Our son now has a new word: ‘agua’ meaning ‘water’.  At the moment his definition of agua seems to be ‘anything I can drink or pour on the floor’ and so also applies to juice.  He doesn’t quite say it properly as he msses out the /g/ sound, but it is still obvious what is wants to say.  He also recognises the word ‘suco’ (‘juice’) because when we offer him some he will either nod or shake his head depending on his want.

However, he still doesn’t seem to recognise the English word ‘juice’.  I offered him some juice the other day and he gave me such a withering look as if to say ‘what the hell are you talking about, daddy?’

When he started to say the word agua it reminded of a great TED video called ‘The Birth of a Word’ by Deb Roy.  I recommend this to anyone interested in children’s language development, especially the first part of the talk.


No, não, know, Noel…

One utterance with so many different meanings.  No, não (no in Portuguese), no (a preposition in Portuguese meaning ‘in’), know, Noel (my brother’s name).  I realise that in the adult world some of these have slightly different pronunciations, but it the baby world of T, they are all the same.

I am never quite sure which one he wants to say, but he says them a lot.  I am fairy comfortable with ‘no’ as he will usually shake his head at the same time just to emphasise the fact.  ‘Noel’ is used for any van or lorry, especially if it is white.  (When we were in the UK last month my brother would often take our son to sit in the driving seat of his white van.  It became something of an obsession and so every time he sees a white van he shouts out ‘Noel’.)

I am fairly sure T doesn’t use the word ‘know’ yet, but when he uses the schwa (as I mentioned in a prevous post) before before the word it can sound like he is saying ‘I know’.  Likewise, I don’t think he is aware of the use of a preposition in Portuguese.

He seems to like the word so much that he will just repeat it to himself over and over again, for minutes on end.  I love it when he does something like this as he seems to get so much enjoyment out of playing with the sounds and just experiencein them on his tongue.

‘A’ – prefix, article, random sound?

We are getting more and more chatter by the day now.  Most of it is random, meaningless (at least to us it is) sounds.  One thing we have noticed, though, is the use of ‘a’ before words.  Instead of just saying ‘mamãe’ for ‘mommy’ he seems to often say ‘a mamãe’.  He will often also say ‘a daddy’ and ‘a ball’.  The same is true for his made up word for car ‘a buda’.

The pronunciation of this sound is rather like the schwa  and so can sometimes seem to disappear if you aren’t listening for it.

There has been a bit of discussion about what this sound represents.  One theory is that it is an article: both English and Portuguese use ‘a’ as an article, in English it is the indefinite article and in Portuguese it is a definite article for feminine words.  Personally I don’t think he would have noticed this usage yet, especially as in both loamguages the ‘a’ is so weak that I don’t think he would have noticed it being used as an article.

Another theory is that he is using it as a prefix.  Quite what the prefix might be for, though, is anybody’s guess.

The finaly theory we have come up with, and my personal favourite, is that he likes to have some sort of vowel sound to start a word or utterance.  It might be that he finds it strange to start with a consonant and so use the ‘a’ or schwa sound before using a consonant.

The thing is, we are never going to know why he is really using this sound, but it makes for a good argument.

Cartoon names

Along with the small but developing vocabulary for family names our son also seems to be most interested in cartoon characters’ names.  His favourite character, despite my best efforts to keep him away from it, is Galinha Pintadinha (Painted Chicken).  This is quite a phenomenon among pre-school kids here in Brazil with lots of different short videos that use mainly traditional songs and nursery rhymes with modern animation.  I can’t stand it, but every child under the age of three seems to love it.  My son’s name for it is Po Po which is the sound that a chicken makes according to Brazilians.

As an attempt to keep him away from Galinha Pintadinha I introduced him to Sesame Street.  I bought a couple of books, showed him the occasional video and the nappies that he wears have Big Bird, Bert and Elmo on them.  He seems to be a big fan of Elmo and can say his name when he sees him on the the nappies or in his books.

He also kows about Winnie the Pooh from a couple of books that we have and some lego he got for his first birthday which has Pooh, Tigger and Piglet.  He says ‘Pooh’ and ‘Ger’ for Tigger and understands Piglet but doesn’t have a name for him yet.

