A Bilingual Child: What’s in a name?

The names a bilingual child has for his father

When I was a young kid (as I got older it might have changed somewhat) I had just the one name for my dad: ‘Dad’.  I didn’t call him ‘daddy’ or ‘father’ or ‘pa’ or anything else.  Just dad.

My son, on the other hand, calls me lots of different names.  This might seem obvious and perfectly explicable if he were calling me one name in English and one name in Portuguese, but he has far more than just two names for me.

When he was learning to speak I was ‘daddy’.  He would be speaking his broken Portuguese and call me daddy and it would make people smile.  It was cute and I was proud to be the only daddy in the city.

Then he went off to day care and he quickly realised he had to refer to me as ‘papai’ if he wanted all the other kids and teachers to know who he was talking about.  Although I was a little disappointed I knew that this was all right and proper and the way it should be.  This is often shortened to just ‘pai’.

While I was initially happy to be called ‘daddy’, I would have preferred to be called ‘dad’.  I didn’t say anything or push it because it is up to Mr T what he wanted to call me.  ‘Daddy’ for me, is trying a bit too hard to be cute, with tones of upper-middle classness (I am English and these things still matter) and very Francis Urquhart (the original BBC series, not the American interloper).

We spent a few consecutive weekends with a British friend of mine who also lives here in Curitiba and has a son who is a few years older that Thomas and speaks perfect English.  This kid uses ‘dad’ just the way I did and, one evening, Mr T started calling me ‘dad’.  I was quite happy about this and hoped that the evolution of my name would now stop.  I had one in Portuguese and one in English.  That was enough.

Apparently not.

Since about the age of 3, Mr T has been interested in names.  I think this initially started because he liked to write the first letters of people’s names, but it continued because my name sounds funny in Portuguese.  His vovó has a function in her car that enables you to tell the on-board computer who to call.  But this on-board computer can’t speak English so if you say my name properly she doesn’t understand.  Instead you have to say it in a Portuguese style which comes out as ‘Stefan Greeny’.

To this day, this is one of the funniest things Mr T has ever heard.  He delights in calling me the computer version of my name, followed by howls of laughter.

He also uses my proper name of ‘Stephen’.  If he wants something, or decides I have done something wrong, he uses either ‘Stephen’ or ‘Stephen Greene’.  There is something very disconcerting about being woken up at 3 in the morning by your 4-year-old shouting out your real name at the top of his voice.

And finally, the latest incarnation of my name: Johnny.

This is the one I like the least because it has never been part of my identity.  My middle name in John and, after a weekend away in Sao Paulo with is mother, he came back calling me Johnny.  I have no idea why this should be, but apparently it’s funny and so, for the last few weeks, this name has been used whenever he wants to make a joke.  While it gives me the chance to channel my inner Jack Nicholson it is lost on Mr T who hopefully won’t see the film for a good while yet.

So the names I have so far include: Daddy, papai, pai, dad, Stephen ‘Stefan’ and Johnny.  Who knows what he is going to call me when he is a teenager?

Family Life: A battle of wills

A battle of wills between a four year old and his parents

Am I going to get up today or just stay in bed?  I know I should get up, but is it worth it?  What harm would it do to stay here, all cosy and snug for the whole day.  Would anyone really notice if I skipped life for the day?  It’s a common thought that runs through my head and, I am sure many other people’s. If it isn’t the battle between doing stuff and staying in bed it’s the battle between doing the right thing or the easy thing, eating the banana or the cake, driving to the corner shop or walking.

Living with a child brings a whole different level of battles.  Am I going to let him eat chips again for dinner, or actually try to get him to eat broccoli?  Is he going to watch Ninjago all evening until he falls asleep on the sofa, or am I going to get him to paint a picture or have a chat with me.  Can I really be bothered to remind him to flush the toilet for the 1000th time, or will I just do it later when I visit it myself?

These are the important battles.  The skirmishes that make the adult.  A fight avoided now is probably going to be so much worse 10 years down the road, so do the right thing, make him flush the toilet, eat the broccoli, paint a picture and talk to me, damn it.

But there are other battles that we choose to have that aren’t important.  Battles that we encourage because it is safe to lose them.  We pretend to fight them because it makes our 4-year-old think he is winning something and there are as many lessons to be learned from victory as defeat; persistance, confidence, achievement.

A castle has a roof

Warwick castle: not much of a roof

Warwick Castle: A proper castle

A year and a half ago we were in the UK and visited Warwick castle, apparently one of England’s the finest examples of medieval castle.  After a long day, we were back home when Mr T decided to build a castle out of lego and elisted my help.  We had a wall and a jail and place for the birds of prey to fly when we hit a snag: not enough lego to put a roof on.  Being born and brought up in the UK, I obviously know a thing or two about castles, so I proudly told Mr T that it wasn’t a problem as castles don’t have rooves.

The look I got was enough to turn lava to ice.  Of course castles have roofs, hadn’t we just been to a castle and gone inside some rooms to look at boring rooms made up to look like boring stuff from a long time ago?  I countered that these rooms were just the living quarters and that most of the castle didn’t have roofs.

