A Bilingual Child: What’s in a name?

The names a bilingual child has for his father

When I was a young kid (as I got older it might have changed somewhat) I had just the one name for my dad: ‘Dad’.  I didn’t call him ‘daddy’ or ‘father’ or ‘pa’ or anything else.  Just dad.

My son, on the other hand, calls me lots of different names.  This might seem obvious and perfectly explicable if he were calling me one name in English and one name in Portuguese, but he has far more than just two names for me.

When he was learning to speak I was ‘daddy’.  He would be speaking his broken Portuguese and call me daddy and it would make people smile.  It was cute and I was proud to be the only daddy in the city.

Then he went off to day care and he quickly realised he had to refer to me as ‘papai’ if he wanted all the other kids and teachers to know who he was talking about.  Although I was a little disappointed I knew that this was all right and proper and the way it should be.  This is often shortened to just ‘pai’.

While I was initially happy to be called ‘daddy’, I would have preferred to be called ‘dad’.  I didn’t say anything or push it because it is up to Mr T what he wanted to call me.  ‘Daddy’ for me, is trying a bit too hard to be cute, with tones of upper-middle classness (I am English and these things still matter) and very Francis Urquhart (the original BBC series, not the American interloper).

We spent a few consecutive weekends with a British friend of mine who also lives here in Curitiba and has a son who is a few years older that Thomas and speaks perfect English.  This kid uses ‘dad’ just the way I did and, one evening, Mr T started calling me ‘dad’.  I was quite happy about this and hoped that the evolution of my name would now stop.  I had one in Portuguese and one in English.  That was enough.

Apparently not.

Since about the age of 3, Mr T has been interested in names.  I think this initially started because he liked to write the first letters of people’s names, but it continued because my name sounds funny in Portuguese.  His vovó has a function in her car that enables you to tell the on-board computer who to call.  But this on-board computer can’t speak English so if you say my name properly she doesn’t understand.  Instead you have to say it in a Portuguese style which comes out as ‘Stefan Greeny’.

To this day, this is one of the funniest things Mr T has ever heard.  He delights in calling me the computer version of my name, followed by howls of laughter.

He also uses my proper name of ‘Stephen’.  If he wants something, or decides I have done something wrong, he uses either ‘Stephen’ or ‘Stephen Greene’.  There is something very disconcerting about being woken up at 3 in the morning by your 4-year-old shouting out your real name at the top of his voice.

And finally, the latest incarnation of my name: Johnny.

This is the one I like the least because it has never been part of my identity.  My middle name in John and, after a weekend away in Sao Paulo with is mother, he came back calling me Johnny.  I have no idea why this should be, but apparently it’s funny and so, for the last few weeks, this name has been used whenever he wants to make a joke.  While it gives me the chance to channel my inner Jack Nicholson it is lost on Mr T who hopefully won’t see the film for a good while yet.

So the names I have so far include: Daddy, papai, pai, dad, Stephen ‘Stefan’ and Johnny.  Who knows what he is going to call me when he is a teenager?

Family Life: A battle of wills

A battle of wills between a four year old and his parents

Am I going to get up today or just stay in bed?  I know I should get up, but is it worth it?  What harm would it do to stay here, all cosy and snug for the whole day.  Would anyone really notice if I skipped life for the day?  It’s a common thought that runs through my head and, I am sure many other people’s. If it isn’t the battle between doing stuff and staying in bed it’s the battle between doing the right thing or the easy thing, eating the banana or the cake, driving to the corner shop or walking.

Living with a child brings a whole different level of battles.  Am I going to let him eat chips again for dinner, or actually try to get him to eat broccoli?  Is he going to watch Ninjago all evening until he falls asleep on the sofa, or am I going to get him to paint a picture or have a chat with me.  Can I really be bothered to remind him to flush the toilet for the 1000th time, or will I just do it later when I visit it myself?

These are the important battles.  The skirmishes that make the adult.  A fight avoided now is probably going to be so much worse 10 years down the road, so do the right thing, make him flush the toilet, eat the broccoli, paint a picture and talk to me, damn it.

But there are other battles that we choose to have that aren’t important.  Battles that we encourage because it is safe to lose them.  We pretend to fight them because it makes our 4-year-old think he is winning something and there are as many lessons to be learned from victory as defeat; persistance, confidence, achievement.

