These diary entries start with my pregnancy with my first child and are on-going. They describe my daily experiences--the good, the bad, and the funnt-- of raising a child bilingual. Christine Jernigan 08:31, 27 April 2006 (MST)
Anything in italicized parentheses are comments I added later to say what worked, what I modified, etc.
January 1, 2002 (nearly one month old) For the first time, today speaking Portuguese came naturally. I didn’t have to switch myself into it, it just happened. Surprisingly, it even happened while other people were in the room –momma and Stephen were with me. Last night I spoke on the phone to Olga. She’s immigrated to Australia from Kazakhstan and has been speaking Russian to Nicole, her 3 year old. Nicole understands but responds in English. Olga can say in Russian, “Go tell Daddy X,” and she’ll go tell him in English. Olga’s not worried that Nicole doesn’t speak it, says it’s just passive knowledge and that’s enough. She doesn’t think it’s good to speak Russian with her around other people because she’ll become self-conscious. She told me about a German who did that and the kid felt singled out. Also Olga said Nicole learned to talk late because she had the two languages in her head. At 2.5 she started to speak and did it in complete sentences, though, not just one word at a time. She also said she found Russian children’s books at the library. I may interview Olga for the book to get more information.
January 3, 2002 One thing I’ve done to improve my Portuguese daily is monologues. I tell Sydney as I breastfeed about our plan for the day, looking up in a dictionary any words I don’t know. I have conversations with myself that I’ll have with people later on like at Brazilian playgroup. I look up verb sand words I have trouble with. For conversations I’m sure I’ll have, I even write them down in my data notebook.
January 6, 2002 (one month old today!) Talked to the Brazilian leader of the playgroup, Lia, and she said there is no problem with my not being Brazilian that the group is for people wanting to raise billingual children. I’ll go Friday for the first time. I feel a bit odd going with a newborn but Brazilians always make me feel at home so that I won’t worry about too much. It’ll take awhile to get there because we’re going by ferry. I think it’ll be worth it though, just to have contact with Brazilians.
January 7, 2002 I was reading the Harding book, “The Bilingual Family.” One social strategy they mentioned was acting as if you understand even when you don’t. Made me think of the phone conversation I had with Lia (leader of the Br. Playgroup). She thought I was Brazilian at first and I was having trouble understanding her sometimes when she said things I wasn’t expecting so I made some cover up about my phone not being the best so she wouldn’t know it was my problem. The problem with my Portuguese is that my accent and foreign language communication skills (cognitive and social) are better than my vocabulary and grammar. That makes me appear Brazilian but not particularly smart. For example, in an email I’d sent Lia earlier I’d wanted to say the baby was “due” Dec. 7th but wasn’t sure about using “due” so I said we were expecting her the 7th. Lia thought that meant for sure we were expecting her, and assumed we’d scheduled a C-section so on the phone she asked, (I thought out of the blue) if I’d had a C-section. That threw me b/c it didn’t fit with our conversation and therefore I didn’t understand it so basically I want the Brazilian mothers to know I’m American because I’d rather look foreign than look dumb or odd.Also I worry about, since I’m not a native Brazilian, whether I’ll teach Sydney the language but not really the culture since it’s not my culture. (I changed my mind some on this one later on)…
January 8, 2002 Another vocabulary builder I’ve started is what I call and “alphabet run.” I started on the Portuguese English side of the dictionary and went through a page of ½ of the “a’s” checking for words I don’t know and feel are useful. When I found one I write it down and the definition in English and any usage notes. If unsure about usage I put a . and leave space to use it in context later when I meet with a Brazilian tutor. I’m careful not to skip over words I think are easy because often alternative usages are there. For example, “aberto” means “open” which of course I know but it’s also used to say “running” as in “the tap is running” (O torneiro esta aberto.”) After a page and ½ I move to another letter marking my place b/c after awhile all the ‘a’ words start to run together.
January 10, 2002 I went to Brazilian playgroup. It took forever to get there. 2 ferries and had to leave the house early so I lost those 1-1/2 hours of sleep I get in after her early morning feed. Got there, to the park, right at 10 and no one was there. I walked around the park with mom who’s here visiting me. We were sneaking near people listening to see if anyone was speaking Portuguese but to no avail. I felt like some sort of linguistic stalker. I sat down to let Sydney breastfeed for ½ an hour but still no one had come. Mom walked around the park outskirts listening . I saw a mother going towards the park entrance calling to her daughter, “vem” and asked her in Portuguese if she was Brazilian. She was and was there for the playgroup.