Other people were enlisted to the argument.  The people who claimed castles had roofs were congratulated and told they know everything.  Woe betide the person who disagreed and said a castle didn’t have a roof as they were told they know nothing and ignored at best, or laughed at at worst.

Nottingham Castle prooves castles have roofs

Nottingham Castle: It doesn’t look like a castle to me, but it does have a roof.

The argument has rumbled on since then, rearing its ugly head every so often on a Skype chat or during a Robin Hood cartoon.  I gave in recently when we saw two castles in a week, both of which had roofs. Before visiting Legoland we had a look at Windsor castle from the outside.  Lots of roofs were clearly visible.  And thanks to Robin Hood we had to see Nottingham castle as well, this time from the inside.  It was warm and boring inside the castle, thanks in no small part to the roof that kept out the cold and protected boring pictures.

It was no use me telling him that Nottingham castle wasn’t really a castle, that it was re-built in the late 1800s.  Nor that Windsor, as the Queen’s home is a special case.  I had to give in to the unerring logic of a 4-year-old.  “See daddy, that’s a roof.  It’s on a castle.  All castles have roofs!  You know nothing!’

Where should the rug go?

Just after the castle problem started off we moved into our current house.  As everyone knows, houses are always a work in progress as they are never quite finished.  A few months after we moved in my wife bought a couple of rugs for the hallway upstairs.  They don’t run the whole length of the hallway, on purpose, I think, so there is a gap between them and at the ends.

At least, that was my wife’s plan.  But my son has a different understanding of hallway aesthetics.

He thinks it is much better for one of the rugs not to have between itself and the bathroom door, so as soon as his mother put it down he moved it to lie snug against the door.  She saw this later in the day and moved it back to her preferred position, only to wake up in the morning and find it back up against the door.

It has become a joke now.  Whenever one of them sees it in the wrong place they move it either with a knowing smile on her face or a resigned shake of his head.  I play no part in any of this, except for occasionally pointing out to Mr T that his mamãe has moved it again or telling tales on my son.

This particular battle is still being played out, with no sign of a winner.

In this battle of wills you have to pick the battles you think you can win, or the ones that are worth fighting for.  And sometimes, you start a battle just for the hell of it.

Happy (Belated?) New Year

Bilibgual family in Curitiba, Brazil

Things I will write about. Soon. Honest.

Ok, so it might seem a bit late to wishing you everyone a happy new year.  But it feels exactly right to me because now that carnival is out of the way the year has really begun here in earnest here in Curitiba.  My teaching schedule is pretty much set for the next few months, Mr T is back at school and life is returning to some sort of normality after a hectic holiday period.

It’s been a while, but it is also time to resurrect my ramblings and memories of bringing up a bilingual child in Brazil.

Over the next few weeks I am going to be writing about our recent trip to the UK and the effect it had on our son’s English.  As well as his English changing, our son also had a depressing encounter with Father Christmas, a trip to see a first football match that hopefully won’t put him into therapy for the rest of his life and a not-so-successful fancy dress party.

It wasn’t all bad though, as we tried some wonderful curries, played in the snow and were visited by a much better Father Christmas 3 times!

I hope to tell you about the difference between mouth-stories and eye-stories, and why they are both equally important, how Mr. T’s musical tastes are developing and why his growing obsession with super heroes is turning him into a proper little consumerist.

And now that we are back in Brazil I’ll try to describe some of the not-so-obvious differences I noticed between life in Brazil and Britain, as well as trying to make some sense of the corruption scandals, demonstrations and plunging economy that we seem to be facing here.

So lots to look forward to, if I can just find the time to do it all some justice.

Where I’m From

028-13 WMPTE 380Y CRW380C

I ‘drove’ one of these when I was a kid

Last week I went to João Pessoa in the north-east of Brazil for the Braz Tesol conference.  It is a conference that draws together English language teachers from all over Brazil, as well as attracting people from different parts of the world.

One of the best plenaries that I went to was given by J.J. Wilson on the subject of teacher development.  One of the activities we did was called ‘Where I’m from’ with the intention of showing that our origins can have a profound effect on our teaching, training and everything else we do in life.

I loved the activity so much because in such a short time I was able to articulate some of the major influences in my life.  And so, instead of leaving it gather dust in some forgotten notepad that I know I’ll never pick up again, I thought I’d share it here.

Where I’m From

I am from parks, mud and bi-polar trees

I am from cobs, bostin, and the outdoor

I am from paper rounds, dog walks and 3-hour bus rides

I am from the Bull Ring with its Rotunda, treks around the Lickeys and lost sporting causes

I am from Cadbury’s and Ansell’s and fading memories of Leyland.

I am from rain, mist, wind, radiators and ice inside windows.

I am from unliked tea, cottage pie, chips and vinegar and red sauce.

I am from the bog, a huge kitchen table, badly-understood locals, a range and even more rain.

I am from books, education, paper rounds, politics and strong women.


J.J. Wilson was inspired to create this class from an original poem by George Ella Lyon,  You can find the poem here or listen to her reading the poem below taken from youtube (from 45 seconds).  Also on youtube, there are countless variations on the theme as many other people have sought to write their own poems about where they are from.

