A Bilingual Child: Dynamic Language

Into the depths of language acquisition

Into the Deep by Tormod Ulsberg – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It’s been a while since I posted anything related to the language developments of my son, Mr. T.  First we had the World Cup when all I wrote about was in some way football related.  Then I took a month off to get back some of my motivation for blogging.  Fortunately, I am now up for writing again, but it means I have missed out describing some of the language milestones we have passed.

A toddler’s language is always changing from day-to-day.  But with a toddler who is learning two languages at the same time this changes become even more dynamic.

1. Better Language

For a long while we were slightly concerned that our son’s language was way behind other kids of the same age.  We knew it was probably because he was having to deal with double the vocabulary and grammar at the same time, but there is always that part of the brain than betrays you and says it might be something else.  Fortunately, we managed to avoid that treasonous element and it now seems as if Mr. T is fast catching up with his peers.  He still isn’t quite as good in his Portuguese as they are, but then again they are nowhere near his levels of English.

2. More Portuguese

In March I went to the UK for a few weeks with Mr T and my wife stayed in Brazil.  When we got back to Brazil Mr. T’s language had exploded, and obviously it was nearly all in English.  SInce then, his Portuguese has steadily improved so that now I would say about 90% of the words and phrases he comes out with are Portuguese.

This isn’t to say he has forgotten his English.  I only ever speak to him in English and he understands me perfectly, it’s just that he chooses to answer in Portuguese.  I am not worried about this in the slightest.  I want him to feel happy speaking in whatever language he feels most comfortable. I am not going to force him to speak English and make him feel even worse about using it.  Instead, I am just going to continue speaking in English to him until he is ready to use it himself.

Mixing it Up by Torley - CC BY-SA 2.0

Mixing it Up by Torley – CC BY-SA 2.0

3. Language mixing

The occasions when Mr. T does use English it is often in a sentence with other Portuguese words, or as complete chunks of language.  Some examples of when he has mixed the languages include: ‘Daddy, swimming pool esta ready agora? (‘Daddy, is the swimming pool ready now?’) and ‘Me like Batman roupa,’ (I like Batman clothes).

Some chunks of language that he still uses in English include ‘Let me see,’ ‘I show you,’ ‘Morning now?’ and ‘Rainy day!

And for some reason he seems completely unwilling to use the word ‘voçe’, preferring to use ‘you’ instead.

4. Portuguese accent

This is a strange one.  When he speaks Portuguese he has the perfect accent for someone from the interior of the state I live in.  He lengthens his vowel sounds and rolls his r’s as if had come straight from a farm growing fruit in the middle of nowhere.  This is a mystery to us as none of my wife’s family has this accent and it bares no resemblance to an English accent.

5. Writing

He can now write 3 letters!  The first letter he ever wrote was the letter ‘T’ as it is the first letter in his name.  He can now write the first three letters, and if you squint and use quite a bit of imagination you might even be ale to decipher them.  We haven’t been pushing this on him at all, instead he just seems to be genuinely interested in it.  We painted a picture for a relatives birthday the other day and I asked him to sign it, when he got the 4th letter he told me he couldn’t do it and just put down the pen.  I didn’t encourage him to learn it or give it a try, I just wrote the end of his name so he could see it.

 

World Cup 2014: What is Brazil Famous For?

FIFA World Cup 2014 logo.

Face palm? (Wikipedia)

This is it.  Today’s the day.  It’s time for the jaguar to drink water.

The kick off for the 2014 World Cup is upon us.  By the end of the day we’ll know if Brazil have managed to win the first game and maybe kick start the whole tournament, or if President Dilma is right to be the most nervous person in the country.

Apart from football, though, what is Brazil famous for?

This is a question I get asked a lot by my students who are eager to know foreigners think about their country. I ask them what they think they are famous for and we get a list that goes something like this:

Football, the beach, music (samba), fun, carnival, sex, beautiful women, the Amazon, that Christ statue in Rio, Foz do Iguaçu, maybe the Pantanal..