We talked while and then mom came back and I switched to English to introduce her. The lady looked stunned, “your mom’s not Brazilian?” She said after a long pause where she seemed to have trouble deciding what language to address me in. I told her no, she’s American. She looked so confused. I guess in her mind I was a Brazilian in Australia with an American mother. I have a native like accent. Other mothers laughed to hear I’d lived in Minas and said I had a Mineiran accent (comparable to a foreigner in the States sounding like they’re from the deep south). I joined her and one other Brazilian already in the park. She had no one to talk to so of course we hadn’t heard Portuguese before. Mom had joked that we could so some racial profiling to determine who was Brazilian but that’s tough with Brazilians b/c they’re from all origins so there are so many different colors of skin, eye color, facial features, etc. Other mothers were even later to arrive so
I stood talking to Leyna, the woman who’d been on time and alone. I was surprised when her son approached, a red headed 7 year old dressed from head to toe as Harry Potter, complete with broken glasses and the lightening bolt forehead scar (temporary tattoo) because I asked him in Portuguese what his name was and he stared blankly back at me. Leyna broke in embarrassed to say his Portuguese isn’t so good. I asked in English and his face lit up, “Lucas.” My heart sank to have seen a “failed bilingual attempt” as my first meeting. Leyna explained that she’d tried to get him to speak but he wasn’t interested-didn’t wanna be different perhaps, she surmised.
The only exceptions were when 1. He met a friend who was Chinese at school and later saw him speaking Chinese to his mom. Leyna said she guessed then it didn’t’ see such a weird set up to him or when 2. 2. He met a man (perhaps a family member visiting, I didn’t catch that) speaking Portuguese. Leyna didn’t offer a guess on why this was the case, but I would assume it’s because he saw a man speaking and realized it wasn’t just a womanly thing to do. This makes me question whether many children begin rebelling against another language at the same stage they become so concerned with gender roles. That would be interesting to look into. I wonder if it’s more difficult for that reason for the opposite sex to teach/learn the language (especially mother-son). It also makes me wonder if it’s much easier for the second child to speak the language because then it’s not only mom who speaks it.
Met other mothers who arrived afterwards who’s had more success stories. All but one were married to Australian. The one married to a Brazilian said she wouldn’t respond to her kids in English. She said her son had picked up a really heavy “Paulista R” and she’s not sure why because- though she and her husband are from there, she doesn’t have a heavy R accent. Interestingly it transferred to his English so he said “sister ‘with the same R. She said she didn’t care about accent he spoke Portuguese as long as he spoke it. Another mother also acted as if she didn’t understand English when her child spoke it to her. She even spoke Portuguese in her husband’s presence though and would let her son translate. She said oftentimes he’d translate in his own favour telling the dad “Mom said I could” when in fact he’d been prohibited. The dad had quickly added “mentira” (lie) to his limited passive Portuguese vocabulary.
From what I saw, all but Leyna were success stories. I had no trouble interacting in Portugeuse with the children. I noticed many mothers had been here so long and had grown accustomed to speaking English to Australians or Portuguese to Brazilians who also speak English, so they often code switch on certain words. Leyna kept using “escar” to talk about Lucas’s tattoo of a Harry Potter lightening scar. After she had an audience listening to her story of how Harry Potter-crazed her son had become, it seemed to dawn on her she was using the English word. She asked how to say “scar” and I told her “cicatriz”. She also used the English word “tattoo” which was quickly and subtly corrected to “tatuagem.” No one had bothered to correct “escar” but I assume they considered “tattoo” a greater infraction since in Portuguese “tattoo” (spelled “tatu” but with the same pronunciation) means “armadillo.” Another woman said “descomfortavel” in a sentence and then paused and said, “Is it descomfortavel” as if she were unsure of the prefix. In fact it’s “incomodo.”
January 16, 2002 Talked to Elizabeth Read today, a girlfriend from Texas. She’s interested in raising her son Jacob to speak Spanish. He’d learned a few words in preschool and some songs. He was so cute trying them out on me. He would also speak some nonsense words like “Wayday” and claim they were “Fanish words” (he had trouble with “sp” so he talked about sweet “fices” in cookes and playing on his “sit and fin”). She may pay a private teacher.
She’s also interested in improving her own Spanish so she can “reinforce things at home” (personal correspondance January 15, 02).I guess even if Jacob didn’t end up getting into Spanish, all wouldn’t be lost b/c at least she would be able to speak a bit more.
January 19, 2002 Another language learning technique I’ve started doing is reading baby websites in Portuguese. I enjoyed taking “What do you know about breastfeeding survey” and the language was easy because I could guess from context. Also there are often lots of pictures. Also I’m reading a collection of Brazilian short stories and keeping a dictionary with me. It helps to check words as I go but not to write them down til I’ve finished the story. Then I skim over the story a second time and write down the words I’ve learned in the margin. Circling any not found in the dictionary because some day I will get a tutor and will need material to go over with her.
January 29, 2002
Another language learning trick: I end up eating in the kitchen alone quite often or am in the kitchen waiting on the tea to heat hot water or the microwave to heat something and find myself rereading whichever notes are on the fridge, looking at photos on the fridge, etc. So I started making notes on the large-sized post-its like verbs I have trouble with, new vocabulary etc.
