Concept Checking


Gravity is a concept, right?

Last week I posted about how Thomas had learnt the concept of himself as an independent person. He did this by proudly pointing to himself when I asked him who had scribbled all over the window in blue crayon.

When I was doing my MA in Linguistics, one of the lecturers claimed that the first conept we learn as babies is that of in and out.  He said we learn that by putting things into our mouths and then taking them out again.  It certainly seems a plausible hypothesis.  Thomas has learnt and relearnt that concept a million times as one of his favourite pastimes is to put stuff in a box and then take it out and put it in again and take it out again, ad infinitum.  It can be strangely relaxing to watch him do this.

Under the sofa

One of the first things I was aware of Thomas learning was the concept of ‘under’.  When he had just started to crawl he liked to roll a small little yellow ball under the sofa.  I would be waiting behind the sofa to get the ball and roll it back to him.  One of the sights that I will never forget is him positioning himslef so that he could see with one eye under the sofa to see where the ball was and actually realising that he had seen me.

I spy a ball and an eye

I spy a ball… and a baby

Up, up and away

I remember being in the UK last November and his nana was at the upstairs window calling down to me and Thomas.  I tried to get him to look up at the window to see her, but he just was having any of it.  He looked all around him and below him, but couldn’t or wouldn’t look up.  If I threw a ball at him he would track the movement, but if I threw it up in the air above him he would just look dumbfuonded when it disappeared and then utterly surprised when it fell in front of him.

A few months ago he noticed trees and lamp posts and started to look up.  He still gets moments when he looks at trees and the wires that run acorss the streets here in Curitiba nd he just stops as if he is gobsmacked by how something could be up there.

Size matters

It seems that Thomas is currently getting his head around the idea of something being too big or too small.  He has a toy petrol station that has a road going into it an around it.  One part of the toy is a a car wash with two sponges on either side and a sign across the top.  Cars over a certain size won’t fit through this gap which caused a lot of problems in the early days as he tried to force big cars through it.  Nowadays he will pick up a big car, look at it and then at the petrol station and then sadly shake hs head and say ‘no’.

Is the truck too big for the car wash, or the car wash too small for the truck?

Is the truck too big for the car wash, or the car wash too small for the truck?

These few concepts are obviously not the only ones Thomas has learnt (see below).  Instead they are the ones I have enjoyed watching him learn.  Are there any conepts that you remember watching your child learn?

Extra reading:

Infants Grasp Gravity with Innate Sense of Physics –

Babies understand numbers as abstract concepts –

I did it!

Crayon Lineup

These colour names are a bit complicated for Thomas at the moment.

We reached a milestone the other day.  Thomas got hold of his crayons and started scribbling all over the window out onto the balcony.  I stopped him as soon as I realised what he was doing, but by that time he had already used up a lot of the blue crayon.  A bit later I was showing his vovo what he had done and I asked him ‘Who did that’ and he pointed at himself.

This is the first time he has explicitly shown that he is aware of himself and he has since done it when asked other questions in both Portuguese and English.  He still hasn’t said his name yet, but this shows that he is learning a lot even if it isn’t immediately obvious to us.

I suppose, though, that one of the next concepts he will learn is to say ‘I didn’t do it’ when it really was him.  Not that he would have learned that from his father.

Getting Around Curitiba: Pavements

I like walking.  Give me the chance to walk or drive or get the bus and I’ll walk almost every time.  I walk a lot in Curitiba, but very few other people do.  Here follows a bit of a rant, but it’s all true, I even have photos to back it up.

Curitba’s streets are not paved with gold.  At times it seems that they are more paved with holes than anything else which means that walking around the city can be a challenge.  You will need a good pair of walking shoes, or at the very least a comfortable pair of trainers.  Forget those heels, ladies.  And as for walking around with a pushchair; not a chance!

Traditional Streets

The authroities here in Curitiba seem to thing that the material you use for paving your streets gives the city some sort of identity.  Traditionally they used these square blocks of stone that were the bane of many a pedestrian’s life.  They are uneven at the best of times, and at the worst you could easily break your ankle on them.  After a short while one of the blocks would become loose and allow water under it.  If you stepped on the block at the wrong angle a shotof water would fly up all over your clean white trousers.

Sometimes, for some unfathomable reason, one of the blocks would be upside down, so that the not-so-flat part was on the bottom and the really-unflat part was on the top.  Why?  How?

And then after a few more weeks some of the blocks would just be missing completely and so you would need 4×4 to get around the pavements.


A not very flat pavement.

The grey brick road

So the prefeitura (council), in its infinite wisdom decided to introduce a new type of block that would be flatter (yay) and easier to maintain (double yay).  Here is a picture of a pavement that was laid about 3 months ago.


It might not be the brick’s fault.  It might well be shoddy workmanship.  But it’s probably both.

