A Bilingual Child: The Big Bad Wolf

Big Bad Wolf, Bilingual child

Howlin’ Wolf by Ghetu Daniel (CC-BY-2.0)

We have a new obsession in our house at the moment: Wolves.  More precisely, The Big Bad Wolf.   Or at other times it’s the Lobo Malvado.

I think it started at school when he heard the story of Little Red Riding Hood, or Chapeuzinha Vermelha in Portuguese.  A little later we went to see what I thought was a very disappointing puppet play at the theatre, but Mr T just thought it was amazing.  I mean, it had a Big Bad Wolf in it.  What more could you want?

A week later he found out about The Three Little Pigs and I showed him the Disney version that was old when I was a kid with the famous song ‘Who’s Afraid Of the Big Bad Wolf?’

Now the interesting thing about both of these stories, from a bilingual child’s pont of view, is that they are almost exactly the same in both English and Portuguese.

There are details that are different, for example the in Portuguese The Little Red Riding Hood has some songs like ‘Eu sou o lobo mau’ (‘I am the big bad wolf’)  which is about how the wolf likes to eat children and pigs.

On the other hand, The English story of the Three Little Pigs has the delightful line from the pigs when they are asked to open their doors ‘Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin,’ to which the wold replies ‘I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow the house down’.

And as I assume any good bilingual/bicultural child will do, Mr. T has appropriated the best parts of the English and Portuguese versions to make his own unique one.  This means we can start off with Little Red Riding Hood in Portuguese, switch to Three Little Pigs in English, then continue the Three Little Pigs but now in Portuguese and finish off with Little red Riding Hood in English.

Who's afraid of the Big Mod Wolf? by Ginny (CC-BY-SA- 2.0)

Who’s afraid of the Big Mod Wolf? by Ginny (CC-BY-SA- 2.0)

Each time it is slightly different, which is a problem for me as I am usually the big bad wolf in these stories.  It took me ages to figure out at one point, when I thought we were enacting Red Riding Hood, that I had to come down the chimney and burn my bum, just as the wolf does in the Disney version of the Three Little Pigs.  Now I have to sit in some pretend water and then run off howling as I hold my bottom in both hands, no matter which story we are recreating.  At least it is guaranteed to get a laugh and it will only last a week or so before he becomes obsessed with something else.

I think this blending of language, cultures and stories shows his creativity and his willingness not to be held back by not knowing something in one particular language.  It also shows that he really is not afraid of the Big Bad Wolf, or the Lobo Malvado or his daddy landing in a pot of boiling water-butt first.

Further Reading

Due to a lot of work at the moment, I have been going through Lionel Shriver’s ‘The New Republic‘ rather slowly.  It isn’t the fault of the book, which though not the greatest read ever is more than good enough to keep my attention.  The problem is a lack of time and, when I do get some free time I’d rather go to sleep.

A Bilingual Child: Mythbusted

Robin Hood, Myth, Bilingual Children

He robbed from the rich and gave to the poor? Has to be a myth by Duncan Harris (CC-BY-2.0)

Before Mr.T was born I had the responsibility of researching how we were going to approach language in our family.  Both Mrs Head of the Heard and I wanted to him to speak both English and Portuguese, but we weren’t quite sure how to go about it.

Thankfully the internet was invented to answer such questions and my findings were surprising.  I was told things like it was hard, but worth it.  It was expensive, but worth it.  I would come up against resistance from other people, but ignore them because it was worth it.  Some kids are slow to pick up either language, but keep at it, because it’s worth it.

The main thing I took away from my research was that it was worth it.

Our experience, after 3 1/2 years, is that it most definitely is worth it.  However, most of the rest of problems haven’t presented themselves.

It can be hard

Obviously I have never had any experience bringing up a monolingual child, but I can’t see it being much easier than bringing up a bilingual one.  I speak English to my son, my wife speaks mainly Portuguese and everyone else uses whatever language they feel like, which is usually their first language.

I have had to go online to find/remember nursery songs and we have made a conscious decision to play TV programmes in the original language.  I have also actively sought out opportunities for my son to be exposed to English so that he doesn’t just think it is some weird thing only his dad does (there are lots of other weird things that only his dad does, but that is beside the point).