A castle has a roof

Warwick castle: not much of a roof

Warwick Castle: A proper castle

A year and a half ago we were in the UK and visited Warwick castle, apparently one of England’s the finest examples of medieval castle.  After a long day, we were back home when Mr T decided to build a castle out of lego and elisted my help.  We had a wall and a jail and place for the birds of prey to fly when we hit a snag: not enough lego to put a roof on.  Being born and brought up in the UK, I obviously know a thing or two about castles, so I proudly told Mr T that it wasn’t a problem as castles don’t have rooves.

The look I got was enough to turn lava to ice.  Of course castles have roofs, hadn’t we just been to a castle and gone inside some rooms to look at boring rooms made up to look like boring stuff from a long time ago?  I countered that these rooms were just the living quarters and that most of the castle didn’t have roofs.

Other people were enlisted to the argument.  The people who claimed castles had roofs were congratulated and told they know everything.  Woe betide the person who disagreed and said a castle didn’t have a roof as they were told they know nothing and ignored at best, or laughed at at worst.

Nottingham Castle prooves castles have roofs

Nottingham Castle: It doesn’t look like a castle to me, but it does have a roof.

The argument has rumbled on since then, rearing its ugly head every so often on a Skype chat or during a Robin Hood cartoon.  I gave in recently when we saw two castles in a week, both of which had roofs. Before visiting Legoland we had a look at Windsor castle from the outside.  Lots of roofs were clearly visible.  And thanks to Robin Hood we had to see Nottingham castle as well, this time from the inside.  It was warm and boring inside the castle, thanks in no small part to the roof that kept out the cold and protected boring pictures.

It was no use me telling him that Nottingham castle wasn’t really a castle, that it was re-built in the late 1800s.  Nor that Windsor, as the Queen’s home is a special case.  I had to give in to the unerring logic of a 4-year-old.  “See daddy, that’s a roof.  It’s on a castle.  All castles have roofs!  You know nothing!’

Where should the rug go?

Just after the castle problem started off we moved into our current house.  As everyone knows, houses are always a work in progress as they are never quite finished.  A few months after we moved in my wife bought a couple of rugs for the hallway upstairs.  They don’t run the whole length of the hallway, on purpose, I think, so there is a gap between them and at the ends.

At least, that was my wife’s plan.  But my son has a different understanding of hallway aesthetics.

He thinks it is much better for one of the rugs not to have between itself and the bathroom door, so as soon as his mother put it down he moved it to lie snug against the door.  She saw this later in the day and moved it back to her preferred position, only to wake up in the morning and find it back up against the door.

It has become a joke now.  Whenever one of them sees it in the wrong place they move it either with a knowing smile on her face or a resigned shake of his head.  I play no part in any of this, except for occasionally pointing out to Mr T that his mamãe has moved it again or telling tales on my son.

This particular battle is still being played out, with no sign of a winner.

In this battle of wills you have to pick the battles you think you can win, or the ones that are worth fighting for.  And sometimes, you start a battle just for the hell of it.

A Bilingual Child: 20 days in Birmingham

A bilingual child learns more than just English during a holiday in Birmingham, UK

20 days back in the UK.  20 days with so much to see, do and learn.

20 days to go to Legoland, pretend to be Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest and Nottingham castle, play in the snow, eat a few good curries a drink lots of decent beer (at least I did, not my 4-year-old son) and maybe find some time to relax.

20 days isn’t enough for family and friends, but then it never is.

20 days, with at least 3 spent at the wonderful IATEFL conference to meet up with old friends, made some new ones and even see the odd presentation.

And in 20 days Mr T’s English went from mainly passive understanding to something approaching a more active and natural level.

Before we went, I was a bit worried because although Mr T understands pretty much everything I say in English, he rarely talks in English.  As my wife had to stay in Brazil, this meant he would only hear English for the duration of the stay.  Would this be too much for him?  Would he spend all of his time running to me to ask me how to say things in English?  Would he just refuse to speak in English at all?

I decided to arrive in the UK two weeks before the conference to give him time to adapt before I disappeared for the conference. I think this turned out to be a good move because for the first week or so he was quite shy about speaking English.  He complained when I had to do some work as this meant he had to speak English.  When I was around, he gloried in prattling away in Portuguese safe in the knowledge that I would understand everything he was saying.

We had a party on the first Sunday and it took me a while, and a lot of patience, to encourage Mr T to join the other kids.  He was worried about not knowing anyone and not being able to communicate.  15 minutes after he plucked up the courage to join in, he was running around and playing games just like any other 4-year-old.

