On the Verge

English: Cowslips in the verge

Cowslips in the verge (Photo: Wikipedia)

As a learner of a foreign language I sometimes get this feeling that I am about to make a breakthrough.  After lots of struggle without really improving my language, I can occasionally feel as if I am on the verge of figuring something out, or performing better in my adopted language.  I am not sure if this feeling really does presage an improvement in my language or is in fact the result of an improvement in my knowledge that has already taken place.  Whatever the reason, it seems to be real to me.

I am having the same feeling now, but with regards to Thomas’ language development.  In the last week or so he hasn’t started producing any new words, or improved his pronunciation.  Instead, he seems to be using the words that he does have much more readily and in what seems to be a more ‘real’ way.

We can now have conversations with him when he will answer immediately, so long as these conversations are about cars or people that he knows.  He came home today and I asked him ‘Where have you been?’ and he immediately replied ‘Vovô.’  He puts together a string of natural sounding speech that, when you listen carefully to it, is actually comprised of just three words.  If you weren’t really paying attention, though, you would swear that he was having a deep and meaningful conversation with himself.

He is also integrating his signs with his speech.  As he is using his limited vocabulary he is always doing things with his hands or his body to help him get his message across.  He used signs in the past, but they never seemed to be so integrated with his own language.  We never set out to teach him any signs, but he has developed his own so easily and quickly I think that if ever we were to have another child this is something I would definitely look into.

In short, what I think I am trying to say is that Thomas seems a lot more fluent now, even if he still has limited vocabulary: he seems to be  consciously trying to communicate what he wants.  I am hoping that this means that as and when he learns new words, phrases and structures, he will be ready to use them.  It will be interesting to see how our trip to the UK will affect this, whether it will give him a boost in English or whether it will slow him down a bit as he gets used to not hearing Portuguese.

Related Articles

Milestones and Regrets on Teaching my Son a Second Language – discoveringtheworldthroughmysonseyes.blogspot.com

Baby Sign Language – julomanus.wordpress.com

Edit 17.05.2013, 08:30

Thanks to Damian Williams from Tailor Made English who pointed out this excellent article from Scott Thornbury called ‘T is for Turning Point‘.  Scott Thornbury writes ‘An A-Z of ELT‘ which is a must read blog for anybody interested in teaching English and language learning in general.  I don’t know how I missed this article because it is totally relevant to what I was writing about.

Just Don’t Do It

Jaffa Cakes

Definitely all gone now!
(Photo credit: roboppy)

I know I shouldn’t do it, really I do, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.

I am not talking about having another beer or opening that pack of Jaffa Cakes I just got in the post.  The beer will be opened as soon as it has chilled and the Jaffa Cakes have already gone.

I am of course talking about comparing our son to other kids of about the same age.

Every time I go to a website looking for tips or hints it tells me that it can be detrimental because every kid develops at slightly different paces.  A little bit quicker in this respect, but a little bit slower in another.  To be honest, I don’t even need to read this on a website as I knew it before I even became a dad; obviously no two children are going to develop at the same rate because they are two unique human beings.

When it comes to language this is perhaps even more problematic when comparing one kid who is growing up to (hopefully) be bilingual and another who is probably going to be monolingual, at least in the short-term.  There are just so many other variables to throw into the pot that it really is like comparing apples and oranges.  (I never really understood this phrase.  I mean, I find it very easy to compare apples with oranges; one you just eat, the other you spend minutes trying to get into and end up squirting yourself, or the person sitting next to you, with juice.  One you can make cider out of, the other those lovely Jaffa Cakes I have just finished devouring.)

It doesn’t stop me doing me comparing though.  And usually, no good comes of it at all.

A case in point.  A couple of weeks ago my wife met a good friend of hers who has a son who is a few weeks younger than ours.  She came home and told me that her friend’s son was speaking a lot more than Thomas, that he had many more words and was using them in two and three word phrases a lot more.

On monolingualism

This is in Spanish, not Portuguese.  But then you knew that.  (Photo credit: Toban B.)

Outwardly I tried to remain calm.  I said that this was quite normal.  Some kids speak earlier than others.  It happens all the time.  I cited research that suggests that sometimes bilingual babies and toddlers can seem to be behind their monolingual peers, but they quickly catch up and even overtake them, given time.  Besides, he might just be a budding Einstein.

Inside I was worried.  What if he really was falling behind.  What if our strategy was the wrong one?  What if the scientists and researchers were wrong again?  What is the scientists and researchers were right normally, but not in this specific case?  Arrgh!  What if..?  What if..?

