 1618 (Merriam-Webster). As the combination of two nasal consonants “m-n” is disfavoured by English speakers, the “m” of amn’t was elided, i.e. one of the nasal sounds was dropped to simplify the pronunciation: this reflected in writing with the form an’t. An’t first appears  in the work of English Restoration playwrights (cfr. Merriam-Webster) and in 1695 an’t was used as a contraction of am not in William Congreve’s play Love for Love: “I can hear you farther off, I an’t deaf”, but an’t also appears as a contraction of “are not” in Sir John Vanbrugh’s The Relapse (1676): “Hart thee shoemaker! These shoes an’t ugly, but they don’t fit me”.
Interestingly, the contracted form aren’t for are not appeared in 1675. – In non-rhotic dialects, aren’t lost its “r” sound, and began to be pronounced as an’t.

Apparently, during that period, the form an’t was used for the 1rst singular and 1rst plural form: I am not/ I amn’t = I an’t and We aren’tWe an’t.

An’t for is not

An’t for is not may have developed independently from its use for am not and are not.

Just to complicate it a bit more: isn’t was sometimes written as in’t or en’t, which could have changed into an’t.  “An’t for is not may have filled a gap as an extension of the already-used conjugations for to be not: Jonathan Swift used an’t to mean is not in Letter 19 of his Journal to Stella (1710–13): It an’t my fault, ’tis Patrick’s fault; pray now don’t blame Presto.”

From an’t to  ain’t

The “a” in an’t must have been a long “a” and was written as ain’t since 1749– with the epenthetic “i”.

Interestingly, when ain’t appeared, an’t was already used for am not, are not, and is not.

Therefore, an’t and ain’t coexisted as written forms well into the nineteenth century:

Charles Dickens used the terms interchangeably, as in Chapter 13, Book the Second of Little Dorrit (1857): “‘I guessed it was you, Mr Pancks,” said she, ‘for it’s quite your regular night; ain’t it? … An’t it gratifying, Mr Pancks, though; really?'”.

In the English lawyer William Hickey‘s memoirs (1808–1810), ain’t appears as a contraction of aren’t; “thank God we’re all alive, ain’t we…”

We can find the contraction ain’t for “am not”

In dialects or regional variants…

I was positively surprised when I heared a Scottish friend use amn’t once in a question and found out that it was quite common. In fact:

The contraction amn’t is a standard contraction of am not in some dialects of mainly Hiberno-English (Irish English) and Scottish English. In Hiberno-English the question form (amn’t I?) is used more frequently than the declarative I amn’t. (The standard I’m not is available as an alternative to I amn’t in both Scottish English and Hiberno-English.) An example appears in Oliver St. John Gogarty‘s impious poem The Ballad of Japing Jesus: “If anyone thinks that I amn’t divine, / He gets no free drinks when I’m making the wine”. These lines are quoted in James Joyce‘s Ulysses, which also contains other examples: “Amn’t I with you? Amn’t I your girl?” (spoken by Cissy Caffrey to Leopold Bloom in Chapter 15).


The more standardized contraction aren’t seems to fill in the “amn’t gap” in questions: Aren’t I lucky to have you around? Although this form is universally used by Standard English speakers today, it was considered “illiterate” by some twentieth-century writers.

But how could amn’t become aren’t?

The form am not contracted into amn’t which, to simplify the pronunciation, became an’t. All happened because in non-rhotic* dialects, aren’t and the pronunciation of an’t are homophones, i.e. both are pronounced without the “r”. So it might be the case of a hypercorrection from non-rhotic dialect speakers that the form aren’t is used instead of an’t: thinking that where there isn’t a “r” we should insert one, people may have started to insert a “r” into an’t which lead to arn’t and by simplifying the pronunciation with an epenthetic e: aren’t, which, besides, already exists as form of the 2nd singular and plural forms of the verb to be and doesn’t sound “wrong”.

The spelling of “aren’t I” started to replace “an’t I” in the early 20th century, and some first examples of aren’t I for am I not appear already in the first half of the 19th century in St Martin’s Day from Holland-tide by Gerald Griffin in 1827: “aren’t I listening; and isn’t it only the breeze that’s blowing the sheets and halliards about?”

Today, the grammatical am I not? sounds stilted, ain’t I? is considered substandard and aren’t I ? is the standard solution adopted in practice by most speakers and taught in school.

*In non-rhotic dialects, the historical /r/ has been lost except before vowels; they include all the dialects of England—except the South West, the southern West Midlands, and parts of West Lancashire—as well as the English dialects of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and some parts of the southern and eastern coastal United States.