I was told by my family and friends that when I wasn’t around he would speak quite happily in English.  Once again, it would seem it was all my fault.  It was also noticeable that while he was able to communicate he didn’t have the flair and the extended utterances that he would normally exhibit in Portuguese.  He wasn’t able to tell stories, be inventive or interact with adults the way he normally does in Brazil.

By the end of the trip, especially over the last few days when I was away at the conference, he seemed a lot more comfortable.  He was able to laugh with my family and play jokes.  He sayed at my brother’s house the one night and didn’t want to leave (I think this was more to do with the fact that the stay included an afternoon at Toys R Us followed by sitting in front of the TV than anything else) with no communication breakdowns.

While he still speaks to me in Portuguese, we both left the UK feeling very good about ourselves and the progress Mr T had made.  In fact, he learnt so much in just 20 days that I am sure that if we were able to stay there for a couple of months he would be able to speak English as if he were an average 4-year-old British kid.  I just need to find the time and money to be able to make that happen.

 

 

A Bilingual Child: Whatsapp and language use

Whatsapp, bilingual, family, language use, motivation, Brazil

Mr T is 4 and half years old and, as a digital native, perfectly comfortable with most forms of technology.  Obviously, I am aware of some of the potential pitfalls of over-using technology, but there are also huge potential benefits beyond just being comfortable with phones and computers.  It probably all started as a baby with Skype chats and he learnt how to turn of the video.  By playing Minecraft together he has learnt a number of letters as I tell him which key to press.  He has learnt problem solving skills by learning for himself how to navigate around youtube by touching the screen.  He has become more independent by being able to use the remote control to get to the TV station he wants.

He has recently discovered Whatsapp and he was amazed.  He started by sending emojis to various people.  This started to get a bit out of hand so I set up a couple of groups that he was allowed to send images to.  These groups were made up of close family and friends who would understand it wasn’t me sending random pictures of cakes, swords and planes to them.

WhatsappBut emojis were good for only so long.  He has learnt how to take photos and send them, and then he surprised even himself when he accidentally shot a video.  For a while, the best thing in the world was to record what he was watching on TV and send it to one of his uncles.

He quickly discovered the ability to record short spoken messages and send them to people.  And even better was when they recorded their own messages to send back.  He has had up to 3 different conversations going on at the same time with people in various parts of the world.

Did I mention that he is only 4 and a 1/2, not 14?

The upshot of all this has been an increased willingness to speak English.  He wants to send messages to his Nana, Do Do and uncle in the UK, so has either asked me for a translation or just had a go at it himself.  The results are not always intelligible, but he is improving.

He also found out that he could use my phone to do Google searches by voice.  This has opened up a whole world of pictures of dragons, peregrine falcons and Harry Potter.  The voice search on Google isn’t always responsive to Mr T.  Sometimes he speaks too slowly, or he starts to talk before Google is ready for him.  Sometimes its his accent which can switch between Portuguese and English very quickly.  Sometimes it is just his own idiosyncratic way of saying things.  But this is all good as it is teaching him patience, perseverance and encouraging him to experiment with different ways of saying things.

It has also led me to turn on the child friendly search option and to start investigating other ways to protect him online if he is going to start being an independent user.  There are soon going to be conversations about how to protect himself and us, as well as attempts at rationing of screen time.  Just some of the pleasures of being a parent to a digitally literate 4-year-old to look forward to.

Living in Brazil: Reasons to be Cheerful

Corruption, Brazil, Lavo Jato, Good times

Yesterday, I wrote about some of the troubling changes taking place here in Brazil.  Today, it’s Good Friday, so I thought I’d focus on some of the good things that are happening.  While it is certainly true that there are reasons to be fearful, I am of the opinion that there are even more reasons to be cheerful and that, in a few years, things might just work out all right.

It had to happen

Brazilian politics has been in a terrible state for a long time now.  Despite the introduction of ‘ficha limpa’ (‘clean record’), which sought to allow only people with no criminal past being able to stand for election, there has been no wholesale change.  Indeed, as I quoted yesterday, up to 60% of politicians are currently being investigated for some sort of criminal action.

The system has to change, and the only way it would be changed is from the outside.  Perhaps it has taken so many corruption scandals and so much indignation, coupled with an economic recession, public health scares and lingering resentment over the World Cup and Olympics for Brazil to reach a point of no return.  If it doesn’t change now, it never will.

An interesting development from one of the protests a couple of weeks ago was when a couple of opposition politicians tried to join the protest and were told in no uncertain terms that they were not welcome, that they were as much a part of the problem as the government.  In the past, I have said that the only people worse than the government are those trying to replace them, if other people realise this, then maybe there is hope yet.