But hard?  Difficult?

If this is as difficult as raising a child gets then being a parent really is a piece of cake.

Stonehenge, Myths, Bilingual children

Built by Druids so they’d know what time the pubs opened by Qallnx (CC-BY-2.0)

It can be expensive

Again, this isn’t true.

We have an extensive library of children’s books, with about 75% being in English and the rest in Portuguese.  I guess that if we were only using one language at home we could have made a bit of a saving there.  All the DVDs we have in the house were bought in Brazil and are usually in both English and Portuguese, so we haven’t had much of an expense there.  We go back to the UK every 9 months or so, but that is primarily to keep Mr. T in contact with his UK family and learning English is just a happy bi-product.

Compared to some of my friends who are spending a fortune sending their kids to private language schools or to bilingual schools then we are actually saving money.

You can face resistance from family/friends/educators/doctors…

Not once have we come up against anybody who thinks it is a bad idea for our son to be raised speaking English and Portuguese.  His doctor thinks it is great and regularly practises his own English with our son.  The teachers at his school said they had difficulty understanding him at first, but they have worked extra hard to communicate with him, as they have done with other children who come from a bilingual background.  Friends are envious of him either because they know he is going to speak great English or because they know we won’t have to spend a packet teaching him English.

And when he calls me ‘Daddy’ at school all the mom’s and teachers think it is just the cutest thing ever.

Now, I understand that English is a prestige language and so this could have an impact on other people’s ideas.  However, I know quite a few people from language communities that have less prestige who are also bringing their kids up to be multilingual and not one of them has told me about friction with their friends, relatives or health/education professionals.

Zeus, Mths, Bilingua Children

One of many godly myths by Tilemahos Efthimiadis (CC-BY-2.0)

Some children are slow in picking up both languages

Ok, so there might be a grain of truth in this one, but merely a grain.  Our son is only 3 1/2 so it is still too early to say, but about a year ago we had a few minor worries that his language wasn’t progressing as well as other kids.  We have a good friend who has a son 3 weeks younger than ours, and we were shocked one day when we visited and he was coming out with fully formed sentences, whereas our son could mutter a few words, if that.

But then, all of a sudden, Mr. T’s language started to blossom.  He is still a little behind the average of his peers in Portuguese, but not by much.  He is catching up every day and we no longer have even the merest hint of a worry.  And he understands everything in English, which none of his peers can, so I am pretty confident he is going to end up knowing both languages perfectly.

Of course, there is a chance that he was slightly behind the other kids because this is a totally normal thing.  Children pick up languages at different rates whether they are monolingual or multilingual.  We’ll just never know the reason for our son.

Our Experience

The important thing to remember with this, though, is that it is just our experience.  If we were to try to do this in another country, or even another city in Brazil, we might have more problems.  If I wasn’t a language teaching professional it might have been more worrisome.  If we didn’t have access to Skype and the internet we might not have had so much free contact with grandparents.  If we had been teaching a language other than English we might have had more difficulty finding opportunities for exposure in the minority language.  However, for us, so far, it has been all good.

This post is part of the November edition of the Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival.  You can find more information about this excellent project, as well as finding past editions of the carnival, at Piri Piri Lexicon

A Bilingual Child: Living With a Parrot

Living with a bilingual parrot

Pieces of eight – DeusXFloridaCC-BY-2.0

When I was a kid we had a variety of different animals around the house.  It was never exactly a menagerie, but at one time or another we had some fish, a couple of vicious budgies, dogs and a couple of stray cats who moved in and made themselves at home.  I loved our dogs, but I didn’t really have a lot of time for the other animals, especially the budgies who would bite your finger off as soon as look at you.

At the moment we don’t have any animals, but we are planning to get a dog in the New Year when we move into our house.  (Just make sure you don’t tell Mr. T as he will get far too excited about it.)

While it is sad not having any animals to share our lives with, our son has been doing his best to make up for it by either roleplaying animals or getting me to pretend to be an animal.  Hs favourite is a dog, hence the plan to get one early next year.  Sometimes, Mr. T will be a dog and bark (Brazilian dogs say ‘au au‘ not ‘woof woof’) jump up and down and try to lick people.

