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.

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.

 

I’m back!

After a long time away, I'm back to continue blogging about Brazil, Curitiba and bilingual families

Last July, I decided to take a break for a few weeks from blogging while I got some work done and caught up on my real life instead of my virtual one.  I managed to get some work done, but then more and more came in and real life really is fun.  This meant that a few weeks turned into a few months which became 9 whole months.

In all that time I was still thinking about blog posts I could write, but never actually sitting down and writing them.  I kep putting off my comeback post until recently I realised that I would either just have to write something or give up on the whole idea completely.  I enjoyed my time blogging so much I decided that I would just have to make the time to get back into it.  And so here I am.

I’m aiming to write something roughly once a week, but we’ll see how that goes.  I’m going to continue writing about bringing up a bilingual son, life in Curitiba and generally about Brazil.  I have this idea in the back of my head to re-design the whole blog, but we’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, for now, it’s just good to be writing again.  I hope to keep it up for a while and stop just thinking about it.

 

A Bilingual Child: Little Daddy

Bilingual Child, Brazil, English, Portuguese

Brazil may be a huge country, but Brazilians love making everyone and everything in it as small as possible.  One thing I noticed early on when learning Portuguese was the prevalence of the suffix –inho or –inha.  They use it on the end of words to form the diminutive, and they use it all the time.

This means that a ‘coffee’ (café) becomes ‘cafezinho’, ‘grande’ (big) can be ‘a little bit big’ (grandinho), and ‘never’ (nunca) can be ‘never, ever’ when it is used as ‘nuncinha‘. 

Even the word little itself ‘pequeno’ can be made even littler by saying ‘pequeninho’.

However, a small t-shirt (camisa) is not a camisnha because camisinha means condom.

This little suffix be used to mean something is actually small but not exclusively so.  It can also be used to show familiarity, friendliness or that something is just so damned cute.

The basic rule is that you add –inho to masculine words and –inha to feminine words.  However, if the word ends in the letter ‘z’, or vowel other than ‘a’ or ‘or’ then we have wither –zinho or –zinha, depending on the gender of the word.

English uses the diminutive a lot less than Portuguese.  Footballers and children are fond of adding a ‘y’ to the end of names to sound familiar, so that you will hear them referring to their teammates as ‘Scholesy’ and ‘Giggsy’.  In terms of more formal English, we have imported the suffix -ette from French so that we get words like ‘kitchenette’ and ‘cigarette’.

There are also different varieties of English around the world that have their own diminutive forms, like my dad shows his Irish roots by adding -een to the end of various words, for example, ‘Would you like a cuppeen of tea?’ is a common expression in our house.

In general, though, we don’t have a common diminutive form, and when we do use it we are nothing like as proficient as Portuguese speakers for employing it.

An advert for Coke in Ecuador makes fun of the Brazilian predilection for diminutives

Diminutives in Action

Mr T has picked up on this in his Portuguese and is enjoying playing with words and liberally adding –inho to them.  He was begging me to let him watch Batman the other day and, because we have a rule that he can only watch at night the answer was no.  But he is nothing if not persistent and so asked if we could watch Batmanzinho, or just a little batman.

Mr T couldn’t tell you the rule about when to say –inho or –zinho, but he has shown us that he is aware of it.  He did this when playing with the English word ‘daddy’.  First of all he called me ‘daddyinho’, but he knew this was wrong almost as soon as it came out of his mouth.  A few seconds later he repeated himself, but this time said ‘daddyzinho’.

I liked this because it shows he is being creative with his language, playing with it to get new words and meanings.  He also did it with a look on his face to suggest he knew what he was doing was a joke at my expense and that he also knew that he shouldn’t really be doing this in English.

The only downside is that I am little daddy and not big daddy.  But at least my name isn’t Shirley.

More on diminutives in Portuguese

Portuguese Language Blog

Portuguêse é Massa (Portuguese for Foreigners)

 

Image

Big Daddy by Paul Townsend CC BY-NC 2.0

A Bilingual Child: Communication Strategies and the Wrong Language

A bilingual child responds in the 'wrong' language and uses lots of communication strategiesI read a very instructive post recently by Multilingual Living called ‘4 reasons why a bilingual child answers in the “wrong” language.’

My almost-4-year-old son replies to me in the ‘wrong’ language.  By ‘wrong language’ I mean that I speak to him in English and he usually replies in Portuguese.  I think the main reason for this is that he knows I understand him so it is easier for him to use the language he encounters 99% of the time.

