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A Bilingual Child: Looking for some advice

Mechanical Painting

I couldn’t find an appropriate image, but I really like this painting by Mark ChadwickCC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I recently saw a video of a friend who is bringing her son up to speak English and some Portuguese.  I have a lot in common with them due to the age of the child (about 3), the fact that they come from the same city as me and we have similar backgrounds.

They are also different because they both speak English as a first language and, instead of bringing their child up to be bilingual by speaking two languages at home, or some variety on that, they are making sure he knows certain words in Portuguese.  There are many advantages to doing this, for example, they avoid bad Portuguese while at the same time make their child aware of other languages/cultures early on and also prepare him for learning a language later in life, for example.

One thing that I was struck by was how the parents ask their son ‘What’s X in Portuguese?’ and their son was easily able to tell them.  They ran through about 15 different vocabulary items and their son was able to tell them very quickly what the translation was.  I was impressed.

This is something that we have never done.  To simplify our arrangement, I speak in English and everybody else speaks in Portuguese, but I have never checked if he knows there are two languages or if he is aware that monkey is the English for ‘macaco’.  I have mentioned before in other blog posts, and to anyone who will listen, that I have a sneaky suspicion that he doesn’t even realise that he is being exposed to two different languages

So I have a few questions for those who have more experience of bringing up multilingual children.

1. Did you explicitly ask your child what the word was in a different language or did you just speak the different languages at home assuming that the child would sort it out in his own sweet time?

2. If you did make it explicit that there were two or more languages at what age did you start doing this?

3. If you didn’t highlight the two languages do you feel it made a difference in their language acquisition?

4. Am I being just being a relatively normal parent and finding something to worry about where there isn’t really an issue at all?

If you have any answers, please leave a comment below, write your own blog and link back to this or find some other way of letting me know.  I am genuinely interested in what other people have done as I have found it hard to find any mention of this from my research.

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Noah Cooper

I'm the head of the Cooper heard. My wife and I moved abroad when our first son who came along in May, 2011. I am a typical Brit abroad with a family to raise and am sharing the journey of the expat life abroad.

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Written by Noah Cooper