More posts about historical linguistics will follow soon – also about Italian, French, German…


Monolingual Parents and Bilingual Children?

Can monolingual parents have bilingual children? This is not about genetics – even if it sounds like it – but I may answer this question with: no.

When I started holding workshops on “Parenting the Bilingual Child”, I had to explain to some of my native English speaking friends, that their children were bilingual even if they didn’t grow up with multiple languages from day one and even if they weren’t fluent in the other language. Most of the parents were even bilinguals themselves without knowing it!

What is a monolingual anyway?

I have spent a lot of time proving to parents and teachers that monolinguals are a minority in our increasingly global world and that bilinguals outnumber monolinguals. – Everyone gets in contact with another language at some point: during travels, when interacting with tourists, talking with international friends etc.. We always pick up some sentences, try to understand the other language.

The simple act of trying to understand another language is the first step of becoming bilingual.

Acquiring some kind of knowledge in another language suffices to not be monolingual anymore!

Being exclusively monolingual parents, living in a constantly monolingual context is almost impossible. Especially if we also count dialects as languages. – I use François Grosjean‘s definition of a bilingual:

“Bilinguals are those who use two or more languages (or dialects) in their everyday lives”

Please note that there is no mention of when the other language is acquired or learned, nor does the level of proficiency play any role in defining a bilingual anymore! This was only the case in some early studies about bilingualism, but since the last 20 years, linguists who are studying bilingualism are way beyond this initial stage – and it is about time we move on!

According to Grosjean’s definition of a bilingual, we can define a monolingual as follows:

“Monolinguals are those who use only one language (or dialect) in their everyday lives”.

If you can genuinely say that you only use, listen to, understand one language – in this case here, English – then you are a monolingual. If you are a native (English) speaker and understand any other language or dialect, then you are not a monolingual.

And if you are not a native English speaker and read this: you have already proven by understanding this text, that you have a good proficiency in the English language, hence, you are bilingual!

Being exposed to only one language is almost impossible nowadays. Only in some remote rural areas, with no or only national TV and radio channels this can still be the case.

But as soon as we move away from these strictly monolingual environments we will get in contact with other languages, either passively or actively.

The monolingual parent

Let’s play with the scenario of a monolingual parent that speaks (writes, reads) one language fluently, and has only a basic understanding of the other language (i.e. has more a passive understanding of it) – hence defines himself as “monolingual” and is not confident enough in this other language to teach it to the child. – What can this “monolingual” parent do to ensure his child becomes bilingual?

I mentioned several strategies monolingual families can adopt if they want their child to acquire or learn another language in my post Monolingual Parents and Bilingual Children.

As a language consultant and expert in bilingualism and language acquisition, I usually submit a questionnaire to my clients to find out what their language situation and short and longterm goals are. – These are only three basic questions I usually ask:

1) Why do you want your child to learn the other language?

I have seen many parents impose languages on their children that they didn’t need and didn’t want to learn, with different results, but mainly negative outcomes on the long run (with children refusing to talk the other languages or developing a resistance in learning a language only because their parents wanted them to).

If there is a real need for the child to learn the other language, either because they live in the country where the language is spoken or they are about to move there, or the child needs to attend school in that language, or family members speak this language: the attempt has more chances to be successful.

2) How proficient does your child need to be(come) in the other language?

If the child needs to attend school in this language, then the goal of a nearly native level is clear. If a basic understanding and basic reading and writing skills are enough, the methods and strategies will be slightly different; and they also depend on the age of the child, of course.

3) Who will talk the other language with your child on a regular basis?

When it comes to learn another language, consistency and regular input are the key.

If the other language is the local language and school language, your child has a good chance to acquire the language quickly and in the most natural way thanks to regular interactions with locals.

If the other language is a foreign language, some parents opt for a nanny or aupair when the children are still very young.

I had clients who would hire an aupair to talk the other language with their children – but aupairs usually have one year contracts. – Can you make sure that there will be other aupairs who will be equally engaged to provide valuable linguistic input for your child? If not, what is your plan B? Is there a local community that speaks the other language? Or can you ensure that your child will have the opportunity to fully immerse in the other language regularly (during holidays for example)?

Monolingual parents who want to raise their children bilingually but are not able to support this at home, need to reach out for help and provide a regular input from someone else. It is advisable to provide this regular and consistent input from a person that interacts, converses with the child in an engaging way (i.e. not giving orders or “teaching”).

