Friday, February 28, 2014

Our Language Situation

I am teaching my 15 month old daughter, C, Portuguese. I am fluent, but not a native speaker of Portuguese. I lived in Mozambique for two years and later, with my husband, lived in Angola for almost two years. My husband speaks and understands Portuguese, but does not consider himself fluent - and won't really speak it in front of me and doesn't believe me when I say his Portuguese is good! Neither of our families speak Portuguese and our hometown of Tallahassee is not the most diverse city in Florida - although international FSU students may be a great resource for us in the future. For now, I am kind of on my own in teaching her to be bilingual. It's just me and our friends Caetano Veloso and Vila Sésamo on YouTube.

We are, by default, a One Parent, One Language family with all of the Portuguese coming from me. Obviously, I speak a lot of English to her and in front of her. But I really do try, especially when it's just the two of us, to speak to her in Portuguese as much as I can. I encourage my mom to say the few words she knows like "beijo" and "tchau tchau". And I encourage my husband to do the same. It can be frustrating when I see him practicing colors and numbers with her in English. I think to myself - but she is going to learn colors and numbers in English from everyone else in her life! I know he knows colors and numbers in Portuguese, so I wish he would teach them to her in Portuguese first.

I was motivated recently to start keeping this blog because her language has really picked up in the last month. She has moved beyond "mama" and "papa" and the "dada" that she uses for both of us. When she first began saying "doggy" and "duck" I have to admit that the joy of hearing her talk was twinged with sadness that she isn't also saying "cachorro" or "pato" despite the fact that I have taught her those words too. Admittedly, cachorro is a harder word to say than doggy. But pato? We have began intense "Seu Lobato" sing-a-longs to catch up her Portugese bestiary vocabulary to her English. (Seu Lobato is Old MacDonald in Portuguese, and I have only recently learned it myself.)

Aside from my mother's question "But shouldn't she learn English first?", our family is supportive of the idea of raising her bilingual. I think it is my job to figure out ways for them to help, even when they don't speak the language themselves. One way to endear my mom to the idea was to have C call her Vovó, short for Avó - grandmother in Portuguese. After much coaching and repitition, both my mother and C can say Vovó perfectly. It has definitely stuck. When we pull up to my mom's house, C now squeals "Vovooo!" This makes both my mom and I smile.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Welcome to Brilha, Brilha, Little Star!

(Lyrics below!)

This blog has had many incarnations - it started as "A Minha Vida", about my new life in New Orleans, then when I moved to Angola and began a new blog about that new life called "Maruvu", this blog became "Vector Control", more about public health and less about personal stories. We've been home from Angola for over a year - a year completely taken over my the addition to our little family, C. There are so many parenting blogs out there - and I see why, much advice is needed! - but the aspect of parenting I most want to chronicle is my attempt to raise my daughter bilingual in Portuguese.

This phase of the blog will be called "Brilha Brilha, Little Star", a mix of the English and Portuguese versions of the song "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star." I will post mostly about my experience teaching C. Portuguese, but also other interesting items about linguistics, travel and maybe some public health themes too.

While I speak Portuguese fluently, I am not a native speaker myself. This will make it harder - but I have felt very encouraged by other blogs by parents who are also not native speakers of the language they are teaching their children. From what I can tell so far, bilingual parenting is a lot like breastfeeding - it helps to know you aren't alone, that everyone's experience is different, complicated, but ultimately invaluable!

And, for those who may have come across this blog while looking for the Portuguese lyrics to "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Start", here you are: 

Brilha, Brilha, Estrelinha - Português

Brilha, brilha estrelinha,
Lá no céu pequenininha.

Solitária se conduz,
Pelo céu com tua luz.

Noite a noite veja bem,
Fico triste se não vem.

Brilha, brilha estrelinha,
Lá no céu pequenininha,

Lá no alto brilhas tu,
Dando luz ao céu azul.

Olha só repare bem,
Já dormiu o meu neném

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star - English

Twinkle, twinkle, little star

How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are. 

Other posts on Portuguese.