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.

Where I’m From

028-13 WMPTE 380Y CRW380C

I ‘drove’ one of these when I was a kid

Last week I went to João Pessoa in the north-east of Brazil for the Braz Tesol conference.  It is a conference that draws together English language teachers from all over Brazil, as well as attracting people from different parts of the world.

One of the best plenaries that I went to was given by J.J. Wilson on the subject of teacher development.  One of the activities we did was called ‘Where I’m from’ with the intention of showing that our origins can have a profound effect on our teaching, training and everything else we do in life.

I loved the activity so much because in such a short time I was able to articulate some of the major influences in my life.  And so, instead of leaving it gather dust in some forgotten notepad that I know I’ll never pick up again, I thought I’d share it here.

Where I’m From

I am from parks, mud and bi-polar trees

I am from cobs, bostin, and the outdoor

I am from paper rounds, dog walks and 3-hour bus rides

I am from the Bull Ring with its Rotunda, treks around the Lickeys and lost sporting causes

I am from Cadbury’s and Ansell’s and fading memories of Leyland.

I am from rain, mist, wind, radiators and ice inside windows.

I am from unliked tea, cottage pie, chips and vinegar and red sauce.

I am from the bog, a huge kitchen table, badly-understood locals, a range and even more rain.

I am from books, education, paper rounds, politics and strong women.


J.J. Wilson was inspired to create this class from an original poem by George Ella Lyon,  You can find the poem here or listen to her reading the poem below taken from youtube (from 45 seconds).  Also on youtube, there are countless variations on the theme as many other people have sought to write their own poems about where they are from.

This post is my part of the Multicultural Kids Blogging Carnival for the month of May.  It is my pleasure to host the blog this month and it will be live on this blog from Thursday, May 15th.  For more information on this carnival, all the other carnivals and lots more about raising multicultural kids click on the image below.

Multicultural Kids Blogs

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Potty Trained: His Uncle’s Nephew

The Potty Training Years 1988–1992

It was much easier than this (Wikipedia)

Potty training was a breeze.  We waited until the summer, about 3 months ago, because both I and Mrs. Head of the Heard would both be around to lead the training.  We were prepared for a long haul, but within a couple of days we had basically cracked it.  Obviously there was, and still is, the occasional accident, but it was all pretty much a painless transition.

There have been two interesting things to come out of the whole process.  The first happened quite quickly and we have no idea where it came from.

When Mr. T asks to do a wee wee he is quite happy to have other people in the bathroom.  When he has to do a poo poo, though, he has always been adamant that he be left alone.  He started by saying ‘Daddy, tai’ which is his version of the Portuguese word ‘sai’ which can be translated as ‘get out’.  This has now developed so that in English he says ‘Daddy, go away, me do poo poo.’  I always leave the room with a smile on my face, but I just don’t understand where he learnt the need for privacy at such a moment.

The other thing that he has developed is the length of time he now takes sitting on his potty.  He demands to have a book to read, or if there is no book he will sing a song, usually The Beatles ‘Hello Goodbye’.  Again, I don’t know where this behaviour has come from as neither his mother nor I spend more time on the toilet than is absolutely necessary.

There is only person we know who does spend some quality time sitting on the throne is his uncle Nano who is quite happy to take his iPad with him and disappear for hours on end.  But as his uncle lives in Sao Paulo and we live in Curitiba, I fail to see how he could have been a direct influence.  Maybe it’s just in the genes and Mr. T truly is his uncle’s nephew.

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Flat Hunting: His Granddad’s Grandson

For sale signs

To let or buy? by Boyce Duprey CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

We are looking for a new flat at the moment.  We did have plans to build our own house, but thanks to the interminable bureaucracy that is the Brazilian government we have had to put these plans on hold for a while.

My dad, back in the UK, has a thing about houses and flats.  He finds it almost impossible to walk past an estate agent’s without looking in the window to see the prices of property in the area and to see if there are any bargains going.  He is quite happy to go and view houses and think about what he could do to them to improve them.

If he were with us in Brazil he would be like a pig in muck.  And so, it seems, is his grandson.

