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.

 

 

Happy (Belated?) New Year

Bilibgual family in Curitiba, Brazil

Things I will write about. Soon. Honest.

Ok, so it might seem a bit late to wishing you everyone a happy new year.  But it feels exactly right to me because now that carnival is out of the way the year has really begun here in earnest here in Curitiba.  My teaching schedule is pretty much set for the next few months, Mr T is back at school and life is returning to some sort of normality after a hectic holiday period.

It’s been a while, but it is also time to resurrect my ramblings and memories of bringing up a bilingual child in Brazil.

Over the next few weeks I am going to be writing about our recent trip to the UK and the effect it had on our son’s English.  As well as his English changing, our son also had a depressing encounter with Father Christmas, a trip to see a first football match that hopefully won’t put him into therapy for the rest of his life and a not-so-successful fancy dress party.

It wasn’t all bad though, as we tried some wonderful curries, played in the snow and were visited by a much better Father Christmas 3 times!

I hope to tell you about the difference between mouth-stories and eye-stories, and why they are both equally important, how Mr. T’s musical tastes are developing and why his growing obsession with super heroes is turning him into a proper little consumerist.

And now that we are back in Brazil I’ll try to describe some of the not-so-obvious differences I noticed between life in Brazil and Britain, as well as trying to make some sense of the corruption scandals, demonstrations and plunging economy that we seem to be facing here.

So lots to look forward to, if I can just find the time to do it all some justice.

Feeding the Ducks: British and Brazilian Culture

duck life

Mummy and daddy ducks (katdaned)

What do you do with a toddler on an afternoon when you have got nothing planned, but your pride and joy is going stir crazy in the house?  The weather probably isn’t good enough to slap on shorts and T-shirts and just play outside in the garden, but it isn’t absolutely tipping it down or below zero either.

In the UK the answer is pretty easy: get some stale bread and go and feed the ducks at the local pond.  And it isn’t just ducks, but also geese and swans who just love the taste of stale bread.

It was one of the great pleasures of our recent trip back home, and one we indulged in quite a bit.  Our son, Mr. T, not only had a whale of a time with the ducks, he also found muddy puddles to fall over in, sticks to walk with, stones to throw in streams and, on one special occasion, even a few fairground rides to play on.

We were happy because an hour or two outside calms everyone down and helps to burn off some of that excess energy every two-year-old has and so make sleep a bit easier in the evening.  Apart from having some bread to hand, it didn’t require any forward planning and there is almost nothing quite like watching a child gain enormous pleasure from jumping up and down in a muddy puddle.

Luckily, Mr T is still too young to wonder what the male and female ducks were getting up to as they made all that noise in the bushes, but it brought a smile to my face.

For us, there was also a whole host of language learning opportunities.  This was where Mr. T learned to shout out ‘Muddy puddle!’ tell the ducks to ‘Stay in the water!’  and practise some imperatives as he ordered his nana to follow him wherever he wanted to go.

Gaggle of ducks, waiting for bread.

No gaggles of ducks in Brazil (Wikipedia)

 

But now we are back in Brazil and, unfortunately, there just isn’t the same culture of going to the park and feeding the ducks.  There are a few parks near us with water birds, but I have never seen anyone bringing their own bread, so I don’t feel right doing it.

Maybe people don’t feed ducks here because it is bad for their diet.  Or perhaps the ducks wouldn’t eat the bread because they wouldn’t have a clue what we were doing.   Or is there a possibility that it could upset some precarious ecosystem between the ducks and who knows what?  Or is it just the fact that they have different water birds down here?

Whatever the reason, feeding the ducks is something that both my son and I are missing.  But then again, it is just another reason to plan the next trip back to Birmingham.

 

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Stupid Things on Planes

Português: Airbus A319 da TAM no Aeroporto de ...

This is exactly how we had to get on and off the plane.

As part of my recent trip back home to the UK with my son to see my family and go to IATEFL we obviously had to fly from Curitiba to London via Sao Paulo.  I chose a night flight in the hope that Mr. T would sleep most of the way and I think it was, mostly, a wise choice.

On the way to the UK the plane left at midnight and my pride and joy was asleep not long after.  He slept for 8 hours and then watched Toy Story so that I only had to keep him from crying at the sheer boredom for the last half an hour or so.  On the way back to Brazil he was even better as he slept nearly all the way.