I am not particularly worried about this.  Before Mr T was even born we decided on what our language plans were going to be.  One of the principles we came up with was that our child should be free to use whatever language he/she wanted to use.  The aim was communication, not communication in a specific language.  We didn’t want to force our child to speak a particular language as we thought this might lead to resentment.  Instead, we hope that through constant exposure the two languages would be picked up normally.

He seems to have a great passive knowledge of English, as he seems to understand pretty much everything I say to him.  This patient approach is also starting to provide some success as he has been producing more English with me in the last few weeks, even if it is stock phrases like, ‘I’m the boss in this house!’ and ‘I’m not tired!’

He is exposed to quite a bit of English.  He obviously hears me speaking all the time, and when his mamãe and I are speaking in his presence we usually use English as well.  We try to make sure that any TV he watches is in English, and most of the songs we listen to are also in English.  Finally, there is his family in the UK that speaks English to him.

And this UK family is perhaps the key yo the whole thing.  They speak very little, if any, Portuguese so when he is with them he has a choice.  Either make the effort to speak English, find a different way of communicating, or simply not be understood.

When we were in the UK over Christmas and New Year, his mamãe and I went to Edinburgh for a few days, leaving Mr T in the capable hands of my parents.  We were slightly worried about how they were going to communicate, but regular Skype calls home reassured us that there were no huge problems.  Mr T was able to find a way of communicating his needs.  Sometimes, this was by taking his time to think about an English word. At other times it took a bit more creativity, like jumping up and down and holding his crotch to show my dad he needed to go to the toilet.

He has even started to do this with me now.  The other day he wanted to know how to say ‘siga‘ in English.  I pretended that I didn’t understand, hoping that I could get him to remember it in English himself.  Instead he acted it out with one hand following another.

It is these communication strategies that I find amazing.  A desire to get your meaning across, couple with a knack for using whatever tool is at your disposal is surely an important life skill that will serve him well in the future, whatever that might be.

 

Image Credit

Chess by Sasha the Okay Photographer CC BY 2.0

Living in Curitiba: The Goldilocks City

Living in Curitiba: The Weather

The people from Curitiba, Curitibanos, are like most people I have met in that they love to complain about the weather.  They are fond of lamenting the fact that there can be 4 seasons in each day because you must have clothes to cater for each of the seasons.  In the summer, half of the locals continually moan about the insufferable heat, and in the winter the other half just bang on about how cold they are.

The last couple of weeks have seen an upswing in these grumblings as the weather has changed from a pleasant Indian summer into a wet and cold autumn.  Not that I am complaining, though.

The Goldilocks City

I have written before about how the bi-polar weather here in Curitiba can be a problem when you have small kids, and this is mainly because the infrastructure in homes means it is often colder indoors than it is outdoors.

However, as far as the actual weather is concerned, I have come to the conclusion that Curitiba is blessed with what must be close to being the best weather in the world.

You see, when it’s hot it is rarely too hot.  I have lived in both Rio de Janeiro and Taipei and in both of those cities it can regularly hit 40, and then stay there for months.  In Curitiba if it gets to 35 it is unusual.  As well as needing less air conditioning, this has the advantage of keeping dengue away (for now).

And when it is cold, it is rarely too cold.  It can get down to zero for a few days, but never the -20 with snow from November to Easter that I experienced when I lived in Poland for a year.  The advantage of this is that you can wear something other than shorts every day of the week.

And ok, it can be grey and overcast a lot.  But not like London.  I spent one winter in London when I didn’t see the sun for about 4 months.  This was because I went to work on the underground in the morning and when I came home it was already dark.  On the weekends it was either wet, cloudy or I was in bed recovering from a particularly hard night.

When it is cloudy in London, it can be cloudy for months on end.  When it is hot in Rio, or freezing in Poland, it will be like that for a long time.  In Curitiba, in the midst of a freezing and wet winter, we can have the odd beautiful, warm day.  And when it’s been over 30 for a couple of weeks there is a good chance that the next few days will be wet and only in the 20’s.

We don’t get hurricanes or twisters.  We don’t have earthquakes or volcanoes.  We live far enough away from the sea, and high enough up the mountains to not be worried about Tsunamis or the rising seas due to global warming.

We get the odd storm which can result in some floods and sometimes a landslide, but nothing like other parts of Brazil.  The storms we get are proper storms with rain lashing down, bolts of lightning and claps of thunder.  Powerful, invigorating and amazing.

And so Curitiba is the Goldilocks city because it is never too hot and never too cold.  In fact, it is usually just about right.

Images

Goldilocks by Vlolscraper CC BY-NC 2.0

Old, modern and organic in Curitiba by Radamés Manasso CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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 Moseley, 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