In some areas of Curitiba they have this pretty nifty idea of marking the walk for blind people with a different type of paving slab that has ridges to make it easy to follow.  Or easy to fall over.

The roots are showing

Apparently, the responsibilty for the upkeep of pavements lies with the owner of the land directly behind the pavement.  The prefeitura only has the responisbilty to make sure the landowner is looking after the pavement.  Obviously this system is not working.


Then there is the fact that many people who drive cars seem to think that the pavements are just an extension of the road; that they are place to leave the car when you have to drop the washing off at the laundrette.

In this first picture, the gate to the drive was open so the driver culd have gone into the building, but he decided it was much safer for all concerned to leave it across the pavement.  Grrrrrr!

And it isn’t just the the mindless drivers, it is also the mindless prefeitura (council again).  Imagine this, you have a narrow pavement with a bit of grass to the side.  You want ot put a huge lamp post somewhere in the vicinity.  Where do you put it?  On the pavement or on the grass?

The bin bag doesn’t help of course, but that’s just another one of the challenges to walking around Curitiba.

The thing is, they do have some pavements that are excellent and flat and brilliant for walking on.  You could push a pushchair with no problems and the blind would be able to walk down them without fear.  They are easy to maintain and cheap to install.  They are called cylce lanes.  Although nobody cycles in them because there are too many peolpe walking on them.  The problem must be that they don’t give the right impression.

Curitiba, where very few streets are paved with tarmac.

The impression I get is that this city is not designed for people to walk, only to drive.  Get off the pavements and into your car.  And unfotunately, that is exactly what most Curitibanos do.

And these stories only come from a few neighbourhoods around the centre of the city.  If you move out a bit the only pavements are mud.

Crossing the road

I mentioned in another post how it can be difficult to find a place to cross the road.  At a crossroads you can only safely cross the road at two points because the other points always have cars coming into them.  There is rarely a pause when all the cars are stopped to allow pedestrians to cross.  This is made even worse by the fact that drivers see the amber light as a signal to speed up rather than slow down.  This means that they come flying through the lights just as the next set of cars starts up, giving the pedestrain no time to even run across the road in those few seconds when the lights are red for both arms of the crossroads.

Rant over.

What Do You Know About Brazilians?

Flag of Brazil Português: Bandeira do Brasil E...

Flag of Brazil (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If I wanted to tell you about Brazilians and what they are like I could spend ages talking about their likes and dislikes, their politics, history and culture, how they spend their free time and what they spend their money on. It would take ages and would probably leave you not much wider than you were before.

Alternatively, I could point you in the direction of this brilliant blog called What I Know About Brazilians. It is written by Manuel Schneider, a German who lived in Brazil for a while, including in Curitiba, the city I live in. It is funny, insightful and, to my eyes at least, mostly true.

I have shared it on Facebook with my Brazilian friends and used it with a number of students and the feedback has always been positive.  A few people have even remarked about how it takes the eyes of a foreigner to tell you something about your own country.  There are one or two things that I might take issue with, but i’ll leave it up to you to decide for yourself.

The Loudest Roar


I like this book.  It is a simple story of a little mischievous lion called Clovis who likes to cause havoc with his roar.  Clovis has the loudest roar in the jungle and he is very proud of it.  He likes to wait until the other animals in are quietly going about their busy when…all of a sudden ‘there’s Clovis’ scaring them all half to death with his roar.  The result is all manner of animals from parrots to wlderbeests and elephants being too afraid to do anything.

Of course, the other animals are non too happy at the prospect of some deafening rorar when they least expect it from little Clovis.  So they all get together to teach Clovis a lesson; one that he is not happy to learn but accepts it anyway.  Well, more or less.

It is a simple and well told story by Thomas Taylor who also did the great, colourful illustrations.  Most kids will love the fact that they can imiate to the roar of the tiger and the noise of the animlas.  They will also have fun pointing to the differnt animals as they appear in the book.  It should be a huge hit with any kid from around 1-3.

Except it isn’t a hit at all with Thomas and I can’t figure out why.  Thomas loves making animal noises, and this book has loads.  He loves colourful pictures with lots of different things to point at for me to name, and this has got them by the dozen.  And yet, for some reason, he has never been a fan ; I might like this book, but Thomas doesn’t.

I’ll Have Peppa Pig for Lunch, Please

Peppa Pig


Despite being one of the greatest people ever to walk this earth, I am still human.  And as such I have been known to make the odd mistake.  As a parent I seem to be making more mistakes than normal, but, like I said, I am only a mere human, despite appearances.  In this post I will talk about one of the mistakes I have made as part of the Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival.

Our son is now approaching 21 months old and we are currently dealing with a mistake that I first made about 15 months ago.  In order to keep my parents involved with their first, and so far only, grandchild, when Thomas was first able to sit up straight and started to eat proper food I decided to call them on Skype so that they could see him.  It turned out that there were a number of advantages to doing this; Thomas was captive and so couldn’t crawl away; my parents could talk to him, sing songs to him and coo over him as if he was really in the room; Thomas seemed to like interacting with them while he was eating and would often offer them his food.