A couple of nights later we went out for a curry with another friend who is also bringing up his kid to be bilingual.  This time the child is about 6 months older than ours, and of course we got talking about the language that our (not so) little ones are using.  What a relief!  He had a similar story to ours.  Lots of one word phrases.  Lots of pointing and the use of intonation.  A third of his words in Portuguese, a third in English and another third in his own sweet language that only his parents really understand.

I sat back feeling smug.  I had been proven right.  The researchers and scientists had been right all along.  In comparing my son to this friend’s son I had nothing to worry about.

Except that I am comparing again.

So what have I learnt?  I am not sure really.  I have either learnt (again) not to compare my son to others because that way lies madness.  Or I have learnt that I can compare my son with other kids when it is favourable to do so.

Or maybe I have only learnt that a box of Jaffa Cakes really isn’t big enough.

Related Articles

Comparing My Children – dadandproud.wordpress.com

Einstein Syndrome – wikipedia.org

5 Mistakes Made by Every New Parent – cracked.com

The Sunshine Award

I’d like to say a big thank you to Madre Exilio over at maternidadeen2linguas who has awarded this blog the Sunshine Award.  This is the first time I have been awarded anything for this blog and I must say it is kind of cool as well as reassuring to know that at least somebody likes what I have been writing.

Sunshine Award

I cannot recommend meternidadeen2linguas highly enough.  If you don’t know her site you should get over there now.  She blogs in both Spanish and English about her experiences being an expat and bringing up a multi-lingual family in Hungary.

The Sunshine Award  is given to those who write positive and inspiring articles and bringing some sunshine into the life of others. Thank you very much for the honor again.   Like any blogging award this one has its own rules and requirements:

  • Link back the blog who nominated you.
  • Post the award images in your blog.
  • Tell seven facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 5 to 10 blogs and let them know about it.

So, my 5 nominations for the Sunshine Award are:

Higor Cavalcante writes about English language teaching in Brazil.

Living in the Land of Chocolate  writes from Switzerland about being an Aussie there with a young family.

Nothing by the Book gives fantastic lessons in unexpert parenting.

Eugenia Loras is all about bringing up her family to be bilingual.

A Life Uprooted describes the life of an American living in France.

Seven Facts

I love Indian food.

I became an English language teacher by accident.

I am pretty good at remembering useless fact, but pretty bad at remembering anything of importance.

My driving licence expired last year and I haven’t got around to getting a new one yet.

My ambition is to watch England playing cricket in every test playing nation.

I can’t stand the beach.

I have written 3 books about teaching English as a foreign language.

No Pyjamas

None of them will do

None of them will do

The weather has changed again in Curitiba.  We have glorious autumnal days without a cloud in the  clear blue sky.  If you are in the sun the temperatures can reach up 24 or 25 degrees Celsius (that’s about 77 degrees farneheit for everybody using the old antiquated system).  Walking around the city is a distinct pleasure and I often have the feeling of being very lucky to live here.

As soon as night falls, the temperature falls.  On Wednesdays I have an early class and so I leave home at 6.30am, just as the son is coming up.  There is a street thermometer just around the corner from the flat and it said it was 4 degrees.  Very chilly.  I am never sure if I believe this street thermometers or not.  It felt quite cold, but not as low as 4.

The colder nights have coincided with a brand new phobia for Thomas: pyjamas.  I have no idea why, but all of a sudden he doesn’t want to wear his all-in-one pyjamas.  He screams and shouts  as soon as he sees them.  He has at least five sets of various colours, designs and material so the first time this happened I got all of them out and asked him which one he wanted.  The answer was obvious when he picked them all up and threw them back in the drawer. (I thought this was cool.  If it had been me I would have thrown them out of the room, but with him being a mini-OCD he threw them all back where they belonged.)

I managed to find a compromise by putting two layers of normal pyjamas on and then a long-sleeved t-shirt with a car on it over them.  This seemed to pacify him enough to get him to bed.  I tentatively tried again the following night, but as soon as he saw the big pyjamas he was off again so I quickly resorted to the previous night’s ploy.

The problem is though that the compromise leaves him open to his other great problems: he is incapable of keeping socks on for more than 10 minutes and he always throws his blankets off during the night.  With the last few nights being so cold he has woken up with ice-cold feet, and this has meant a runny nose and sneezes in the morning.  I think I might have to tape his socks to his feet tonight.

There is always a bright side, though and on this occasion it is the fact that  the tantrum seemed to wear him out and he was asleep within minutes.

Getting Around Curitiba: Taxis

Orange Colour Taxis.

Orange Colour Taxis. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So you have decided not to risk life and limb by walking to your destination.  Your next idea is to get a taxi.  Good luck with that.

