A Bilingual Child: Linguistic Coincidence

Linguistic Coincidence 3On a trip to see my parents a couple of years ago Mr T was just starting to use individual words.  He had aninclination to create his own names for certain things, the most memorable of which was ‘abudah’ for ‘car’.  Unfortunately, that word has now been replaced by the more conventional ‘car’ or ‘carro’, but there is one word from that time that has stuck around and, I daresay, is likely to be with us for a while yet.

We were in Ireland walking down a country lane from our hotel to the town of Athenry when Mr T started shouting what sounded like ‘dodo’.  The pronunciation was remarkable similar to the long extinct animal, except there was more stress on the second syllable.

It was quite obvious that Mr T wasn’t referring to a stupid bird that was a great meal for sailors in the 17th century, but we had no idea what he was actually talking about. After a few seconds, and an increase in decibels, it became clear that Mr T was actually trying to get his granddad’s attention.

Ever since that day everyone has referred to my dad as ‘dodo’.

There were lots of theories as to why Mr T should choose have chosen this name.  Among them included the fact that ‘dodo’ is similar to the Portuguese word for granddad: ‘vovô’.  Personally, I didn’t think this was true because I wasn’t sure Mr T had made the connection between his granddads in Brazil and the UK having the same relationship to him.

Portuguese also provides us with ‘doido’, which is a word similar in meaning to ‘fool’.  It’s possible that this was what Mr T had in mind, although it wouldn’t be very flattering to my dad.

It was a source of family discussion, with no answer being possible and so lots of theories could be floated.  We had almost decided to just let it go and live with the word when my brother and I stumbled upon another possible answer, or perhaps just a strange linguistic coincidence.

A “strange coincidence” to use a phrase

By which such things are settled nowadays

Lord Byron ‘Don Juan’ Canto vi. Stanza 78

A Curry and a Language Lesson

In the first week of our holiday in the UK before Christmas, we went for a great curry in a place called Kababish in Mosely, Birmingham.  After the great meal, my brother and I decided we fancied a few extra beers, and so went to a pub around the corner.  We happened to find my cousin and her husband propped up at the bar and so proceeded to have a great evening swapping stories with them.

One story was how Mr T was calling his granddad ‘dodo’.  To our surprise, my cousin’s husband thought this was the most natural thing in the world.  He was originally born on the Isles of Arran, just off the coast of Galway in the west of Ireland.  In that part of the world Gaelic is still used as much as, if not more than, English.  And it turns out that the word for ‘granddad’ in Gaelic is ‘daideo’ which sounds suspiciously like ‘dodo’.

Now, we were in Ireland when Mr T started using this word.  However, none of my family speaks any Gaelic so he wouldn’t have heard the word from them.  There is a slight possibility that he heard somebody else use the word, but would he have associated it with a name for his own granddad?  Unlikely.  Maybe it was just the Irish air or the Galtee sausages?

Linguistic Coincidence

A linguistic coincidence is occurs when two languages have the same word, or sound, for the same thing.  Of course, many languages are related, so often it isn’t a coincidence at all.  For example, the English word ‘excellent’ is similar to the Portuguese word ‘excelente‘, but this isn’t because of any coincidence, but because both words share a common Latin root.  By some estimates, there are over 3, 000 words which are remarkably similar in English and Portuguese, and you can find a list of some of them here.

Instead, a linguistic coincidence is when two languages have the same, or similar word but there is no connection between them.  There is an amazing list of linguistic coincidences on Johanna Hypatia’s blog.  Looking at this list I was firstly amazed at how many coincidences there are.  But thinking about it again, for al the words that exist in all the languages in the world, statistically speaking there has to be some overlap between languages.

And so that is where I think our ‘dodo’ or ‘daideo‘ comes from.  It is purely a linguistic coincidence that we will be marvelling over every time we get together as a family and can think of nothing else to talk about.  All I have to decide now is how to spell it.

Images used in this text are my own except The Shamrock by Ole Olson CC-BY-NC 2.0  and Language Diversity by Tobias Mikleson CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

 

A Bilingual Child: A Mouth Story Before Bedtime

Bilingual Child bedtime story

A long, long time ago…

We have had a slight change to our bedtime routine recently.  Ever since Mr. T was a few months old we would give him something to eat, then a bath and finally a bedtime story before it was lights out and hopefully quickly to sleep.

It didn’t take him long to cotton on to the fact that both his mamãe and I, and indeed, all of his grandparents, are suckers for reading bedtime stories.  This meant he would often ask for just one more story and, depending on how tired we were, or how desperate for a glass of wine, he usually got at least 3 stories a night.

Recently, though, this story routine has changed.  He now asks for only two stories, one of which is a ‘mouth story’ and the other being an ‘eye story’.

What do you mean you don’t know what a mouth story is?  And you’ve never heard of an eye story?

With the simple logic of a three-year-old it is obvious that a mouth story is one which you make up as you tell it, while an eye story is read from a book.  You see?  Blindingly clear, isn’t it?

If there is more than one person around then he usually wants the stories from two different people.  I am usually the one to give him a mouth story, and either his mamãe or vovó reads an eye story.  This has the added advantage of him hearing both English and Portuguese before going to sleep.

One more vital element of a mouth story, besides it being made up on the spot, is that it has to be about Mr. T.  We have a clearly developed structure now, so that I start off by saying something like

Tonight I am going to tell you the story of the time Mr. T went to the Fire Station.  A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, lived a little boy called Mr Tin Curitiba, Brazil…

Most of these mouth stories are based on real things that happened to Mr T at some point in the past.  I think this helps him to develop his memory as he recalls aspects of the stories.  However, we are firm believers in never letting the truth stand in the way of a good story, and so we are both happy to embellish certain parts of the stories as and when we see fit.

So our bedtime routine has evolved a bit, but we are all very happy about it and, so far at least, it hasn’t resulted in Mr T trying to stay up any later.

Images: Sleepy v Bedtime Bear by JD Hancock – CC BY 2.0 and Bedtime in Inverness by Gene Selkov – CC BY 2.0

 

Happy (Belated?) New Year

Bilibgual family in Curitiba, Brazil

Things I will write about. Soon. Honest.

Ok, so it might seem a bit late to wishing you everyone a happy new year.  But it feels exactly right to me because now that carnival is out of the way the year has really begun here in earnest here in Curitiba.  My teaching schedule is pretty much set for the next few months, Mr T is back at school and life is returning to some sort of normality after a hectic holiday period.

It’s been a while, but it is also time to resurrect my ramblings and memories of bringing up a bilingual child in Brazil.

Over the next few weeks I am going to be writing about our recent trip to the UK and the effect it had on our son’s English.  As well as his English changing, our son also had a depressing encounter with Father Christmas, a trip to see a first football match that hopefully won’t put him into therapy for the rest of his life and a not-so-successful fancy dress party.

It wasn’t all bad though, as we tried some wonderful curries, played in the snow and were visited by a much better Father Christmas 3 times!

I hope to tell you about the difference between mouth-stories and eye-stories, and why they are both equally important, how Mr. T’s musical tastes are developing and why his growing obsession with super heroes is turning him into a proper little consumerist.

And now that we are back in Brazil I’ll try to describe some of the not-so-obvious differences I noticed between life in Brazil and Britain, as well as trying to make some sense of the corruption scandals, demonstrations and plunging economy that we seem to be facing here.

So lots to look forward to, if I can just find the time to do it all some justice.

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.