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?

100 Not Out

English: Jacques Rudolph cover drive

Jacques Rudolph cover drive (Wikipedia)

“And Head of the Heard plays a glorious cover drive to reach his maiden century.  Surely there are many more ahead of him in what promises to be a glittering career…”

I am a cricket fan and, in my dreams, I often score centuries in a Brian Lara or Ian Bell style.

Unfortunately, they are only in my dreams and so the closest I will ever get to scoring 100 is in my blogging.  While it isn’t exactly cricket, I am ever so proud to write this, my 100th blog post about raising a bilingual family in Curitiba, Brazil.

Highlights

Unfortunately, now that I am a dad, it is practically impossible for me to watch a whole day’s play of cricket match, never mind the whole 5 days of a test match.  And then there’s the fact that any decent match will be one of a series of 5.  This means that I have to make do with the highlights, which in all honesty can be better that watching live when England are involved.

The same is no doubt true of you, dear reader.  I am sure you don’t have the time to go trawling through all of the last 100 posts I have written, so I decided to package what I consider to be the best of them in my own edited highlights.

1. The Most Important Word – I describe how Mr. T learned a word to describe a colour, a mood, a style of music and probably the best football team in the entire history of the world.

...and 100!

…and 100! (MarcelGermain)

2. Another Reason to Speak English – There are many reasons to try to bring up a bilingual child, but I hadn’t thought about this one until I read about it somewhere else.

3. 2 Words Are Better than 1 – Mr. T shows the first signs of developing his language skills.

4. Question Time? – Talking to babies/toddlers is basically just asking a series of unanswered questions.

5. What Are Books For?  – Not just for reading.

6. Free the Feet – Now that the weather is starting to get warmer again we might just be able to free them more often.

7. Grudge Cabinet – We all have one.  Unfortunately I think Mr. T’s might have grown somewhat since I wrote this.

100 Reais

100 Reais (markhillary)

8. I Hate Scuffers – I had a lot of fun writing this one.  It merges together aspects of my own childhood as well as my son’s.

9. Should you Come to the World Cup? – Did you realise we are having the world cup next year in Brazil?  Are you coming?

10. The Oncoming Storm – This is probably my favourite single piece because it involves Dr. Who and Mr. T.  What’s not to like?

Of course having a celebration all on your own is pretty boring so I thought I would also invite some of the bloggers who have been important in teaching me how to blog, or those that I just enjoy reading.  I think my blog falls into 3 different categories; dad blogger, multilingual parent blogger, blogging about Brazil.

Brazil Bloggers

A Brazilian Operating in this Area – a great blog by a Brazilian journalist who lives and studies in London.  He always has a refreshing viewpoint on Brazilian current affairs.

Andrew Downie’s Brazil Blog – this is written by a foreign correspondent who lives in Brazil and writes about everything to do with the country.  He is sometimes called a Brazil hater, but I reckon he is just the friend that Brazil needs.

Born Again Brazilian – an American woman who went to Brazil and was born all over again, not necessarily religiously but as a person.

A Taste of Brazil – some wonderful writing all about Brazilian food.

Rachel’s Rantings – great writing about the day-to-day life on an American woman living in Rio.

100

100 (Ryan Christopher VanWilliams – NYC)

Dad Bloggers

Ask Your Dad – funny and warm writing about being a dad who doesn’t know the answers.

Dork Daddy – anything and everything nerdy or dorky and daddy.

Snoozing on the Sofa – some of my favourite dadtime stories are on this blog.

Modern Father Online – He is an Aussie but still claims to be modern.  Who’d have thunk it?

Lunar Baboon – Always funny.

Multilingual Parents Bloggers

Expat Since Birth – How many languages can one family speak and still stay sane?  Go to this brilliant blog to find out.

European Mama – A great Polish writer living with her German husband in Holland with their three kids.

Dads the Way I Like It – What do you get if you call a French/English/Welsh speaking Scots/Irishman living in Wales?

Bilingual Monkeys – One of the first blogs I read about raising bilingual kids and still gives me great inspiration.

Multicultural Kid Blogs – A place where parents of kids from all over the world can come together to try to build a better future.