I like to think that this is down to my planning and preparing for any contingency, but it is probably more to do with the fact that he is now a seasoned traveller with this being his 3rd trip to the UK, as well as many flights within Brazil to see family and friends.

There were two things that more than slightly annoyed me and threatened on more than one occasion to wake my son up and thus guarantee an awful flight for anyone within earshot of his powerful crying.

Burning With the Light of a Thousand Suns

When was the last time you smoked on a plane?  When did you last hear of anyone who thought they were allowed to smoke on a plane?  In my case it is about 15 years ago, and since that time we are pretty much all aware that it is now illegal to smoke anywhere on a plane especially (or particularly, according to the cabin crew on TAM) in the toilets.

I therefore don’t understand why we have to have the no-smoking signs on planes anymore.  We know we can’t do it, just as we know we can’t murder that obnoxious German in the row in front of me who insists on listening to some crap music all night long on his earphones at full blast.

But maybe we have to have these signs just in case somebody feels the need to light up at 10,000 feet.  But do the signs have to burn with the brightness of a thousand suns making it impossible to sleep unless you have an industrial scale mask over your eyes?  I think not.  Every time my son turned over he saw the lights and threatened to wake up with a howl so I had to keep shading his eyes so that everybody else could get something resembling sleep.

Brass Monkey

No, not that type of brass monkey

Brass Monkeys

Maybe my analogy of the lights burning as bright a quite a few suns is off, because if it were true then the cabin would be a few degrees warmer than it was on the trip to the UK.  I don’t know about you, but I never have never felt the need to have the air conditioning on so high that I can see my breath when I breathe, never mind have icicles hanging off the end of my nose.

Perhaps TAM was just preparing us for the Baltic conditions that awaited us in the UK.

Fortunately, I knew about this from previous flights with TAM, so I made sure that both my son and I had plenty of clothes at the ready because those flimsy blankets they give out just don’t do the job.

Dinner at 2?

As I mentioned, the flight to the UK took off at midnight.  By that time I was exhausted and just wanted to follow my son into a deep sleep, or as deep as it can be while sitting at a 95° angle.  The lights were all off (apart from the thousand suns up and down the cabin) and silence reigned, only punctuated by the odd snore and terrible Euro Disco from the row in front.

And then, at about 2am, all the lights were switched on again and the cabin crew started trundling down the aisles serving dinner.  At 2am in the morning!  The smell alone was enough to make my stomach turn over.  Who in their right mind wants to have dinner at 2 in the morning?  There were a few people not in their right minds, but nearly everybody near me just looked fairly put upon as they turned their noses up at the rubbery chicken in a mild and bland curry sauce.

 

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What we Did on Our Summer Holidays

While most people reading this have been suffering from a wet and cold winter in the northern hemisphere, we in the south have been enjoying our summer.  On Boxing Day our family did the traditional Curitibano thing and left the city to go and enjoy the sunshine at the beach.

And boy, did we get a lot of sunshine.

New Year’s Eve clocked up 40° C, but it felt even hotter.  We also had another couple of days that were just as hot, before it all ended in the last three days with torrential downpours and floods.

Just your typical Brazilian summer, then.

But as well as just having a good time we, or at least our 2-and-a-half-year-old son, learnt quite a bit as well.

What’s in a name?

Up until now, Mr T has never used his name.  He has been aware of his name for a long time and would usually respond to it if you shouted it loud enough and for long enough, but whenever you asked him to tell you his name he just said ‘Me’.  He also uses ‘me’ whenever he wants to refer to himself, for example ‘Daddy, me no nar nar now.’  (‘Daddy, I’m not going to sleep now.’)

But a few days ago, after a lot of encouragement and persuasion, he finally said his name.  He hasn’t quite got the pronunciation right yet, but it was quite a milestone for all of us.

Other vocabulary

Monkey Neighbours

Monkey neighbours

As well as learning to say his name he learnt the word ‘beach’ and its Portuguese equivalent ‘praia‘.

He learnt to say ‘bicho which is a Portuguese word that can be used to talk about any animal, but especially small creepy crawly ones.  If this creepy crawly animal doesn’t actually crawl but instead flies, Mr. T now calls is a ‘bee’.  This is another example of him having to fine tune his understanding of words in the future.