No matter how old the child is: if there is a need to talk the language and if the interaction is fun and interesting for the child, the child will be more prone to acquire/learn the language.

Many parents – not only monolingual parents! – tend to prefer help outside of their family. They look for groups who talk the other language, a nanny or an aupair.

If a monolingual parent wants to make sure that the child acquires or learns another language, the first tip I always give is to learn the other language alongside your child!

Parents parents who decide to introduce the other language into their daily life and speak the other language to the child at home too, face the problem of time: when and how can they talk this other language with their child as OPOL is the most suggested strategy and one parent “is supposed” to only talk one language to the child? Choosing the Time and Place strategy is a great option and can be introduced at any stage. This is also a valuable solution for single parents who want to speak more than one language to their child.

Learning the other language alongside your child is a great solution and it’s not only fun for the child: there is nothing that raises a child’s confidence more than to teach a parent something new!

I have very fond memories from learning Dutch alongside my son. When he corrected my pronunciation and taught me new songs, I couldn’t but notice how proud he was that he had the opportunity to teach his mother, this adult who seems to know it all, something new. – It is a great opportunity to have a meaningful connection with the child and the outcome has a very good chance to be positive on many levels!

The title of this post is “Monolingual Parents and Bilingual Children?” asking if a monolingual parent can have a bilingual child: my answer is of course “YES!”. This has nothing to do with genetics…

An initially monolingual parent will become bilingual eventually, for the sake of his/her bilingual child.

Please find my services as a family language consultant, other posts about bilingualism on my other blog, or mail me at at



This month bloggers from all around the world are coming together to write about the “A to Z of Raising Multilingual Children.” This series is full of tips, insights, strategies, challenges and stories from parents who are raising bilingual or multilingual children around the world. Expatsincebirth is honoured to be covering M for “Monolingual Parents and Bilingual Children?”as part of this effort. Don’t miss this wonderful series all throughout February here on the The Piri Piri Lexicon.


The Piri Piri Lexicon


Stille Nacht & Astro del Ciel

One of my favourite German Christmas carols is Stille Nacht (heilige Nacht), not only because its message and the sweet memories singing it with my parents at Christmas when I was a child, but also because there is also an Italian version of it, with the same melody, but different words.

The lyrics of this carol are by the Austrian priest Joseph Moor in 1816 and it is believed that Franz Xaver Gruber produced the German melody in only a few hours (in 1818), written as a guitar accompaniment. The melody and words altered slightly over the years, but this is the carol like many sing it today:

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Halleluja,
Tönt es laut von fern und nah:
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Christ, der Retter ist da!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb’ aus deinem göttlichen Mund,
Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund’.
Christ, in deiner Geburt!
Christ, in deiner Geburt!

Words: Joseph Mohr, 1816
Music: Franz Xaver Gruber, 1818


Silent night, holy night
All is calm all is bright
‘Round yon virgin Mother and Child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heav’nly hosts sing Alleluia;
Christ the Savior is born
Christ the Savior is born

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

The Italian version follows the same melody, but the lyrics are completely different.
Don Angelo Meli (1901-1970) published a set of Italian lyrics in 1937 that were supposed to accompany the melody of “Stille Nacht” under the title of “Astro del Ciel” (Star of the Sky)

Astro del ciel, Pargol divin,
mite Agnello Redentor!
Tu che ai Vati da lungi sognar,
Tu che angeliche voci nunziar,
luce dona alle menti
pace infondi nei cuor!
luce dona alle menti
pace infondi nei cuor!

Star of the sky, divine Child,
Redeemer meek Lamb!
You, whom the Prophets dreamt about from far away,
You, whom angelical voices announced,
give light to the minds,
bring peace to their hearts! x2

Astro del ciel, Pargol divin,
mite Agnello Redentor!
Tu di stirpe regale decor,
Tu virgineo, mistico fior,
luce dona alle menti,
pace infondi nei cuor! 

Star of the sky, divine Child,
Redeemer, meek Lamb!
You of pride of regal descendancy,
You virginal, mystical flower,
give light to the minds,
bring peace to their hearts!

Astro del ciel, Pargol divin,
mite Agnello Redentor!
Tu disceso a scontare l’error,
Tu sol nato a parlare d’amor,
luce dona alle menti,
pace infondi nei cuor! 

Star of the sky, divine Child,
Redeemer meek Lamb!
You descended to atone for our errors,
You born only to speak of love,
give light to the people,
bring peace to their hearts!
give light to the people,
bring peace to their hearts!

I wish everyone a peaceful Christmas