One of the reasons I ask my students to answer the question (along with it being a good idea to get them doing more of the speaking and not me), is that I no longer know what foreigners think about Brazil because I have been involved with this country for so long.  And it doesn’t do me any good to ask my friends and relatives because they are more aware of the country simply by me being here.

So I now ask the same question to you, my loyal reader.  What do you think Brazil is famous for?

Whatever answers are left in the comments I will write about during the World Cup.  Whenever Brazil have a game I’ll choose one of the topics and tell you whether Brazilians should be famous for it, or whether it is just a stereotype.

And if nobody leaves any comments I’ll just choose from my list above.

 

This blog piece is a part of the Multicultural Kid Blogs series on World Cup for Kids.  If you would like to follow the World Cup from the point of view of kids around the world then please go and check out the site.  There are bloggers from all of the competing countries as well as articles about Brasil and how to get kids interested in sport.

A Bilingual Child: Pronunciation interference

English: stamp with the words "Fail"...

(Wikipedia)

A while ago I was talking to a good friend of mine who used to be an English teacher, but who has now moved on to other things.  We were talking about how frustrating it can be teaching young children English and, despite only ever presenting them with ‘correct’ models of pronunciation, they still insist on saying them with a distinctive Brazilian accent.

One example of what we were talking about was the pronunciation of the word ‘red’ /red/.  A typical Brazilian pronunciation would be to say something that sounds like ‘hedgey’ /ˈhedʒɪ/.  There are three things going on here that give rise to the Brazilian sounding pronunciation: the first is that the letter ‘r’ /r/ is usually pronounced as the letter ‘h’ /h/ would be in English.  The next thing is that the letter ‘d’ is much softer in Portuguese than in English and so usually sounds like the letter ‘g’ in ‘gin’ /dʒ/.  And finally there is the tendency in Portuguese for some consonants to always be followed by a vowel.

Fortunately, I don’t have a class of three-year-olds to deal with, but I do have one two-and-a-half-year-old who we are bringing up to hopefully be bilingual English and Portuguese.  Obviously he would never say any English words with a Brazilian accent, would he?

Of course he would.

Prainha beach at São Francisco do Sul island, ...

Prainha beachy (Wikipedia)

Life’s beachy

During our recent summer holidays we spent 10 days at the beach in Sao Francisco do Sul in Santa Catarina.  It was baking hot with temperatures up around the 40 C mark so we had to ration the amount of time at the beach so we didn’t get burned to a cinder.  Our son, Mr. T was not too enamoured with this idea and kept demanding to go to the beach, or, as he said it, the beachy /ˈbiːtʃɪ/.

I was distraught.  I corrected him and said it was the beach, not the beachy.  I used exercises that have been useful with my students.  All to no avail.

I had failed.  Both as an English teacher and as a father.  My son is speaking English with a Brazilian accent because he is determined to add a vowel at the end of the word instead of just ending with a consonant.  He even seems to enjoy my displeasure now and shouts out beachy at the top of his voice.

I am glad, though, that at least he has got the long vowel right and isn’t saying /ˈbɪtʃ/

Other Brazilian pronunciations:

bike /bɑɪk/ is pronounced bikey /bɑɪkɪ/

watch /wɒtʃɪ/ is pronounced watchy /ˈwɒtʃɪ/ or washy /ˈwɒʃɪ/

hot /hɒt/ is pronounced otchy /ɒtʃɪ/

The Ramones /rəˈməʊnz/ is pronounced as Hamonees /hæˈməʊniːz/

Further Reading

After a couple of long journeys to Rio and Blumenau I am now in the middle of the third book of the ‘Foundation’ series by Isaac Asimov.  So far, it is almost as good as the first two.

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A Bilingual Child: Aha!