We didn’t do this all of the time.  We would often have a weekend breakfast together when Thomas would have some mashed up fruit, I would have some corn flakes and his nana would eat her toast.  It was all very satisfying and felt like a proper family breakfast, just a few thousand miles apart.

It got to the point where if Thomas saw the laptop in the kitchen as he was eating breakfast he would call out for nana (he still can’t say granddad) until I fired it up and called her.  Once she was on the screen everything was fine.

One day I turned the computer on and the problems started.  Nana wasn’t online.  But Thomas was still calling for her and was not all that interested in his food.  What was I going to do?  The computer was on, I had a recalcitrant child who was brewing up a tantrum.  There seemed only one answer.  I put Peppa Pig on youtube and the resulting silence was only interrupted by giggles and the sound of food being eaten or dropped on the floor.

Fast forward a year and whenever Thomas isn’t starving he calls out ‘Pee, Pee!’ for his favourite pig.  We sing songs to him, dance for him, once I even got the newspaper and kept turning the pages over in front of him.  All of these strategies work for a couple of minutes, but eventually it is back to ‘Pee, Pee!’  We shouldn’t do it.  We know it is bad for all concerned. We know we are storing up problems for the future.  But right now it is easier just to put Daddy Pig and Mommy Pig on youtube and revel in the few minutes’ quiet that ensues.

In terms of his language skills it hasn’t really done much for him.  He now uses ‘pee pee’ for pig and he tries to grunt, but it comes out as more of a sniff.  He also use ‘pee pee’ for the colour ‘pink’, which means he now has two colour words, and both are in English so far (the other being blue).  He understands most of the other colours in both English and Portuguese, but these are the only two he can produce.

So what have I learned from this?  Well now I phone my parents on Skype on my phone and they watch Thomas playing with his toys.  He tends to ignore them quite a bit, but they still see him growing up and developing.  I’ve also learned that maybe, just maybe, I am not as great as I once thought I was.

Related articles

This post was inspired by the Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival which is organised by

This months carnival is being hosted by and should be available from April 29th.  Head over there to find lots of other blog posts, all on the theme of ‘Looking Back.’

How We Chose Our Son’s Name

Names not to be forgotten

Names not to be forgotten

We had a number of criteria when choosing our son’s name.  To make it slightly more complicated we chose not to know his sex until he was born.  Here in Brazil this is almost unheard of and actually led to a couple of barbed comments from certain people.

We spent a long time discussing various names, and most of the ones we came up with we discarded for some of the reasons below.

Two languages, one name

We wanted a name that would work in both English and Portuguese.  It didn’t have to have exactly the same pronunciation, but we wanted people in either culture to read the name and recognise it.  This meant that a lot of traditional Irish names were out of the running because Brazilians would have no idea how to pronounce it.  I can remember what it was like at school for other kids who had exotic names and some of the teachers would make a right meal out of saying them, to giggles from all of the other students.  I didn’t particularly want anything like this to happen to my son.

Not overtly-religious

We live in a very Christian country but my wife is not particularly religous and I am positivly anti-religion.  I didn’t want to have a name that would always be asociated with the Bible, so names like Christian or Pedro/Peter were out.


There are some names that just sound wrong.  Here in Brazil Arthur is quite a common name, but whenever I hear it I just imagine it being said in Cockney accent on Eastenders (recently this image has been waning a bit).  I like the name Douglas, after Douglas Adams, but even I have to admit that it sounds really bad in Portuguese.

No family and friends

Neither of us wanted a name that was already taken by somebody else in our close families, or that one of our friends had given to their kids.  It shows a lack of imagination and can get very confusing, nevermind the fact that our son might have to live up (or down) to the original person.  I like the name Alex, but that is my father-in-law’s name.  We both like the name Jack, but I have a friend with a son of the same name, and a cousin.

In the end, about the only name we could agree on was Thomas, but we still waited until he was born to decide for sure.  It is a religous name, as Thomas was one of the 12 disciples, but at least he had the good sense to ask for evidence.  The name works in both languages, with only a slight difference in word stress.  There are a number of positive connotations for me when I hear the name; Thomas Beckett, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Edison, Dylan Thomas, Thomas Payne (my favourite) and Thomas Morem, although I hate Tom Cruise and I am not sure about Thomas Aquinas, which is the name of my old school.  And finally, I can’t think of any close relatives or friends’ kids who have the same name.

If we had had a girl then it would have been a lot more complicated as we couldn’t really decide on anything.  If we have another child (and that is a big if at the moment) the name choosing will be even more problematic as we don’t have anything that we agree on anymore.

Related articles

That’s Not My Name:

Naming Our (Future) Bilingual Baby:

How To Name A Child When You’re An Expat: The European Mama