In a further, encouraging, development, Wednesday saw the release of a document from Odebrecht, a huge construction company that has just agreed to provide evidence on behalf of the state.  This document included a list of the politicians they had bribed and included names from all across the political spectrum.  My hope is that this helps to reinforce the idea that it is the system which is corrupt, that the system corrupts all those it comes into contact with and it is this system that needs reforming, not the individuals who happen to be in power at the moment.

Strong Institutions

While there are arguments to be had over the limits of judicial power, the fact that the judiciary is able to take a stand is encouraging.  The JP were given increased powers, resources and autonomy early on in Dilma’s first term, and it is exactly these powers that are being used against her and the previous regime.  A strong judiciary, as well as a free press, access to social media and strong social movements should help keep future presidents in check as well as preventing a military takeover.

The end of impunity?

Brazil, prison, end of impunity, protests

Influential people might just end up in a place like this

People are going to jail.  This might not seem such a big deal in other countries, but here in Brazil rich, influential people have, until now, rarely ended up behind bars.  So far, it has been businessmen, but I am fairly certain that in the not-too-distant future some bug name politicians are also going to find themselves doing porridge.

This is something to applaud.  Future politicians and businesspeople are going to have to think twice before they engage in bribes again, or at least make sure there is no evidence of what they are doing so they can’t be caught.

Political discussions

I was in a queue in a supermarket last week for an awfully long time.  This is not news as supermarkets are notorious for taking an age to take you money.  The interesting thing on this occasion, though, was as I finally got to the checkout the cashiers were all talking amongst themselves about politics.  I heard jokes about Lula, updates on what Dilma had just said and looks of derision about Cunha.

When I was out last Friday night, it seemed that no bar room chat could go more than 15 minutes without it coming back to politics.

Most of my classes have, at some point in the last week, been dominated by politics.  I haven’t been the one to bring up the subject for fear of alienating some of my students, but they have all listened to what I had to say and either agreed or respectfully offered a different opinion.

For me, to hear politics being discussed by so many people in so many different contexts can only be encouraging and long may it continue.

A lack of violence

While there have been isolated outbreaks of violence, there hasn’t been any large-scale violence at all.  This reminds me of the way in which Brazil made its transition to democracy from military dictatorship in that there was relatively little violence and bloodshed, especially compared to other countries in Latin America.

Weak Military

There have been a number of calls for the military to step in a take power.  I’m not sure f these calls are just from a vocal minority or are just being publicised by the government to highlight the threat of a coup.  I am not a Brazilian military expert, by any means, but from what I have been told, the military has been so underfunded over the last 20 years that they are now pretty much incapable of staging a coup, never mind running a country that would then be in all kinds of trouble.  There is also no appetite from other countries to support a military coup (yes, I’m looking at you USA).

On the whole, taking yesterday’s reasons to be fearful and today’s reasons to be cheerful into consideration, I am genuinely optimistic about the future path of Brazil.  There are potential roadblocks and dead ends that we could take, however, it couldn’t continue as it has been over the last few years.  As this video makes clear, Brazil’s government is falling aprt…and it’s good news?

 

Living in Brazil: Reasons to be fearful

Reasons to be fearful

It isn’t much fun being in Brazil at the moment.  In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a lot going on in Brazil right now that would be enough to make a good man turn bad: Zika virus, recession, crap football team, an Olympics nobody really cares about…

On top of all this, we have the lava jato (car wash) corruption scandal.  Now, after living in Brazil for a while, you start to become a bit inured to corruption scandals as they seem come around as regular as a .  But this one has turned out to be a bid different.  It’s been a corruption scandal with bells on.

It is a long story and, if you would like to know more about the details, you could start with a good infographic showing the participants from the New York Times, read a basic background description from The Guardian, or have a laugh with John Oliver.

Living here with the drip drip, and occasional gush, of stories surrounding the scandal, it can at times seem a bit of a scary place.  A lot of the time, these fears are of what might happen based on what we have already seen:

The Numbers

Corrutpion, Brazil, Lavo Jato, Car wash, Scandal

Corrupt Legislation by Vedder Highsmith

As well as quite a few businessmen either in prison or facing charges, there are now about 50 of these politicians now  under investigation.

And that is just one scandal.  All in all, according to The New York Times, 60% of  are accused of various crimes from electoral fraud to murder.