Alan Partridge

AHA!  (Benabomb on Wikimedia CC-BY-SA 3.0)

For a long time Mr. T has been saying ‘dah‘ for ‘yes’ or ‘sim‘, as I might have mentioned before.  And then last week it changed.  I had half expected him to start saying ‘‘ which you hear a lot in Portuguese as a way of agreeing and sort of saying ‘ok’.  Of course, he could have started to say ‘yes’, which he can produce when urged to imitate, or even ‘sim‘, but no, he came up with something else instead.

Instead of ‘dah‘ we have ‘aha’.  It seems that we have the son of Alan Partridge living amongst us.

If you ask him any question now the answer is usually ‘aha’.  So far I have noticed two different types of ‘aha’, one is the bored, uninterested ‘aha’ he uses when he knows he has to give you an answer to make you shut up and go away.  I have no idea where he got that one from as I know I have never been guilty of doing anything like it.  Stupid questions like ‘Did you go swimming today?’ are met with this ‘aha’ that seems to mean, ‘Of course I went swimming daddy, you were with me, so why are you asking such inane questions?  Now leave me alone to bash this giant red truck against this tiny blue car for the 100th time today’.

The other ‘aha’ is much more enthusiastic.  ‘Would you like to go to the park?’ is met with a vigorous ‘aha’ accompanied by his eyes lighting up and then an immediate and enthusiastic babble of other words which I think mean he needs to get his hat, or he wants to go by bus, or he’d like to see a tractor as well.

‘Dah‘ hasn’t totally disappeared.  He still uses it in question tags and when talking to himself, but its use has decreased drastically in a very short time.

Chicken and the Egg

I know that I use ‘aha’ a lot, but not only because I get asked such boring questions all the time.  It is also  a great communication strategy when I am talking in Portuguese and I don’t know exactly what to say, but I need to say something, so out comes ‘aha’.

Since Mr. T has been using it, though, we have noticed how much everybody in the house says ‘aha’.  Whenever mamãe or vovó says ‘aha’ we all pass knowing looks and between us.  It has got to the point where we are no longer sure if Mr. T picked it up from us saying it all the time, or if we have picked it up from him and incorporated it into our own language.

I think it is also pretty smart on Mr. T’s part to have chosen a word or sound that works in both languages, so he can brush us off equally well in Portuguese or English.  Just so long as he doesn’t pick up the other Alan Partridge behaviour traits I’ll be happy.

Family Guy Meets Aha

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Bad Daddy

Darth Vader is a good dad

If Darth Vader had been a good dad. blurppy.com

I am a bad daddy.

My wife is a bad mamãe.  My dad is a bad do doe (granddad) and my mum is a bad nana.

How do I know this?  Because my son has told us all exactly how bad we are.  And the thing is I am very happy about it.

My parents came to visit for a couple of weeks (hence the lack of posts) and one of the upshots has been the change in Mr. T’s language.  In the week before my folks arrived he seemed to be experimenting a lot more with different sounds and words, but when they were here and giving him their undivided attention he really started to use a lot more words.

One of the interesting things has been his sudden use of adjectives.  He was already using the words ‘big’ and ‘ninho‘ (little) but now he uses them for more abstract ideas, like a big burp or a big fart.   He will also  occasionally call somebody silly.

He has also started to say that things are hot by saying ‘too hot’.  I love this phrase because he is using ‘too’ to mean ‘very’, which is exactly what a lot of my Brazilian students do until I tell them that ‘too’ actually carries connotations of excess and so doesn’t mean the same thing as ‘very’. His pronunciation of ‘too hot’ is also interesting as he says ‘too wot‘, changing the /h/ sound for a /w/.   This is actually a feature of connected speech because if you drop the /h/ sound you are left with two vowels from the end of ‘too’ and the beginning of ‘ot‘.  In order to move between the two sounds without having a pause we make a small linking  /w/ sound.  I was fascinated to hear him saying this as it shows he is picking up on minor sounds that as adult speakers of a language we would probably just miss.