After a while he will decide I have to become a dog and he becomes Tio Ivan.  Tio Ivan, or Uncle Ivan, is actually Mr T’s great-uncle, but the thing is that he has two dogs: Golden Retrievers called Arthur and Mel.  I have to be Arthur and I am not allowed to jump, I have to get my stomach tickled and run after balls.  It’s all great fun for Mr. T, but it doesn’t do my knees much good.

Other animals that we have to pretend to be have included horses (can you guess who has to do all of the running?), crocodiles, sharks and bats.

Mr. T’s best impression, though, is of a parrot.  As every fan of pirate films knows, parrots are great at repeating what you say, even if they don’t understand what is being said.  Mr. T has taken to listening to conversation in either Portuguese or English and then trying to mimic the last few words of each phrase.  If you look at him while he is doing this he puts on a shy smile and hides his face.  But as soon as you look away and continue with the conversation he returns to parroting the conversation.

I had a vicious budgie when I was a kid

Watch out! He’ll have your whole hand off! – Dwayne MaddenCC-BY-2.0

We laugh at this and call him a parrot which sometimes he likes and other times he denies.  It’s all good fun and has started to become a family tradition.

I have been encouraging him of late by slowing down some of my sentences and repeating them so that he can hear them better.  I think it helps him learn vocabulary in both languages as he tries to say words, even if he doesn’t yet understand all of the meanings.

More importantly than this, though, is the effect it has on the rhythm and the intonation of the two languages.  Portuguese and English share a lot of similarities, especially if compared to a non-European language like Chinese.  However, there are important differences and copying the way we are saying sentences, despite not getting all of the words correct, will only help him to develop, identify and control the differences between our family languages.

So we might not have a dog (yet), any fish or stray cats, but I’d take our human parrot over a psychotic budgie any day of the week.

Further Reading

I had a bit of a problem on Monday evening when I finished ‘Insurrection‘ by Robin Young because I thought I didn’t have anything left in the house to read.  I looked through my bookshelf in a state of near-panic when I found ‘The New Republic‘ by Lionel Shriver.  I got it for Christmas last year and just never botherd to start it because it is a hard back and they are very heavy to cart around in my bag all day.  So far it has been a decent book about a disillioned coporate lawyer who jacks it all in to become a journalist and ends up covering a terrorist organisation in a make-believe European country just to the south of Portugal.

A Bilingual Child: Conjugate the Verb

Confused by irregular verb conjugations

She has to learn 15 verbs for her next class by Collegedegrees360CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If I had to choose one comedy to watch again and again, it would be ‘The Life of Brian’.  For me it is almost the perfect film with its satire of religion, politics, education and modern life.  There is an alien spaceship chase, intelligent wordplay and enough toilet humour to keep the average teenage boy giggling to himself for the rest of his History class.

Perhaps what makes it so good is that it is so relevant and in so many ways.  The latest way in which it has become relevant is in the scene where Brian has been told that to prove he really hates the Romans he has to write on the walls of Pontius Pilate’s palace ‘Romans go home’ or, as it would be in Latin ‘Romanes eunt domus‘.

Of course, those of you who learned Latin would know even without watching the video that ‘Romanes eunt domus‘ is wrong due to all sorts of reasons like tense, voice, conjugations and plurals.

Now in English this is all pretty straightforward.  We have very few conjugations left to master, and very few tenses.  In the present tense we have to add an ‘s’ onto the end of a verb in the third person singular, for example ‘he plays‘ instead of ‘I play’. And that is about it.  The problems, at least with my students, seem to stem from the fact that we use so few tenses for so many things.

The opposite is true for me when learning Portuguese.  There are a lot of tenses to master, and they all have different conjugations to learn depending on if you are talking about one person, a number of people, us, them, etc.