100

100 (funadium)

Rebel Yell

English: Photo of Private Sam Watkins, Confede...

Private Sam Watkins, Confederate infantry soldier (Wikipedia)

In the American Civil War the Confederate soldiers screamed their Rebel Yell before charging the Union soldiers.  As you can see from this video from the Smithsonion Institute shot in the 1940’s of Confederate soldiers re-enacting the yell it sounds a bit like a mix between a banshee and Casper the ghost.

I suppose from our vantage point of the early 21st Century it sounds almost comical, but I am not sure it would have had that effect in the heat of battle.

There is now a brand of Bourbon whiskey called Rebel Yell, designed I am sure to capitalise on any remaining sympathies for the Confederate cause.  Personally, I can’t stand Bourbon as I much prefer proper whisky, preferably with no ice but perhaps just a little bit of water.

In the early 1980’s Billy Idol was at a party with The Rolling Stones where they were drinking this whiskey and it proved to be the inspiration for the title of his second best-selling album.

Rebel Yell (song)

Rebel Yell (Wikipedia)

The first and eponymous song of the album was one of his most successful and memorable.  In the song the rebel no longer screams like a demented rabbit, but he cries for ‘more, more ,more.’

In its own way this is perhaps more frightening than the original Confederates’ Rebel Yell and just as indicative of its time.

If Mr. T were to have his own Rebel Yell it would probably more along the lines of ‘more, mais, more-mais’.  ‘Mais’ is the Portuguese word for ‘more’ and one of the few words that he has mastered from both languages.

It is becoming increasingly evident that he is able to switch between the two words depending on who he is talking to.  The default setting is ‘more’, which he uses to ask for more Peppa Pig, more juice or horse rides on my back.  He also uses it in the sense of ‘another’ for example when he sees one bus he shouts ‘Mimi car’, and then when he immediately sees another bus he shouts out ‘more Mimi car!’

If he asks you for more of something, and he doesn’t get what he wants he will sometimes switch to use ‘mais’ to see if this has any better results.  If this still doesn’t work then he can always attempt to throw a tantrum.  I think I have also noticed that with is vovó, who speaks 99% of the time in Portuguese to him, he is more likely to say ‘mais’ than ‘more’.  However this is just a tendency rather than a hard rule as she understand English and so if he asks for ‘more’ he more than likely gets what he wants first time around.

More language will undoubtedly emerge over the next few weeks and months.  In the meantime, here is Andrea True, a porno star turned pop singer with More More More

 

Playing With Language

noooo

Everyday now, Mr. T is gaining in confidence with his language skills.  I still don’t think he has realised that he is learning two different languages, but he is picking up more words and experimenting with more sounds all the time.  One of the joys of this has been to see he creativity with language and his ability to play with it.

On The Bus

One game that we developed totally by accident is a sort of ‘follow-the-leader’ or listen and repeat game.  One of his favourite toys is a London tour bus he got a few months ago.  Of course, his word for bus is ‘Mimi car’, which has no relation to the English word or the Portuguese ‘omnibus‘.  One day he was messing around with one of his toys and putting it on the bus and saying ‘Mimi car,’ so to annoy him I said ‘on the bus.’  He repeated ‘Mimi car’ and I insisted it was ‘on the bus.’

He quickly realised that whatever way he said ‘Mimi car’ I would copy him.  If he shouted it, I shouted back.  If he whispered, so would I.  If he said it very very slowly I tried to mimic him.  He thought this was the greatest trick ever.  The next stage was to get him to copy me, which didn’t take too long at all.

I didn’t do this in order to correct him.  I reckon he’ll figure out in his own sweet time what the ‘real’ words for a bus are.  It was just something to pass a few minutes and interact with him.  We end up doing it now at least once a day.  I was doubly fortunate because the English sentence ‘on the bus’ sounds suspiciously like the Portuguese word ‘omnibus’ so even my wife can join in this game without Mr. T. realising it is slightly different.

No!