Another animal that he named was ‘monkey’ because we saw some a couple of times in the garden next door to the house we rented.  He is more likely to, make the noise of  a monkey, but he did say the word a couple of times.

Water freedom

Mr. T has been going to swimming classes for the last 18 months or so.  When he started he was the youngest in the class, but later this month he is due to graduate to the next level when he will be entering the pool without his mamãe.  This means that he is very comfortable in the water, but has always had to hold on to someone as he can’t, by any stretch of the imagination, actually swim yet.

Outdoor pool

Small, but beautiful when it’s 40°!

For Christmas we got him a buoyancy vest that he can wear in the water to make sure his head doesn’t go under for more than a few seconds.  This was the best present we got him as it meant he had total freedom in the pool at the back of the house we rented.  Obviously, there was somebody with him at all times (one of the things he learnt in his class was to sit on the side of the pool and call for somebody to help him enter the water) but he was able to move around on his own by kicking his legs.  He spent hours in that pool.

Potty training

And last, but certainly not least, we have started potty training.  We have had quite a bit of success so far, although there have also been more than a couple of accidents.  And this process has meant a few other items of vocabulary have also been incorporated into his vocabulary.

Further Reading

I finally found the time to finish reading ‘Magus’ by John Fowles.  It really wasn’t what I was expecting at all, but I am glad that I read it.  The story is about an English man in the 1950’s who finds himself teaching on a Greek island because he can’t figure what else he wants to do.  The book is about the nature of reality and what it means to have freedom.  At least I think that is what it was about as the plot has so many twists and sleights of hand that it was at times a bit difficult to follow.

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Ilha do Mel: Curitiba’s Best Beach

Alfredo Andersen - Ilha do Mel

Alfredo Andersen – Ilha do Mel (Wikipedia)

Ok, so it isn’t really Curitiba’s best beach, but that is because Curitiba doesn’t have any beaches seeing as how it is up on a plateau about 1, 000m above sea level.  However, in about an hour’s drive you can be at the beach (assuming you aren’t trying to drive there on a holiday, when it can take 3 times as long) and they all have one thing in common: they are crap.

They are all long and flat without any real charm to them.  The sand is usually packed down so that walking on the beach is like walking on soft concrete.  The water is often dirty, and usually cold and the currents can be very strong.

There is, however, one exception to all of this.

Ilha do Mel (Honey Island) is an island about a 30 minute ferry-boat ride away or an hour and a half from Paranagua.  Most of the island is a nature reserve and the numbers of visitors are restricted to about 4,000.  As soon as you get off the ferry, if not before, all your stress disappears because the way of life here is a lot more relaxed.  The reason for this is, I think, the fact that there are no cars here so everything goes a lot slower.

On the east cost of the island, which faces the Atlantic, the wind is strong and the waves are usually very big.  I’ve been told that this is the best surfing in Paraná although, as a non-surfer, I couldn’t tell if this is true or not.

On the west, more sheltered, side there is practically no current and the waves are very gentle, making it perfect for families.  The view is somewhat spoiled by the huge ships coming into port, but you can ignore them after a few caipirinhas from the beach front bar.

You can walk up a few hills or just lounge around in a bar or on the beach.  There is music in a few places, but never too loud to piss anyone off.  There are boat trips around the island, or to go and find some dolphins.

It almost has everything.

The only thing that is missing is a doctor, so that when your 2-year-old son dislocates his elbow all you can do is beat a hasty retreat back to the mainland.

And that’s when the stress really hits you.

Further Reading

I am still reading ‘The Magus’ by John Fowles.  As it is such a long book, and I have so little time I think I am going to be reading it for a while yet.  It has become very complex but the writing is excellent and keeping my interest up.

Learning to Fly Solo

Plane taking off

Here we go (Wikipedia)

The thing I was least looking forward to from our recent trip to the UK was coming home again.  The problem was that my wife had to come home a week early because of work commitments, which meant I was going to be doing a 24-hour journey with our 22-month old.  This journey included 2 flights, one of 11 hours and the other a measly 1 hour.  Both of the flights would consist of Thomas (now about 13 kilos) sitting on my lap for the duration.  What was I thinking? Here are some of the things I learned.

1. Don’t do it

Is there any way you can avoid flying with your little one on your lap?  Could you drive?  Pay for somebody else to accompany you?  Stay at home?  Believe me, even if everything goes well, you are not going to have a good time.  Everything went as well as it possible could for me, but I swear I would never do it again.  If you can find any alternative, grasp it with both hands.