Getting a taxi

In 1974 Curitiba had a population of 610, 000 served by 2,252 taxis.  Since that time Curitiba has experienced a rapid growth and is now over three times the size with a population of around 1.8 million.  This much bigger city is still served by the same fleet of  2, 252 taxis.  (Source Curitiba em Dados.  Incidentally, this source also claims that there is a grand total of 4 taxis for people with special needs.  So disabled people can’t use the pavements and can’t get a taxi.)  You can see that there might be  a problem here.

If it is raining in Curitiba (something that can happen quite a bit), or if it is rush hour you will wait at least an hour for a taxi. That is assuming that you can get through to somebody on the telephone to order a taxi in the first place.  And don’t even think about trying to hail a cab on the street as they are always full.  If the taxi driver sees you and deigns to acknowledge your existence he will inform you that he is carrying a passenger by way of the Brazilian body language sign for when something is full up:

On a wet Friday evening the taxi service in almost any city would be stretched.  There have been many such times in both London and Birmingham that I have had to wait ages for a taxi.  The problem is that this can be the case on any given day and at any given time.

The problem has recently been exacerbated by a long overdue crackdown on drink driving.  In previous times, when I have had a row with people who constantly drink and drive one of the reasons they would give was the fact that it was impossible to get a taxi.  Now that they are scared of actually getting caught by the police you might as well walk home as try get a cab.

I have been told that the people who own the taxi licenses rarely actually drive a taxi.  Instead they rent out their cars three times a day, making about R$1, 000 ($500) a day.  I’ve also been told that this is illegal, but then again what does that matter?

Because of these reasons it is virtually impossible to flag down a taxi.  You are much better off ringing one or finding a taxi rank.  There aren’t many taxi ranks around the city, mind.  You might be lucky near a shopping centre or the coach station usually has a queue of taxis, but apart from that you’re on your own.


While not cheap, taxis in Curitiba are not prohibitively expensive.  In Brazil, Curitiba is the 14th most expensive state capital for taxis when there is no traffic, and the 8th most expensive in traffic (source Veja).  In a survey from 2011 Rio was found to be about half way down the list of most expensive cities in the world to get a taxi (source: Price of Travel) and Curitiba is slightly more expensive than Rio.

Inside the taxi

Once you have found a taxi you are normally quite safe.  The drivers usually know where they are going, and if they don’t pretty much all of them now have GPS to guide them.  They are relatively safe drivers, especially compared to some of the maniacs I encountered in Rio.  The cars are also of a pretty good standard and are quite new and comfortable.  If you can speak a bit of Portuguese you will usually be quite entertained by most of them.  There seems to be a growing trend for female drivers, but this might just my own impression.

A true story

My brother and some of his friends came out to Curitiba in 2005 for my wedding.  We all went off to some restaurant and then ordered taxis to take us back to the hotel.  All the taxis got back at about the same time, except for my brother’s.  After about 15 minutes some people were starting to worry whether they had been kidnapped or something.  I wasn’t too bothered because if anybody can get lost in a foreign city and then miraculously find his way home again, it is my brother.

Lo and behold, after another 5 minutes my brother and 3 of his friends turned up in the taxi with huge grins on their faces and beers in their hands.  It turned out that the taxi driver had a TV in the front with a supply of porn films to pass the idle few moments when he wasn’t working.  He had taken the boys on a trip around Curitiba while they had a beer and watched his porn.  When he eventually arrived he only charged them the normal fare.  You don’t get service like that in Birmingham.

The airport

Curitiba airport isn’t actually in Curitiba.  This means that when you arrive you can only get a taxi with the Sao José dos Pinhais colours to drop you in Curitiba.  They charge an extra fee to get back to the airport because they can’t pick up a fare in Curitiba.  The same works the other way because you have to get a Curitibano taxi but they can’t get a fare at the airport.  Basically, a taxi from the airport to Curitiba city centre is going to cost you about R$60 assuming there is no serious traffic.  At the moment they are doing a lot of work on the road into the city, so there is a lot of traffic.

Related reading

World taxi prices – priceoftravel.com

Ranking of taxi tariffs in Brazil (in Portuguese) – veja.abril.com.br

Curitiba in figures (in Portuguese) – ippucweb.ippuc.org.br

A Thomasese Bilingual Dictionary

Dictionary (software)

A real dictionary (Credit: Wikipedia)

In a little over a week we will be in the UK meeting up with friends and family.  Unfortunately for them, Thomas now has quite a few words that they won’t understand so here is a handy list of some of the new vocabulary he has picked up since the last time I did this exercise.