We showed our son a couple of properties online and he was enthralled.  He loved looking at all the pictures and we took the opportunity to describe some of the things we could see in the pictures, things like the names of the rooms and some of the furniture.

We then took him with us to see some of the flats and told him we were going the ‘apartamento’.  Mr. T was in his element.  It helped that the first couple of flats were empty so he could run around without us worrying he was going to break something.  He quickly learnt the Portuguese word ‘apartamento‘ but seems to have decided that it should be spoken with an English accent so that the final ‘o’ rhymes with ‘toe’.  Do I really sound like that when I speak Portuguese?

For sale sign in a field of yellow flowers.

Anybody want to buy some land? by Lisbokt CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It has now developed into an obsession, though.  Yesterday we only saw one flat, but there were tears as we were leaving amid demands for another ‘apartamento’.  During the evening we were having some quiet time before going to bed and all of a sudden Mr. T started asking about more ‘apartamentos’.

I think his grandfather, or doe doe as Mr. T calls him, will be very proud.  Despite living half way around the world, it is clear that he is his grandfather’s grandson.

Further Reading

Over my holiday I read ‘Dublin’ by Edward Rutherford.  It is a romantic history of the city and, while not the greatest book in the world, did provide some worthwhile insights into the home of my grandfather.


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Hello, It’s Good to Be Back

Oasis soup

Oasis Soup by atomicjeep CC BY 2.0

As you probably haven’t noticed, I haven’t written anything on here for about a month or so. I went to the IATEFL conference in the UK and decided to make a bit of a holiday out of it for both myself and my son.  As my wife couldn’t get time off from teaching at university it meant leaving Mr. T with my parents while I went off and developed myself at the foremost English teachers’ conference.  I was a bit worried about Mr. T not being comfortable with my parents, so we went back to Birmingham a couple of weeks early so he could get used to them again.

I needn’t have worried as he had a wonderful time with my folks, going to a safari park, visiting a fire station, going on a choo choo train and much, much more besides.  His English has improved far more than I could ever have expected.  Before we went, he seemed to be entering a phase of improving all of his language skills, but while in the UK it was unbelievable how much and how quickly his vocabulary increased.

I also learned a lot at the IATEFL conference, as well as meeting up with lots of old and new friends.  I really must try to get to more of those conferences.  I gave a talk about using linguistic landscapes to teach English that seemed to be well received.  I have this idea to write a book about it, if I can just find the time.

The one thing that I learned outside the conference was also a bit startling: it seems that it is now 2o years since Britpop was a thing in the UK.  The likes of Oasis, Blur, Suede and Pulp formed a large part of the soundtrack to my days at university,so to realise that it is now 20 YEARS since I was a carefree student just doesn’t bear thinking about.



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Daddy Mouse

Danger Mouse, as seen in the series' title seq...

The world’s greatest secret agent (Wikipedia)

We had a boys’ night in last week when it was just me and Mr. T.  As he was on his way to pre-school earlier in the day, I asked him what he wanted to do, and he loudly declared ‘Pizza’.  Who was I to argue with such a convincing argument.

So I picked him up and brought him home to a kitchen with his little table in the middle and everything ready to make our own pizza.  First, he had to spread the tomato sauce all over the base with the back of a spoon, then I asked what we needed next, which was cheese.  He ate some of the cheese that I had already grated while watching me spread the rest out.

Next were the mushrooms.  He put one mushroom in the middle and then went back to eating grated cheese as I put the rest of the mushrooms on.  The same thing happened with the red peppers.

There was a slight deviation for the tomatoes as he stopped eating the cheese and started to eat the tomatoes instead.

While the pizza was in the oven we got the drinks ready.  A Toddy (Brazilian chocolate milk, no whisky involved) and a beer for me.

We then had to sort out what we were going to watch while we ate and had our drinks.  There was a bit of a discussion over the merits of Galinha Pintadinha (it has no merit whatsoever) before I suggested ‘Danger Mouse’.

Penfold in "The Odd Ball Runaround"

Good grief Penfold (Wikipedia)

‘Danger Mouse’ is a classic of British children’s TV that anyone of a certain age with any taste will have loved.  I have lots of taste so obviously I adored it.  I bought the DVD (for my son, of course) but the first time I played it it didn’t go down well.  That was some months ago, so I hoped things had changed.

