One 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.