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.