February 14, 2002 Am realizing some things that don’t translate. At the 1:00 am feed I wished Sydney a happy “Dia dos Namorados” which really isn’t the same as Valentine’s Day because it translates, “Day of Boy/Girlfriends” and in Brazil you really only give gifts to the romantic love of your life. In the States and in Australia, you give cards to family members or friends. It made me laugh. That’s when it’s okay to code switch I guess. “Feliz Valentines Day, Preciosa!”
It’ll be interesting because we’ll have the American culture but with Portuguese words. I guess we can adapt things because in every household there are traditions that stray from the “norm.” I remember when I first married Stephen we had misunderstanding (I even cried or got upset if I remember) with Valentines Day b/c in my house growing up, my dad always had 2 heart-shaped boxes of chocolates on the breakfast table, one for me one for Momma. They sort of greeted us into the holiday. Same for Easter once I was past the Easter bunny stage…he’d have a chocolate bunny for each of us there for breakfast time. When Stephen hadn’t done anything for Valentines day by the end of breakfast, I assumed he’d forgotten. For him, he’d just planned to give me a little gift that evening. So we both ended up modifying our expectations a bit (I feel sure he ended up having to change more than I did) All this to say that in each household you decide how to celebrate holidays and we can consciously add a Brazilian flair where we choose to. Sometimes the hard part is that I don’t’ KNOW how Brazilians do things differently. That’s where having Brazilian friends helps.I’ll ask a Brazilian how they do Valentines day in their home. My only reference so far is the family I lived with in Brazil and I remember one of the girls who didn’t have a boyfriend laughed over dinner saying she and a girlfriend at school decided to exchange gifts since she too didn’t have a boyfriend. The family thought this a great novelty whereas in the states, those little tiny red or pink valentines in white envelopes with the sugary heart shaped candies in boxes were fine for friends
---February 10, 2002--- I am so exhausted. Forget teaching her Portuguese. I need to teach how to sleep through the night. I talked about the lack of sleep to two ladies at a mothers’ group I go to (not the Brazilian one) and one said, “My baby slept through the night at 3 weeks” and the other said, “It was a year for mine.” I wanted to kill both of them. Being tired makes me depressed. No energy to do much of anything.
---February 22, 2002--- Brazilian playgroup for the second time. It went well. It was held this time as it will continue to be held, in the “Parents as Teachers” room of a public elementary school. Each mom brings a piece of fruit and $2. The kids have free play, then sit and eat a fruit salad while a mom reads a Brazilian story. More free play then singing. I was pleased to recognize three songs I’d learned from my tutoring sessions.
Talked with several women. One woman Jaquerli had a newborn and another child. She’d been in Australia with Brazilian migrant parents who spoke only Portuguese in the home. She had grown up in a Brazilian church, the 7th Day Adventist- in Sydney. Her Portuguese was fluent and without accent though she often substituted uncommon words for words in English like “express milk” or “dimple” even though expressions/words exist for both in Portuguese. In her household she spoke Portuguese and her husband spoke Swiss (he’s Swiss and they’d lived in Switzerland for some time. She said the kids spoke no English until preschool and picked it up no problem. She says occasionally one of their children will ask for something in English and she (with a sweet and quizzical look) asks in Portuguese “What was it you wanted?” and they will go into Portuguese. She doubts they “slip” due to forget fullness. I met a nanny of 18 or 19 who had a 3 year old who understood Port. beautifully and had a Brazilian nanny since birth. She loved playing with the other kids and you’d never know her parents were both monolingual Australians. The nanny works only 3 days a week so it’s incredible what she’s accomplished during that time.
As to my own Portuguese, I made a slip up when the playgroup leader (who looked quite tired even had circles under her eyes) mentioned how little sleep she’d been getting. I slipped up using the wrong expression and said (instead of “yeah, you really feel it”) “Yeah, it’s obvious”. I apologized and she laughed saying my Portuguese may’ve been not what I meant to say but it wasn’t “wrong” indicating so by touching her dark eye circles.
Leyna’s son is still the only child who doesn’t speak Portuguese though seems to interact well with the other children so I’d like to find out if he speaks Portuguese with them. His mom speaks Portuguese to him, but he responds in English.
---March 19, 2002---
I have some concerns. Some things I really worry about concern reading. I really don’t want Sydney to miss out on books I read as a child. Also Stephen worries that I teach her his name and he teachers her my name. I’m not sure that’s the case b/c with children, adults often refer to themselves with the 3rd person. To allay his fears and because I’m not sure he’s wrong, I’ll say his name in English even while speaking the rest of the sentence in Portuguese and he’ll do the same, saying “mamae” to refer to me even while speaking English to Sydney. “Cade o Daddy?” and “Where’s Mamae” she’ll hear.
I found another good resource. They make these little photo albums or just make your own. That way you can “read” it in either language. We just got one and I talk to her about the people and their relation to her. Then Stephen reads it to her in English and talks to her about how each one loves her and which ones she’s met and which ones she hasn’t.