As someone who learned Portuguese as an adult there are two things that I find it very difficult to do in my second language: maths and swearing. When I swear in Portuguese it just doesn’t sound right. It feels a bit childish, a bit too funny. There is nothing like a proper, old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon swear word to express exactly what I am feeling.
When it comes to numbers, I can count perfectly well, but if I have to do any sums, my brain stops working. I have to translate the numbers into English, do the maths in my head and then translate the number back into Portuguese. My theory for this is that numbers are such an integral part of our lives, that because we learn them almost from day one, at the same time as learning to speak, that they are a part of us and represent something about ourselves.
This is probably nonsense, but it works for me.
Mr. T can now, more or less, count up to 10 in both languages. He can go from 1-6 quite easily in either English or Portuguese, but he then struggles with 7 and 8 in both languages, before saying 9 and 10 very easily. I have tried to figure out a theory as to why he struggles with 7 and 8 in both languages, but so far I have nothing.
He is also starting to be aware of other numbers. The other night he was having difficulty getting to sleep so my wife suggested they count together in order to calm him down. He started in English and so she kept going with him. After 10 she said 11 and Mr. T repeated, so she 12 and he repeated it again. This kept on going until they got to 34. Apparently 34 is a very funny number because he giggled at it and got Headess of the Heard to say it again, at which point he giggled again. Apparently this went on for a few minutes before she continued on up to 100.
By the time they got to 100 he was almost asleep.
The other aspect of counting is that it is one of the first areas that Mr. T has words in two languages and he doesn’t mix them up. If he starts counting in English, he doesn’t suddenly switch to Portuguese, and vice versa. I am sure that this is because he has only ever heard numbers in one language at a time but I am wondering if it is one of the first signs that his brain is compartmentalising the two languages for language production.
One of the hopes I have for my son is that, as he grows up to be bilingual he will be able to do maths in his head equally well in both English and Portuguese. I realise that the fact that he will have formal maths instruction in Portuguese means there is a possibility he will favour that language over English, but we have got off to a good start.