Every kid learns to say ‘No’ pretty early on, possibly because, at least in Mr. T’s case because that is probably the word he hears the most.  One of his favourite games has always been to play with his cars on the coffee table and to roll them across and let them fall on the floor.  As they were rolling I used to shout ‘No!’ in an overly dramatic way before they hit the floor.  Mr. T has now taken to holding a car on the table and imitating my plaintive cry of ‘No!’ and then  squealing with delight as it crashes into the ground.  He has even started to build the tension by saying ‘no’ a number of times, each time building up the volume and pitch until the car eventually rolls over the side.

It’s a bit like watching this:

Abou

Abou is Mr. T’s word for acabou, which is Portuguese for ‘finished’.  His favourite practical joke is to have a cup of water or juice which is obviously half full and then shout ‘Daddy, abou’.  I look at him and ask him ‘Is it finished?’ at which point he looks at the cup, looks at me and says ‘Nooooo!’  Once he has finished giggling to himself he then puts the drink back in his mouth.  If he is in the mood this can go on for ages.

 

A note on the image used above.  I have tried to find who produced the photo but so far I have been unsuccessful  If you created it, please let me know and I will be only too happy to add a credit.

Please, Please, Please

James Brown - The Godfather of Soul

James Brown – The Godfather of Soul (Lammyman)

When I first came to Brazil the English school that I worked at had a cafe at the back  that sold things like little pies, sandwiches, drinks and sweets.  They did a roaring trade during the breaks and made a pretty penny off me as I was in the school the whole day and the cafe was just behind the teachers’ room.

With my very poor Portuguese I would go and ask for a sandwich or a juice or a bar of chocolate and always say ‘por favor‘ at the end of my request.  There were often smiles and sniggers from the lady serving, but I just assumed that was because of my bad pronunciation until one day she couldn’t help herself and started openly laughing in front of me.  I was of course mortally embarrassed but I wanted to know what I was doing wrong.  One of the Brazilian teachers translated for me and told me that the woman in the cafe thought I was just so cute because I always said ‘por favor‘ when practically nobody else ever did this.

I was stunned.  For me saying ‘por favor’ or ‘please’ is just a natural part of making a request.  I don’t even think about it, it just comes out on its own.  And it is true.  Unless you are really trying to be over-polite or are almost begging for something, Brazilians do not generally use ‘por favor’.  They usually say ‘obrigado,’ or some other equivalent, but not ‘por favor.’

Please!

Please! (eliazar)

Many of my Brazilian friends think that the English are so much more polite that they are, partly because of this need to say ‘please’ after everything.  I tell them that it isn’t true, that just because we say a few words doesnt mean we actually mean it, it is just something that we are trained to do.  They look at me with a knowing grin as if to say, ‘you are such a polite person for not wanting to seem superior in your good manners and politeness.’  What can I do?

In bringing up Thomas I am trying to make sure that he says ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.  At the moment he hasn’t got the hang of saying ‘thank you’ or ‘ta’ or ‘obrigado‘ or anything.  But he is starting to get the idea of saying ‘please’.  Except, when Thomas says it is more like ‘daddy, pee’.  I’m not worried about the pronunciation, though, more the fact that he has started to use it.

English: Amazing veggie burger at Herbivore. F...

Amazing veggie burger at Herbivore. (Wikipedia)

Usually I have to remind him to say ‘please’.  He’ll ask me to open the pot of play dough and I’ll look at him and ask ‘What do you say?’ and he’ll nod his head and say ‘daddy, pee.’  Last night he did actually say it without being prompted.  I had a burger and chips and he wanted some of my chips.  The first couple of times he needed to be reminded, but then he said ‘daddy, more, pee’.  I was chuffed to bits.

And of course now I have a reason to have more burgers and chips.

What about you?  Is it important in your culture to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you?’  Are you bringing up your kids to be polite like this and how are you going about it?

Now here is a man who knew how to say please.  James Brown – Please, Please, Please.

Round and Round the Garden

 

Shaking  Hands Black and White

Shaking hands (Zeevveez)

While on holiday my folks taught Thomas, and reminded me, of two nursery rhymes that I had completely forgotten.  He loves both of them because they are accompanied by physical movements.  This means that not only do they meet a need for physical touch and action, but he can ask other people to say them to him very easily by miming the actions.