My son is now approaching three and a half and he seems to be taking the approach to all this stuff that I decided to adopt a few years ago: just ignore it and hope everyone will understand you anyway.  For example, the verb ‘ to like’ in the past can be conjugated like this:

English Portuguese
I Liked Eu Gostei
You Liked Voce Gostou
He/She/It Liked Ele/Ela Gostou
We Liked Nós Gostamos
They Liked Eles/elas Gostaram
You (plural) Liked Vocês Gostaram

You can see that when compared to English there is quite a lot to have to get your head around, whether you are 3 years old or the wrong side of 40..

I am not quite sure how to go about teaching my son how to conjugate his verbs properly, but then the only way I know how to do it for myself is to sit down and memorise the bloody things.  His mother and grandmother occasionally correct him, but they don’t seem to be too enthusiastic about it at the moment, and he pays even less attention to them. I have a feeling that he’ll pick up most of the conjugations, and then spend a lot of boring time at school learning the rest, especially the more obscure ones that he’ll use about 5 times in his life.

In the meantime, I can make sure Mr T is ready for more of Monty Python when he is a bit older.

Further Reading

As it has been a while since I last wrote anything there have been a lot of books that I have read but I haven’t made a note of them here.  At the moment I am reading ‘Insurrection‘ by Robyn Young.  It is the first book in a trilogy on Robert the Bruce, a King of Scotland who fought with and then against the English.  It is a very well written book and one that I am surprised that I am enjoying.  I have also learnt a lot about a historical figure, and times, that I knew very little about.  Well worth a read.

 

Language Play: Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival

Language play - Scrabble

Scrabble by jcolman – (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Hello and welcome to this month’s Blogging Carnival for Raising Multilingual Children.  I asked people to submit things they have written on the theme of Language Play and it has been an honour to be able to read everything, get some inspiration and realise once again how important play is to learning anything, but especially language.

The first post is from Rabble Raiser and looks at how he created flashcards for English, Latin and American Sign Language.  There are a lot of possibilities with these flashcards, including memory games and team games.

Next up is Raising a Trilingual Child who reminds us that it is never too early to play with your language.

Soul Travelers sent in a vlog of her daughter who is living proof that play is important as she uses Mandarin

And we don’t have to use modern technology to play with our language and Mommy Plays English proves with her twist on the classic game of Hangman.

Where is My Mind reports on a number of different games she plays with her kids as she seeks to help them learn Gaelic.

Anti-playing for Language Play

Anti-playing by The Advocacy Project – (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In The Playroom use plasticine to incorporate kinaesthetic activities into learning the Arabic alphabet.  if you have active kids, then you could get some great ideas here.

Of course, no blogging carnival on language is complete without Expat Since Birth, and she has risen to the occasion once again with a blog packed full of resources for using poetry.  It also has two great videos from Benjamin Zephaniah, one of my favourite poets who also comes from my home city of Birmingham in the UK.

Another regular contributor to blogging carnivals is Multilingual Parenting who has also provided a piece with 14 different fun activities for word play.

And last but not least, we all know how powerful songs can be when learning any language, and so All Done Monkey has provided us with a way to teach everything about the letter E in Spanish.

 

If you would like more information about what this carnival is all about, please go to The Piri-Piri Lexicon who organises it all.

 

 

A Bilingual Child: Dynamic Language

Into the depths of language acquisition

Into the Deep by Tormod Ulsberg – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It’s been a while since I posted anything related to the language developments of my son, Mr. T.  First we had the World Cup when all I wrote about was in some way football related.  Then I took a month off to get back some of my motivation for blogging.  Fortunately, I am now up for writing again, but it means I have missed out describing some of the language milestones we have passed.

A toddler’s language is always changing from day-to-day.  But with a toddler who is learning two languages at the same time this changes become even more dynamic.

1. Better Language

For a long while we were slightly concerned that our son’s language was way behind other kids of the same age.  We knew it was probably because he was having to deal with double the vocabulary and grammar at the same time, but there is always that part of the brain than betrays you and says it might be something else.  Fortunately, we managed to avoid that treasonous element and it now seems as if Mr. T is fast catching up with his peers.  He still isn’t quite as good in his Portuguese as they are, but then again they are nowhere near his levels of English.