He also has a passive understanding of the character Iggle Piggle from In The Night Garden.  My parents brought a video of this out to Brazil the first tie they visited and it has become something of a habit for him to watch it before going to bed.  When he is tired he moves his finger around the palm of his hand the way they do at the beginnig at the programme to tell us he wants to watch it and then go to bed.

Finally, there is Thomas the Tank Engine (or Thomas and His Friends as I think it has been re-branded today).  He has never watched an episode of Thomas, but when we were in the UK my parents found an old Thomas engine that he could sit on and ride at a car boot sale.  It cost 50p but was the best 50p ever spent.  He also has the books and loves seeing the pictures of Thomas.  He still hasn’t said Thomas, but he has name recognition.

Our Strategy

Our strategy is roughly based on One Person One Language (OPOL).  However, I think I would ammend it be One Person One Language Most Of The Time.

We have a situation where I speak the minority language (English) while my wife will speak the majority language (Portuguese).  However, English has a positive status in Brazil and around the world so while it is in theory the minority lanaguage I am not anticipating  all of the problems that are often associated with such languages.

When I am with my son I will speak English.

When my wife is with him, she will speak Portuguese.

When the three of us are together we will speak mainly English, but with some Portuguese thrown in.

When we are with Brazilian friends and family we will speak mainly Portuguese, but I will also speak English when it doesn’t cause problems with other listeners.  A lot of our friends and family speak English so there will be lots of opportunities for me to speak English in the presence of others.

When we are with English speaking friends and family, for example in the UK, we will speak mainly English but with some Portuguese thrown in.

Our main aim is for our son not to feel compelled to speak any particular language, but to give him the freedom to choose.  I want him to be comfortable speaking, first and foremost, and I think that, given time, this will lead to him being comfortable to speak in the language that is appropriate for the given context.

However, this is still very early days and I am aware that I am probably being very naive.  I am sure this strategy will need looking at and re-working in the coming years.  If anybody else has any input or ideas regarding our plans, I would be grateful to hear them.

Back in Brazil

The three weeks that we spent in the UK coincided with my son starting to experiment a lot more with sounds and language.  It has been a pleasure to see him take certain sounnds a play with thim, repeating them again and again as if he is trying them out to see if he likes them or not.

Upon returning to Brazil he has stopped calling me ‘papai’ and has continued to use ‘daddy’.  He sometimes uses the Portuguese ‘mamãe’ and sometimes the English ‘mommy’.  His mother is trying to encourage him to only use the Portuguese version.  He has also started to use an approximation of  ‘vo vó’ (granny) although the /v/ sounds more like a /b/.  I assume that the /v/ is a more difficult sound as it requires friction between the lower lip and the upper teeth and this demands more control over the lips.  A /b/ sound must be much easier to produce.

As with his father, he doesn’t yet seem to notice the difference in pronunciation between vo vó and vo võ (granddad), although he hasn’t had that much practice as of yet.

Words so far

We have just got back from our first trip to the UK to see family and friends since our son was born.  He is now 16 months old and was already starting to experiment with different sounds before we went on our trip.  His first word was ‘ball’ which he came up with when he was about 13 months old.  I was half surprised that this was in English, although the English word and the Portuguese word ‘bola’ aren’t a million miles apart.

He was also able to say ‘mamãe’ for ‘mother’ and was using ‘papai’ for ‘daddy’.  I wasn’t too impressed with being called papai as I wanted to be a ‘dad’ or ‘daddy’, but I let him say what he wanted.  All of the input he had been getting from friends and relatives was papai so I wasn’t surprised.  I figured he woud eventually choose which one to use in the future, with a lot of motivation from me for it to be ‘daddy’.

In the three weeks we were in the UK his verbal skills have progressed considerably.  He used to babble to himself a bit, but now he is doing it a lot.  He will talk to people, even though it is just random sounds coming out of his mouth.  He quickly picked up ‘nana’ (my mother doesn’t want to be called ‘granny’) and Noel (my brother’s name).  He couldn’t get to grips with granddad at all so he uses ‘gog gog’ as a substitution.

When he first arrived he also said ‘bruu’ or ‘brum’ for car.  This quckly changed to ‘abu’ and then to ‘abuda’.  I have no idea where these last two have come from as they don’t mean anything in either English or Portuguese.  As soon as the family realised what ‘abuda’ meant, though, we repeated it back to him so he had some positive feedback and kept using it.