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.

1 comment:

Paul O'Dowd said...


Thanks for the twinkle twinkle translation. Meu neto (18 months)e um Brasiliero. Ele more na Campinas, Sao Paulo com seu pai (nos filho).
So his first language will be English. We're Irish and we go there maybe twice a year. So we have the same problem as you but the opposite.

Obrigado. Paul