2. More Portuguese

In March I went to the UK for a few weeks with Mr T and my wife stayed in Brazil.  When we got back to Brazil Mr. T’s language had exploded, and obviously it was nearly all in English.  SInce then, his Portuguese has steadily improved so that now I would say about 90% of the words and phrases he comes out with are Portuguese.

This isn’t to say he has forgotten his English.  I only ever speak to him in English and he understands me perfectly, it’s just that he chooses to answer in Portuguese.  I am not worried about this in the slightest.  I want him to feel happy speaking in whatever language he feels most comfortable. I am not going to force him to speak English and make him feel even worse about using it.  Instead, I am just going to continue speaking in English to him until he is ready to use it himself.

3. Language mixing

The occasions when Mr. T does use English it is often in a sentence with other Portuguese words, or as complete chunks of language.  Some examples of when he has mixed the languages include: ‘Daddy, swimming pool esta ready agora? (‘Daddy, is the swimming pool ready now?’) and ‘Me like Batman roupa,’ (I like Batman clothes).

Some chunks of language that he still uses in English include ‘Let me see,’ ‘I show you,’ ‘Morning now?’ and ‘Rainy day!

And for some reason he seems completely unwilling to use the word ‘voçe’, preferring to use ‘you’ instead.

4. Portuguese accent

This is a strange one.  When he speaks Portuguese he has the perfect accent for someone from the interior of the state I live in.  He lengthens his vowel sounds and rolls his r’s as if had come straight from a farm growing fruit in the middle of nowhere.  This is a mystery to us as none of my wife’s family has this accent and it bares no resemblance to an English accent.

5. Writing

He can now write 3 letters!  The first letter he ever wrote was the letter ‘T’ as it is the first letter in his name.  He can now write the first three letters, and if you squint and use quite a bit of imagination you might even be ale to decipher them.  We haven’t been pushing this on him at all, instead he just seems to be genuinely interested in it.  We painted a picture for a relatives birthday the other day and I asked him to sign it, when he got the 4th letter he told me he couldn’t do it and just put down the pen.  I didn’t encourage him to learn it or give it a try, I just wrote the end of his name so he could see it.

 

Language Play

English: The game Bananagrams, showing pieces ...

English: The game Bananagrams, showing pieces and banana-shaped carrying container. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How do we learn language?  Why do we learn language?  Once we have learnt language, what do we use it for?

These are all questions I have had to try to answer as a language teacher, and even more so now that I am trying to bring up a bilingual son.  In order to be a language teacher you need to know a t least a bit about the nature of what you are teaching.  In order to be parent who speaks the minority language at home you are obviously going to encounter many language situations on a daily basis.

I became an English teacher about 20 years ago and so I was heavily influenced by the Communicative Approach.  Basically, this approach seeks to answer the above questions by saying it is through the struggle to communicate our needs and wants that we learn language.  Yes, we could just continue to cry at our parents when we want to be fed, but it is far more efficient just to say ‘I want to have my bottle.’

Of course, if that doesn’t work the first time, you can also revert to crying to get what you want.

For a long time this seemed to make a lot of sense.  W edo use language to communicate with others in order to manipulate our surroundings to get what we want.  And if we didn’t have to do this then we might not bother to learn how to use language in the first place.

Then I read a book that totally changed my beliefs about language.  We use language for far more than just communicating our needs.  We also play with language.  In fact, if we take ‘play’ to mean creating something unreal with language, then we might ‘play’ more often than we don’t.

The book was called ‘Language Play, Language Learning‘ by Guy Cook.

Word games, songs, poems are all examples ot language play.  But so are fiction and prayers, crosswords and skipping songs, verbal jousting and punning.

So, for the upcoming blogging carnival for Raising Multilingual Children I would like to hear about the language play activities that you use in a bilingual context.  It can be anything at all, not necessarily with an aim to learn language, but to have fun using and manipulating language.  It could be something you enjoy doing yourself, something your kids like doing or an activity that you do as a family.

Just send me a link with a blog post you have written about playing with your language before midnight GMT of Sunday 24th August and I’ll include it in the carnival.  It could be something you have written especially for the carnival, or something you wrote ages ago.

If you would like more information about what this carnival is all about, please go to The Piri-Piri Lexicon who organises it all.