Round and Round the Garden

The first one goes like this:

Round and round the garden

Like a teddy bear

One step, two step

And tickle him under there.

As you say the first two lines you hold the child’s hand palm up and trace circles around his palm with your index finger.  During this part Thomas invented his own step which was to close his hand so that we couldn’t continue with the rhyme.  We had to ask him to open it before we could go on.  For the third line you touch the inside of the child’s wrist when you say ‘one step’ and then the crook of the arm for ‘two step’.  Finally, on ‘tickle him under there’ you tickle him under the armpit.

The problem with this nursery rhyme is that Thomas doesn’t seem to get bored of it.  If you do it once you have to do it a hundred times.  He decides which hand he wants you to do it on and holds it out for you. Alternatively, he will take your hand and, while you say the rhyme, he will do the actions.

Shake Hands Brother

The second rhyme is a bit more sinister.  It comes from Ireland and goes a bit like this.

Shake hands brother

(You’re a rogue and I’m another)

You stole a cow and I stole another.

You’ll be hung in Ballinalime

And I’ll be hung in Ballinatother.

As you say this rhyme you have to shake the child’s hand to the beat.  The second line (in brackets) is optional; my mother uses it but my dad doesn’t.  The two place names are approximations because I was never actually sure of what was being said.  ‘Ballin’ is a common prefix for towns in Ireland and can either mean ‘town’ or ‘mouth of a river’ depending on the original gaelic meaning.

Thomas loves both of these rhymes and I do to.  I remember hearing them as a kid so I am determined to keep them alive with Thomas now.  Not only do they help with language learning but they also provide a link to my childhood as well.

Related Articles

Hey Diddle, Diddle and other favourite nursery rhymes – happybeahbeah.wordpress.com

Importance of Nursery Rhymes – blossomnursery.wordpress.com

Language learning on holiday

Cheers

You wanna be where everybody knows your name (Wikipedia)

Just before we went on holiday to the UK and Ireland for the best part of 4 weeks I wrote about how I thought Thomas was on the verge of stepping up his language skills.  I wasn’t sure how the trip would affect this because it would be throwing him into a whole new language environment.

Before we left he was saying mais  whenever he wanted more of something.  After a couple of weeks’ holiday this had morphed into a combination of the English word and the Portuguese word and he would say ‘mais more’.  Lots of people, including this hardened cynic, thought this was one of the cutest things ever.  In the last week, when my wife came back to Brazil and we stayed on in Birmingham, he seemed to drop the ‘mais‘ and started to only say ‘more’.

He created a new name for my dad.  The last time we were there he never called him anything and we tried to get him to say ‘gog gog’ as this was the word that I used for my granddad when I was the same age, but it never really caught on.  This time around he started calling him ‘doe doe’ and we have absolutely no idea why.  This caused a problem for a while as Thomas would be shouting ‘doe doe’ but my dad was totally unaware that he was being shouted at.  After a few days of his one and only grandson yelling at him he soon learned.

Cheers

Raising a glass (Auburn Skies)

Whenever we had a meal together we raised our classes and said ‘cheers’ to each other.  Thomas thought this was a brilliant game and insisted on doing the same with his bottle.  The only problem was that he forgot to take a drink from it afterwards.

One new word that he seems to be experimenting with is ‘nice’.  I am not sure he knows exactly what it means yet as it is almost as if it slips out without him realising it when he is excited about something.  I will be looking out for how this word progresses in the future.

Other than that, he didn’t really pick up any new words.  There was the hint of him saying my brother’s girlfriend’s name, but this was never confirmed.  Most people also thought that his pronunciation became clearer over the course of the three weeks.  This might be true but it might also be the fact that everyone else got more used to his language and he got more comfortable around them.  It is true, though, that he had no problems understanding what people wanted him to do by the end so that his passive understanding was probably on a par with that of Portuguese.

So all in all, the trip didn’t see the surge in Thomas’ language ability that I might have been hoping for.  However, I am convinced that it did he bilingual skills the world of good and that, sooner or later, it is going to start paying off in both languages.

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