Abri – This is an authentic Portuguese word for ‘open’.  When he wants you to open a toy or some food he will point at it and say ‘abri’.

Ba – This means ‘put it back’.  He is developing quite an OCD for putting things back before he goes off and plays something else.

Bla – Black


As broken as a… (Credit: Wikipedia)

Dodo (pronounced the same as the dead bird, which is kind of appropriate) – This can either mean ‘something has fallen down’ or ‘something is broken.’  Often these two things are the same as his favourite time to use this word is just after he pushed his toy truck off the table and watched it all fall apart.

Erro – A mispronunciation of ‘hello’.  At the moment he only says this to himself in front of the mirror.

Mais – this is an authentic Portuguese word and means ‘more’.  Whenever he wants more of anything; Peppa Pig, milk, horse rides…

Me – this can have a couple of meanings.  If he says it while pointing to where his back pockets would be on his trousers it means ‘money’, more specifically ‘I want to play with your coins.’  He developed this body language because I usually have some change in my back pocket to use for bus fare.  If you have a toy that he wants he will sometimes say ‘me’ meaning ‘give it to me’.

P London bus

London Mimi Car

Mimi Car – this means ‘bus’.  It came into being because we have a cook/cleaner who comes to the house everyday who Thomas insists on calling Mimi.  He also gives names to all the cars he sees, for example mamãe car is any car that looks like the one his mommy drives.  Mimi doesn’t have a car, she travels by bus, so this is the word he uses whenever he sees one.

Pa – This can either mean ‘Pingu,’ as in the cartoon character, or ‘park’.  It usually depends on whether he is sitting in front of the TV or ready to go out.

Pe – Peppa Pig

Pee wee – Thomas the Tank Engine, or any other train for that matter.

Peeeeee – A mispronunciation of ‘please’.  He will say this when he wants something from you if you remind him of it.

Por – He says this when he wants daddy to be a horse.  This usually means putting him on my shoulders and trotting around the flat.

Tie – This means ‘I want to get down’ or ‘I want you to let me out of this high chair.’  It is tempting to think that he got this word from ‘untie’ because he often uses it when he is tied into a chair or something, but I fear this is to give him (me) far too much credit.  On the other hand, I have absolutely no idea where this word might have come from.

Tru  – this is the shortened version of ‘truck’.  It isn’t used all the time as it is often confused Mimi car (see above).

Body Language

Pointing – He has started to refer to himself by pointing at his chest.  So far he has done this to say he did something, but I think he is also starting to do it when he wants to show you that something is his or is for him.  He has, in the last few days, also started to point at his nappy when it needs changing.


tantrum #500

He didn’t get what he wanted either (Credit: demandaj)

Tantrums The terrible twos have arrived early and if you don’t give him exactly what he wants and when he wants it he will burst into tears.  You can either give in to him, ignore him, laugh at him or try to distract him with something else.

Singing – I have started to see the possible beginnings of a singer.  At the moment he sings the title song to Pingu.

Shouting – All of the above words can be belted out at a terrific volume if he feels the need.

Where the Wild Things Are

I never really got it

I never really got it

I didn’t read this book when I was a kid.  In fact I had never even heard about it until the film came out.  There was quite a bit of hype around the film with a number of people saying they had loved it when they were younger so I got the film on DVD.  I am not sure if I was more disappointed or confused.  I couldn’t quite see the point of the film, nor why it might have been a children’s classic.

No matter.  When Thomas was born it was one of the books I decided to get for him because if so many people thought it had been so influential in their young lives then maybe the problem was with the film, not the book.  Well, I was pretty wrong about that.

The book tells the story of a young boy who is sent to his bedroom for answering back to his mother.  Once in his room his imagination takes over and he travels off to the place where the wild things live.  After while he gets bored with this place and then comes back to real life where his dinner is waiting for him.  The text is very short, giving just the minimum information and allowing the pictures and your own imagination to do the rest of the work.

I didn’t get the fascination with the book.  I thought it was ok, but that was about it.  I have tried reading it to Thomas, but he never picks it as the one he wants.  When I show it to him he shakes his head forlornly and says ‘noooo’.  This might be because I wasn’t enthusiastic about it in the first place and so I never transmitted any positive energy about it to Thomas.  Or maybe Thomas is too young to know about answering back to his parents and then letting his imagination go wild.  Or it might just be that he doesn’t get it as well.

A Different Point of View

Where the Wild Things Are – suebe.wordpress.com

Where the Wild Things Are – commonsensemedia.org

Where the Wild Thngs Are – childrensbooks.about.com