Once the pizza was sliced we sat back with our beer/milk and I pressed play on the DVD.  Not a word out of my son for the next 15 minutes as he watched enraptured with the sight before him.  A big smile crossed his face at various times, and I was almost in daddy heaven: there I was with my son, eating pizza, having a beer/milk and watching Danger Mouse.  Could life get any better than that?

Yes, it could.

During the final credits my son jumped to his feet to dance along and got me up to.  We were dancing and jumping and acting like silly little boys.

But it got even better than that.

I started to sing along to the lyrics, some of which I could remember, the rest I made up.  I shouted especially loudly when the singer sings ‘Danger Mouse’ on more than one occasion.  My son repeated it after me, except he got it wrong in the best possible way.  Instead of ‘Danger Mouse’ he sang ‘Daddy Mouse’.

‘He’s the ace, he’s amazing
He’s the strongest, he’s the quickest, he’s the best
Daddy Mouse!’

It was one of the best boys’ nights in I think I have ever had or am likely to have.

Further reading

I have almost finished ‘Rivers of London‘ by Ben Aaranovitch.  It’s a fast-paced tale of wizards, spirits, murder and the Metropolitan police.  Not a world-changing book, but a very good read.  It’s the first in a series of four (so far) and I reckon I’ll be getting the rest soon enough.

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I Am a Horse.My Son Is a Dog

Dog and Horse

One from the family album (Samantha Meets Mocha by AMagill – CC-BY-2.0)

Shakespeare got it wrong.  He might have been a great wordsmith and playwright who could look into people’s souls and see what made them tick.  

But when it came to figuring out how many ages a man has it didn’t know the first thing he was talking about.

I know this because he forgot the ages of horse and dog.

Being a horse means putting my son on my shoulders and trotting around making neighing noises while he giggles away up top.  The neighing noises are very important.  He steers me around by pulling an ear to show which way he wants to go.  If he wants to go straight he usually just beats out the clippety-clop sound of a trotting horse on my head.

Or being a horse can sometimes mean getting down on all fours while he rides my back shouting out ‘horsey, horsey’.   He has to hold on very tight for this one which can result in a pinched neck.  And my poor knees!

Or it can mean just trotting next to my son as we both make horsey noises.  I look like a right idiot doing this in the middle of the supermarket, but at it isn’t quite so bad on my worn out knees.

My son, on the other hand, seems to think he is a dog.  He will crawl around for hours on end making ‘au au‘ sounds.  He says ‘au au‘ because that is the sound dogs make when they bark in Brazil.  It doesn’t seem to matter how often I say ‘woof woof’ he insists on saying ‘au au‘.

William Shakespeare

To be a horse or to be a dog?

But being a boy-dog goes further than this.  He sticks his tongue out and pants.  He licks anything that comes anywhere near him, including floors, feet and pebbles.  He puts his head in my lap, looking for strokes and for me to say ‘good dog’.

He has even started to eat like a dog, trying to eat his food without using his hands.

I don’t know what all of this means or how long it is going to last for, but if you see a child barking like a Brazilian dog sitting on the shoulders of a man trotting around and neighing, hopefully you’ll understand they are just going through the two ages of man that Shakespeare couldn’t get into his play.

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There Is This Theory of the Moebius

“There is this theory of the Moebius.  A twist in the fabric of space where time becomes a loop from which there is no escape.  So when we reach that point, whatever happened will happen again.”

This was what Worf and Geordi Le Forge in Star Trek, Next Generation said when they encounter a vortex that might have captured the Enterprise and her crew.  It was also sampled by Orbital to produce one of my favourite tunes as a student.

But it could very easily have been said about any given day, game or meal that I experience with my 2-and-a-half-year-old son, Mr. T.

The games that he plays always follow the same patterns and everything must be done in exactly the right way or he gets very annoyed.

We go through the same arguments when we ask him to come to the table and eat something, and yet, once he is at the table he eats pretty well.

He wants to read the same books at night, watch the same DVDs and listen to the same music.

His tantrums can be predicted, from the pre-tantrum stage via the vehement, face down, heart-felt crying to the post-tantrum that usually involves giggles while the last few tears make their way down his face.