Anyway, to get back to why I am happy to be a bad dad. Mr. T’s new favourite adjective is ‘bad’.  Everything is ‘bad’, even when it’s good.  He knows what it means because he corrects you when you say something is ‘good’, although he hasn’t said ‘good’ yet.

So if you are playing a game with him he will suddenly stop and say, with the biggest and most beautiful grin, ‘Bad daddy!’ and then repeat it over and over again.  If you are tickling him, in the middle of one if his belly laughs he will sneak out a ‘bad mommy’ which will set him off all over again.  If you are being a bit naughty he will tell you so in no uncertain terms.

I am happy with this because he has picked up a new word and is experimenting with it.  He is checking out how it can be used with different nouns and seeing the reaction he gets.  And he is  having great fun in doing so.

So that is why I am a happy bad daddy.

Darth Vader is a bad dad

The Dog House Diaries

Further Reading   I have now moved on to ‘1974’ by David Peace.  It is the first in a series of detective stories that take place in the north of England.  It is brutal, but eminently readable.  I’ll be reading the rest of the series, but I think I deserve a break first because this first one is all bout extreme violence and pedophilia.

The Next Football Sensation

English: A possible dive

Never touched him, ref! (Wikipedia)

If Mr. T were ever to be a good footballer he would be able to choose on of 3 countries to play for.  If he were very good, he could choose to play for Brazil because that is where he was born.

If he were average he could play for England because that was where I was born.

If he were distinctly below average he could play for Ireland because that is where he dodo (granddad) was born.

I am happy to report that at the moment it looks like he might have some of the skills necessary to actuallyplay for Brazil.

I am not talking about his first touch, passing ability or shooting skills.  When we play with a football together and he is more likely to pick it up, sit on it or completely miss it as actually hit it with his foot.  He certainly has nothing on Maradona’s grandson seen here when he was two years old.

I am not talking about his energy levels and his ability to run for a whole game.  It is true that he has a lot of energy and loves running after tractors in the park, but I don’t think he is any different to most toddlers.

He does, however, have that one ability that it seems is increasingly important in the modern game.

He can dive like a Barcelona player.

In order to make sure he practises this unique ability we have developed a game.  He runs for 4 or 5 paces and then has to dive theatrically on the floor.  I pretend to be an ambulance and come rushing up to him.  I check his legs, rub his knees, tickle his tummy, make sure he has still got a pulse and then I put my ear to his mouth to see if he is still breathing.

This usually results in a fit of giggles which proves he is ready to go again.

I put him back on his feet and runs another 4 or 5 paces and then falls to the floor as if he has been shot by a sniper.  I do my ambulance routine all over again and then he is off for another few paces before we he tumbles to the ground and so on.

I must say I am pleased with the results so far and his diving skills have improved dramatically.  I am hoping to get him to start waving an imaginary yellow card in the air for our next step.

So, if in 20 years you see the name of Greene writhing around a football pitch acting as if his leg has just been chopped off, you’ll know who to blame thank.

Parents and The Ashes

The Ashes Urn

The Ashes Urn (Wikipedia)

I am rejoicing.

It is quite a strange feeling for me, but British sport seems to have developed a backbone and started to win stuff.  Following on from the successful Olympics last year the British and Irish (though mainly Welsh) Lions beat Australia in the rugby earlier in the summer.

Justin Rose won the first golf major by an Englishman in 17 years at the USPGA and Andy Murray, a Scot, became the first British man since the 1930’s to win Wimbledon.

For me, though, the highlight is cricket.  I was brought up on terrible English cricket teams, constantly getting drubbed by the West Indies and then Australia, and to be honest practically everyone that was put in front of us.  No matter what the score, an English collapse was never too far away.

Then in 2005 the unthinkable happened and England beat Australia in one of the greatest Ashes series ever.