The Lavo Jato enquiry has found that some $3.5bn has been involved in various kick backs and bribes.  Who knows how much more has been missed or is involved in other schemes.

These are just some of the numbers involved and are truly shocking and force people to think that all the politicians are only in it for themselves and there is nothing that can be done.

Update: While writing this, a document has been released from Odebrecht, a construction company heavily implicated in the scandal which has just done a deal to allow its executives to turn state witness.  This document lists the politicians who they have bribed in the past, so this number of 50 is already out of date and is now much higher.

The Protests

There has always been a certain amount of hatred of the governing PT (Workers’ Party) and these corruption scandals have given everyone with an axe to grind the perfect reason to protest.  And protest they have, with millions coming on to the streets to call for the impeachment of President Dilma, the arrest of former president Lula and for the whole corrupt gang of the PT to be thrown in prison.

The rhetoric from the anti-government quarter has been strident, but recently it has been matched by pr0-government supporters.  Red and black are shouting at yellow and nobody is listening.  And the protests look as if they are going to continue, be even more vocal and even more polarised.

The Colours

Yellow has become the colour of choice of the protestors angry at the current government.  Yellow is, of course, in the national flag and is the colour of the national football team.  Many of te street protests of have been a sea of yellow with original Nike football shirts very prominent.

Corruption, protests, Brazil, car wash, scandal lavo jato

Anti-government protests in Sao Paulo (Rovena Rosa/Agência Brasil)

Before a recent protest there were posts on Facebook that people should avoid wearing red, as this is the colour of PT and the left, and they should also avoid black as this is the colour of the anarchists or the Black Block.

There were some reports of people being attacked by protestors because they were wearing the wrong colours, although the vast majority of people have been peaceful.

The Violence

So far, there have been only sporadic incidents of violence at the protests.  There are many people predicting that levels of violence will increase if Lula is charged or if Dilma is impeached.  Who knows what will happen?  It is, however, a genuine fear that the rhetoric used by both sides is only going to increase the propensity for serious violence further down the road.

The Judiciary

Sergio Moro is the judge who has taken the lead in prosecuting those involved in the lavo jato case.  Depending on your point of view, he is either the caped crusader coming to save Brazil in its hour of need, or an example of how judges are using their power to corrupt the political system and engineer a coup.

The Military

And in the background there is the looming shadow of the military.  It is not too long since we had a military regime here and the genuine fear from a lot of people is that we might be heading back that way.  This is not helped by photos of people holding banner at protests calling for a military to kick out the corrupt politicians.  Of course, there was never any corruption under the military government at all.  Or at least, we never heard about it.

It all seems pretty bleak at the moment.  But of course there are two sides to every story, so tomorrow I’ll be looking at some reasons to be cheerful.

 

A Bilingual Child: Recasting as language modelling

Bilingual Child, passive language, recasting language, Curitiba, BrazilOne of my original goals when starting this blog was to document my son’s bilingual acquisition.  I had images of writing blog posts about his ability to communicate in English and Portuguese, and maybe even starting to learn a third language.

As so often in life, things haven’t quite panned out as I had hoped.  I only speak English to Mr T, but he nearly always replies in Portuguese.  I am not especially worried about this as I know he has an excellent passive knowledge of English because he understands what I’m saying and we have great conversations, just in two languages.

I am reluctant to ‘force’ him to speak English because I don’t want him to feel stressed out by trying to find words he doesn’t know.  I am sure that when he is ready he will speak as much English as he wants and until then I value our own personal style of communication.

While I don’t make Mr T speak English, I do encourage him.  If he wants me to get him something, or if he wants to be allowed to watch yet another episode of Ninjago, he has learnt that if he asks me in English he stands a better chance.

Another strategy I have used is one I have imported from teaching English in class.  If a student makes a mistake one way of correcting them is to recast the phrase.  For example, a student says ‘He like pizza’, the teacher can recast this by saying, ‘Oh, he likes pizza?’  The advantage of this is that you are able to provide a correct model while not necessarily obstructing communication.  There is, however, a downside in that it is not entirely clear that all students notice this form of correction.

Nevertheless, I have used this tactic for the last couple of years with Mr T.  If he says ‘Olha pai, meu dragão é vermelho!’  I recast it in English by saying something like ‘Wow, your dragon is red!’  In my mind this provides more exposure to language that he is interested and so, one day, will move from being passive to active.

We’ve started to see some improvement in his willingness to use English in the last few weeks, so maybe this strategy is starting to pay off.  Or perhaps it is truly useless and something else we are doing is working instead.