A Bilingual Child: Language Mixing – Agua More!

Cocktail Caipirihna a la Wikipedia

Ice is water, does that count? (Wikipedia)

My parents have come to visit us here in Curitiba, Brazil for a couple of weeks and it has been interesting to see their effect on our son’s bilingual development.

He has obviously been exposed to a lot more English than when it is just me here.  But in addition, he has been exposed to different varieties of English and a richer vocabulary.  My dad still has his Irish accent and my mum switches between Brummie and Irish depending on how angry she is or how many caipirinhas she’s had.  They also bring with them different vocabulary that I wouldn’t normally use as well as a desire to spend as much time as possible with their grandson in their two weeks here.

One of the effects has been that Mr. T is now calling everybody ‘bad’.  It started out with him calling his do doe (granddad) ‘bad do doe’ but that soon became ‘bad nana’, ‘bad daddy’ and pretty much ‘bad everybody’, and this includes his favourite person in the whole world ‘bad vovó’.  He understands other adjectives like ‘good’ but so far has refused to say them.

We are trying to get him to use the adjective ‘nice’ and it is starting to have an effect, but ‘bad’ is still his second favourite word after ‘no’.

Although it is clear that he understands almost everything in either English or Portuguese, I am still convinced that he doesn’t differentiate between the two languages when he is speaking.  It seems that he only has one word for any particular concept and this word might be taken from English or from Portuguese.  The only words he produces from both languages are ‘bye bye’ and tchau‘, and ‘more’ and mais‘.

The Surfer - Ilha do Mel, Brazil

Water, water everywhere (whl.travel)

This means that in his extended phrases he is very likely to mix up the two languages, rather like a good cocktail.  This was shown when we all went to Ilha do Mel over the weekend and stayed in a Pousada called Estrela do Mar.  It is right on the beach and Mr. T has become obsessed with playing in water.  Every time he saw the sea, or whenever we wanted him to come out of it for more that 10 seconds he just screamed ‘Agua more!’ incessantly and as loudly as he possibly could.

Just so long as he doesn’t start shouting ‘Caipirinha more’ for a while, though, I’ll be happy.

Further Reading

I have started a book called ‘The Magus’ by John Fowles.  At nearly 700 pages it is the longest book I have read in a while, but the writing is so pleasant I think I am going to finish it quite quickly.  I am over 100 pages into it at the moment and I am still not sure where it is going, but the suspense is building up nicely.


10 thoughts on “A Bilingual Child: Language Mixing – Agua More!

  1. Enjoy reading this – I am observing exactly the same thing with my 22-mth daughter, with her picking one word for each object in either French , Chinese, or English. The only thing for the moment that she says in all three languages is thank you/merci/xie xie. Fascinating creature!

    • Hi Yin, thanks for your comment. They truly are fascinating creatures.

      I have a theory that our son is picking the easiest/shortest word to say. Would that be the same as your daughter?

      • I thought so too, until she started to say ‘chaussure’ for the shoe, which is definitely more difficult to pronounce. So perhaps it’s the amount of exposure she initially gets that makes a difference, although I cannot be really sure if this was actually the case with this word, as she gets her English exposure mostly from the daycare so I can’t compare that with her exposure at home to French or Chinese.

      • We never really know anything about them at all. I am sure you are right about the amount of exposure they get being very important, too.

        One of the resons I have this theory is that he only gets consistent English exposure from me, but all of the colours he knows are English. The English words for colours ar emuch simpler than Portuguese, for example red or vermelho.

        Or it could be something totally different instead 😉

  2. I had to look up Brummie! It is interesting how when we raise our kids to be bilingual sometimes they miss the diversity of each language. And so fun to see how his language is developing. I think mine started to really separate the languages around 2 or so, when he started playing more with monolingual kids.


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