This year’s Ashes has quite lived up to the vintage of 2005, but it has still been exciting and, more importantly for me, England are now 3-0 up with 1 more to play.  It means England have won the last 3 Ashes series and 4 out of the last 5.  Oh happy days.

It’s a Dad’s Game

The undoubted man of the series so far has been Ian Bell.  He has always had the class but his temperament had been more questionable.  It seemed that he flattered to deceive, only ever scoring runs when his team mates had done all the hard work.  This time it has been different.  This time he has been the man to get England out of a series of holes.  He has been the leading run scorer in often difficult situations.

Many commentators have asked what has happened to Ian Bell to make him more steely.  One answer that I have seen a number of times is the fact that last year he became a father and this has given him a different outlook on life.  Whether this is true or not we will have to wait for his autobiography to find out, but I found it intriguing to think about how becoming a dad can change your outlook on life.  I know it has changed mine and will be writing about this in future blogs.

English: Mo Farah at the 2010 European Athleti...

Mo Farah wins again (Wikipedia)

There has been news and lots of talk recently about men taking paternity leave to be prest at the birth of their children and to be a apart of those all important first few weeks.  It must be admitted, though, that it is relatively easy to be father in professional sport.  Whether it is fair or not, it is accepted than some men will be sportsmen and must be away from their homes in order to achieve their potential.  I read yesterday how Mo Farah, the long distance runner, is almost a stranger to his young twin daughters because of his commitment to his sport.  This has largely been accepted as a price that has to be paid in order to be the best of the best.

Not Really a Mum’s Game

IMGP4002_womens-cricket

Women’s cricket (RaeAllen)

It must be far more difficult to be a mother when the sport you play is amateur and you have to juggle so many different responsibilities.  Women’s cricket has practically no money whatsoever so to play at the highest level means a far greater level of commitment that in the men’s game.  My utmost respect, therefore, goes out to Sarah Elliot who plays cricket for the Australia women’s team.  She had her first daughter 9 months ago and on 12th August, in her first test match since becoming a mum, scored a century that has put Australia in a dominant position against England.

Whenever one of the few journalists who is covering the game has mentioned this feat by Sarah they have made sure to also mention the fact that she is a new mum.

So perhaps the world hasn’t changed all that much.  Women still find it harder than men to compete and England (women) are still losing to Australia.

And of course our football team continues to be crap!

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.

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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCzrIo1Fxf4

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

Ups and Downs

ArrowImage: jscreationzs / freedigitalphotos.net

 

Thomas and I were talking on Skype to my parents back in the UK the other day when they mentioned something that I had noticed in passing before.  Although he doesn’t have many words and he babbles a lot, it sounds as if you know what he is trying to say.

When teaching my English language students, one of the things that often comes up is the importance of intonation.  I give them made up statistic of how most of what we communicate is through our intonation rather than the actual words.  I say made up because I don’t know if there are any actual real statistics around, but it is very important.  I give a few examples of how intonation can change the meaning and most of the time my students are receptive to the importance of intonation when learning English.

This is probably because Portuguese and English intonation patterns are similar.  There are obvious differences; the use of the auxiliary in questions allows English to have both rising and falling intonation patterns; when people want to congratulate you on your birthday they sound bored to me because the intonation pattern they use would be more appropriate for a list in English.  The differences, though, are noticeable simple because they are so rare.

I think this is also the reason why it sounds as if Thomas is speaking, even though he is just babbling.  The intonation and the rhythm of his baby talk are similar to English or Portuguese.  If my made up statistic has any relevance at all, this is also what enables him to communicate despite not having many words.

One thing that he seems to be able to communicate perfectly well in this way is his complete and utter disdain for me when I am messing around with him.  I often do stupid things to get him to laugh and most of the time it works.  If it doesn’t work then I just get a ‘Oh daddy!’ which lets me know how ridiculous I am.

I would love to know if this is just me making things up, or if other people have noticed that their child sounds like he’s talking, even though he isn’t.