2. Leg space

When I was booking my flight I decided to pay a bit more and get the front row so that I had a bit more leg space.  i think I paid $50 for it (about 15% of the total) and it was worth every penny.  It meant I could leave some stuff in front of me instead of having to get it from the overhead baggage space.  It gave me a bit of freedom and I could even pop Thomas on the floor for a few minutes to let him stretch his legs while I prepared some food or had a mini-breakdown.

3. Be very, very nice at check-in

English: Dublin International Airport, Ireland...

Find a real person to talk to (Wikipedia)

When I got to the airport I was asked to check in via one of the computerised stands that many companies have.  I made it look like a hassle to juggle my son and find the papers and everything so I was directed to a real person behind the desk.  This is what I wanted all along because I wanted to see if it was possible to get a free seat next to me.  I was all smiles and very polite to the man who was doing the check in.  Towards the end I asked if the flight was busy, which it was, and then I wondered if it might be possible to leave the seat next to me vacant so I could use it for Thomas.  The man smiled back and said it wasn’t possible, but he would see what he could do (this type of answer is very common in Brazil).  It turned out that there were half a dozen empty seats on the plane, and one of them was next to me.  I don’t know what the name of the man was who did my check in, but I would like to thank him from the bottom of my heart as this was a lifesaver.

4. Be prepared

If you aren’t sure whether you’ll need it or not, put it in your hand luggage.  I had a fully charged tablet with games and videos on it.  Lots of nappies.  Plenty of food and snacks and drinks (I had 8 different drinks cartons but I still had to stock up again in Sao Paulo).  Some favourite toys.  A thermometer.  Two drinks bottles. Spare clothes.  A blanket.  Crayons and paper.  A Peppa Pig Sticker book.  And probably lots of other stuff as well.  It means you won’t have any space for your own books or anything, but then this isn’t about you.

5. Aisle or window?

Plane Flight to Singapore

The same view for 11 hours (Amy Dianna)

Aisle.  A thousand times.  You may get a view which will keep your child happy for the few moments during take off and landing, but the rest of the flight will be a nightmare as you look at the never-changing sky or the wing of the plane.  If you have an aisle seat you have just that little be extra leg room and you can put your kid there for a minute while you find his favourite toy.  It also makes it easier to get to the toilet quickly in case of emergencies.

6. Make friends

I let Thomas charm as many people as possible when we first got on the plane.  My thinking was that if they like him at the start they will be more forgiving later when he wakes them with his piercing scream at 3 in the morning because he can’t sleep properly.  I needn’t have worried as this never happened, but it did provide a certain amount of entertainment later in the trip when he was able to play peekaboo with the other passengers.

7. How small is that changing tray?

The changing tray for babies in the toilets was designed for the smallest baby ever to be born.  It was just impossible to get a slightly-above-average-height two-year-old onto it and change his nappy without doing some serious damage either to the plane or Thomas.  My wife told me about this before so I had pull-up nappies instead of the more conventional ones.  it still wasn’t exactly easy, but a lot less hassle than it could have been.

8. Food and drink

Lunch

Your two-year-old will love it (Scoobyfoo)

It isn’t exactly news to tell you that the food you get on a place is crap.  Utter filth, usually.  Don’t rely on the food they serve to satisfy your child.  Bring lots of snacks and easy to prepare food that you know your kid will enjoy.

9. Take your time

Everything takes longer with a two-year old in tow.  This is true in life generally, but especially true when trying to get through customs, do security, find your seat on the plane, etc.  Give yourself plenty of time because you don’t want to be rushing to the gate in order to board.

10. Plan the other end

Make sure you have a plan for when you finally arrive at your destination.  My wife was coming to pick us up so we had decided beforehand exactly where she would be standing outside the door so that I could quickly slip out, hand Thomas over to her and then go back in for the bags.  This was one of the best things I did as my suitcase was the last to appear.

To be honest, the flights couldn’t have gone any better.  Thomas was as good as gold and slept, if fitfully, for most of the first flight.  The TAM staff were courteous and helpful, although there are never tested that much.  It was, however, a long and exhausting journey and while I would do it again I would definitely pay to get an extra seat for Thomas and not even contemplate having him on my lap again.