This post is my part of the Multicultural Kids Blogging Carnival for the month of May.  It is my pleasure to host the blog this month and it will be live on this blog from Thursday, May 15th.  For more information on this carnival, all the other carnivals and lots more about raising multicultural kids click on the image below.

Multicultural Kids Blogs

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Potty Trained: His Uncle’s Nephew

The Potty Training Years 1988–1992

It was much easier than this (Wikipedia)

Potty training was a breeze.  We waited until the summer, about 3 months ago, because both I and Mrs. Head of the Heard would both be around to lead the training.  We were prepared for a long haul, but within a couple of days we had basically cracked it.  Obviously there was, and still is, the occasional accident, but it was all pretty much a painless transition.

There have been two interesting things to come out of the whole process.  The first happened quite quickly and we have no idea where it came from.

When Mr. T asks to do a wee wee he is quite happy to have other people in the bathroom.  When he has to do a poo poo, though, he has always been adamant that he be left alone.  He started by saying ‘Daddy, tai’ which is his version of the Portuguese word ‘sai’ which can be translated as ‘get out’.  This has now developed so that in English he says ‘Daddy, go away, me do poo poo.’  I always leave the room with a smile on my face, but I just don’t understand where he learnt the need for privacy at such a moment.

The other thing that he has developed is the length of time he now takes sitting on his potty.  He demands to have a book to read, or if there is no book he will sing a song, usually The Beatles ‘Hello Goodbye’.  Again, I don’t know where this behaviour has come from as neither his mother nor I spend more time on the toilet than is absolutely necessary.

There is only person we know who does spend some quality time sitting on the throne is his uncle Nano who is quite happy to take his iPad with him and disappear for hours on end.  But as his uncle lives in Sao Paulo and we live in Curitiba, I fail to see how he could have been a direct influence.  Maybe it’s just in the genes and Mr. T truly is his uncle’s nephew.

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Flat Hunting: His Granddad’s Grandson

For sale signs

To let or buyby Boyce Duprey CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

We are looking for a new flat at the moment.  We did have plans to build our own house, but thanks to the interminable bureaucracy that is the Brazilian government we have had to put these plans on hold for a while.

My dad, back in the UK, has a thing about houses and flats.  He finds it almost impossible to walk past an estate agent’s without looking in the window to see the prices of property in the area and to see if there are any bargains going.  He is quite happy to go and view houses and think about what he could do to them to improve them.

If he were with us in Brazil he would be like a pig in muck.  And so, it seems, is his grandson.

We showed our son a couple of properties online and he was enthralled.  He loved looking at all the pictures and we took the opportunity to describe some of the things we could see in the pictures, things like the names of the rooms and some of the furniture.

We then took him with us to see some of the flats and told him we were going the ‘apartamento’.  Mr. T was in his element.  It helped that the first couple of flats were empty so he could run around without us worrying he was going to break something.  He quickly learnt the Portuguese word ‘apartamento‘ but seems to have decided that it should be spoken with an English accent so that the final ‘o’ rhymes with ‘toe’.  Do I really sound like that when I speak Portuguese?

It has now developed into an obsession, though.  Yesterday we only saw one flat, but there were tears as we were leaving amid demands for another ‘apartamento’.  During the evening we were having some quiet time before going to bed and all of a sudden Mr. T started asking about more ‘apartamentos.

I think his grandfather, or doe doe as Mr. T calls him, will be very proud.  Despite living half way around the world, it is clear that he is his grandfather’s grandson.

Further Reading

Over my holiday I read ‘Dublin’ by Edward Rutherford.  It is a romantic history of the city and, while not the greatest book in the world, did provide some worthwhile insights into the home of my grandfather.


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Hello, It’s Good to Be Back

Oasis soup

Oasis Soup by atomicjeep CC BY 2.0

As you probably haven’t noticed, I haven’t written anything on here for about a month or so. I went to the IATEFL conference in the UK and decided to make a bit of a holiday out of it for both myself and my son.  As my wife couldn’t get time off from teaching at university it meant leaving Mr. T with my parents while I went off and developed myself at the foremost English teachers’ conference.  I was a bit worried about Mr. T not being comfortable with my parents, so we went back to Birmingham a couple of weeks early so he could get used to them again.

I needn’t have worried as he had a wonderful time with my folks, going to a safari park, visiting a fire station, going on a choo choo train and much, much more besides.  His English has improved far more than I could ever have expected.  Before we went, he seemed to be entering a phase of improving all of his language skills, but while in the UK it was unbelievable how much and how quickly his vocabulary increased.

I also learned a lot at the IATEFL conference, as well as meeting up with lots of old and new friends.  I really must try to get to more of those conferences.  I gave a talk about using linguistic landscapes to teach English that seemed to be well received.  I have this idea to write a book about it, if I can just find the time.

The one thing that I learned outside the conference was also a bit startling: it seems that it is now 2o years since Britpop was a thing in the UK.  The likes of Oasis, Blur, Suede and Pulp formed a large part of the soundtrack to my days at university,so to realise that it is now 20 YEARS since I was a carefree student just doesn’t bear thinking about.



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