He says the same things whenever we get into the car, see a bus or a tractor, or meet a dog on a walk.

English: Mobius strip deformed to have a circu...

A Moebius Strip. Made with Mathematica. (Wikipedia)

Everything just happens  again and again and again.  There is nothing new, no variation on a theme, no single, life changing moment.  Just one endless loop, going around and around and around.

We have done the first steps, the first words and the first trip to the potty.  What else is there to do except just stare at my smartphone while he crashes his big white car into the small red one for the thousandth time?

Except it isn’t like this.  It just seems as if it is.

This is not Captain Pickard being doomed to destroy his ship over and over again  because small things are changing all the time.

The games change imperceptibly.  The arguments about dinner get fiercer.  Over time, certain books, DVDs and music get dropped, to be replaced by others.  The tantrums get longer (but they are still followed by a smile).  The pronunciation of the words comes closer to the norm bit by bit.

Writing this blog has helped me because I am able to look back and see the amazing changes that have taken place over the last year or so, but which get lost in the day-to-day minutiae of being a dad.

But whatever it takes, I need to remember to put down the smartphone and start paying attention to all the small changes because whatever has happened, will never happen again.

Further Reading

I am now over half way through ‘1977’ by David Peace.  It is the follow up to 1974 and just as bleak and violent.  This one is also set in the north of England to the backdrop of a hot summer and the jubilee.  There are murders, rapes and police brutality a plenty.

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What we Did on Our Summer Holidays

Brazilian Christmas

Tons do Azul – Blue Tones by Mateus Pabst – CC-BY-2.0

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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What Does Christmas Mean to a Two-Year-Old?

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Ho! Ho! Ho! (rishibando)

What does Christmas mean to you?

To me, it isn’t such a big deal.  I am not some Scrooge-like figure who bah-humbugs his way through the holiday season, wishing everyone would just go back to work and stop enjoying themselves, but it has lost some of its lustre.

I think the reasons for this are partly because I now live in Brazil and celebrating Christmas in the 40°C heat just doesn’t remind me of all the wet and cold Christmases past.  It is also due to the fact that I am now self-employed, so I don’t have the shared anticipation of holidays and parties with colleagues.

But what does Christmas mean to my two-year-old son?

The answer to this question is far from clear, although if I had to make a guess it might be something along the lines of ‘ho ho ho’ and long afternoon naps.

A couple of months ago Father Christmas started to make his first appearances in the shopping centres in Curitiba, and so as dutiful parents we took Mr. T along to meet one.  The reaction was pretty much as I expected in that he was fascinated from a distance, but as we got up close to the strange man in a red suit with a big white beard, he just clung on to me for dear life.  He was almost scared to death just being within 10 metres of Santa, nevermind actually going and sitting on his lap.

Coca-Cola Christmas truck. Photo made on Vrede...

“Daddy, ho ho ho, truck, da?” (Wikipedia)

Over the last two months, though, he has seen thousands of images of Santa around the city, in school and now that we have put our decorations up, at home as well.  His name for Santa is ‘Ho ho ho’ and he takes great joy in pointing at him and saying ‘Daddy, ho ho ho, da?’ (‘Da‘ means ‘yes’).  Near where we live there is an old train carriage with an advert of Santa holding a big bottle of Coke and every time we go past it I hear ‘Daddy, pee wee choo choo, ho ho ho, da?’  I love it!

The extra afternoon sleep is due to the fact that the day care school that he used to go to has closed for the holidays and so he gets to sleep after lunch instead of going off to sing songs and play in the Wendy house.  Just like his mother, if left to his own devices he would sleep for hours on end.

I don’t think he has any idea of what is going to happen in a few days when he gets loads of presents for no apparent reason whatsoever.  Being the only grandson on both sides of the family he often gets presents at random times of the year, but not a whole lot of them together and at the same time.  I am pretty sure he’ll remember it for next year though, when the fun really will begin.

My favourite Christmas song: ‘White Wine in the Sun’ by Tim Minchin.

Happy Holidays to everyone who reads this, and to everyone who can’t be bothered as well.

What does Christmas mean to you?  What does it mean to your family?  I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below.