Our Strategy

Our strategy is roughly based on One Person One Language (OPOL).  However, I think I would ammed 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 intheory the minority lanaguage I am not anticipating the all ofthe 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.


14 thoughts on “Our Strategy

  1. Hello! wow! I’ve been trying to find somebody who is also giving this strategy a go for ages.. Here is our situation:
    I myself am bilingual (born into a Greek family raised in England) though English is my ‘dominant’ language. I think in English and sometimes make very funny mistakes when translating into Greek. I now live in Athens with my husband (100%Greek) and our two-year old todder.

    I have been speaking English to her since she was born. I am the only person who does this (apart from my bilingual friends).

    When I am with her I speak English to her, whether I am alone or in the company of others.

    My husband and everybody else speaks to her in Greek.

    She understands everything that I say to her in English but prefers to reply in Greek. She talks to herself in Greek, but switches to English when she ‘reads’ English books by herself.

    It is absolutely fascinating how at 2 years old she TRANSLATES.. so she will say ‘What is doing Daddy?’ which is the correct word order in Greece.

    She has a very rich vocabulary in both languages, her English sounds are coming along nicely but her Greek grammar and sentence structure is miles ahead of her English grammar.

    Her language is very advanced for her age (I keep a log and share fragments of language with my supervisor at uni) which proves all the mothers at the playground wrong. They insisted that she would ‘get confused’ and ‘mix up languages’ if she were raised in a bilingual environment.

    Good luck with the experiment, my gut feeling tells me it will work!

    • Hi Lia,

      Thanks a lot for your comments. It is great to know that other people are following similar strategies and having some success.

      Our son is just starting to put two words together at the moment and it is interesting to see that sometimes he uses a Portuguese pattern and sometimes an English one. Whether this is because he is experimenting with the different patterns or it is just a fluke I have no idea, but one of the best parts of this whole experience is just observing him playing with the two languages.

      I hope we can keep in touch in the future on our mutual journey.


  2. Hi Stephen

    I’m a mom of a sweet little boy. He’s almost 3. My husband and I are brazilian, but we both speak English. I’m an English teacher and have used what I learned in pedagogy for 1st language acquisition to stimulate him todevelope physically, cognitively and hoped he would grow just happy and health. We had not planned to raise him bilingual. My older ones had pretty different life experiences from our little Emanuel. Sean the older one was born and England and was 4 when I moved back to Brazil. With time he stopped speaking English altogether. Hanna was born and raised in Brazil. She is 16 now. She has a feeling for English and understands quite a lot. We never encouraged her to speak English until she reached her early teens. Big mistake I guess. Emanuel on the other hand adopted English and uses it quite well for his age. People complaint that we teach him only English, but we don’t teach him anything. He watches lots of educational videos, songs, I read with him and we talk a lot with him. Fortunally, My husband spends all day with him and I’m always around when I’m not in class.

    I’m very interested in following yor blog and watch your child development. I hope all goes well for you and your family. 🙂

    • Hi Rose,

      Thanks for your comments and your very interesting story.

      It seems that all of your kids have very different experiences with English. I was wondering if Sean found his way back to speaking English. I have a friend who lived in Germany when he was a kid and could speak the language quite well until about theage of 6 when he came back to Brazil. He never got the chance to speak German again until he was in his 30’s, but he found it relatively easy to pick the language up again.

      It is a shame that some people complain that you are teaching your son English. Giving a child as much exposure to another language can only be of benefit.

      I hope to speak to you again soon.

  3. Hi Stephen,

    I’ve been thinking about what you said about your little boy ‘experimenting with different patterns’, and I think this is probably true to a very large extent. I think there comes a point in time when they just know that language A has pattern X and language B has pattern Y. Fascinating stuff. Since reading your post I’ve decided to ‘cool off’ a bit and stop repeating every sentence of hers in English or even worse repeating everything in the interrogative, and this mainly because I think she’ll eventually get sick of me doing this and more worryingly I’ve begun to echo my students in class too!!

    I just need to relax a bit and enjoy the experience!

    Many thanks.


    • Hi Lia,

      I am sorry I haven’t rteplied in so long, but the system didn’t tell me you had written again.

      Personally, my objective is to make our son feel comfortable using whatever language he wants at any specifc moment. This means I have to be relaxed about my, and his, language use and, as you say, enjoy the moment. However, I often get pangs of guilt that this is not what I should be doing, but nobody seems to know for sure.

  4. Hi Stephen,

    We follow pretty much the process you describe above without worrying overmuch about keeping it exact. Though my Portuguese is not fully fluent I did find myself speaking Portuguese with Julia for a time because she responded better. Two things changed that. Last year we enrolled her in a Bi-lingual school (which uses mostly English at her age – then 3 now 4 – they gradually blend it over time to 50/50 so the child is fully fluent in both) and then we went to the States for 2 weeks to visit my family.

    After she started at the bi-lingual school, she started responding better to my English, but would still often reply in Portuguese. After the trip to the states, she now speaks to me pretty much only in English and with her mother in Portuguese and in a mixture depending if all 3 of us are conversing.

    Seems like the school helped her learning the language, but it wasn’t until she saw everyone around her speaking English that she realized that could be normal as well.

    Now she is at the point that she translates for her cousin (her cousin goes to the same school, but both parents are Brazilian so her only deep exposure is at school).

    • Hi Michael,

      Thanks for leaving your comments. I am genuinly interested in all of the different styles that parents follow and the stories they have about their kids.

      It is interesting that you say the school was instrumental in making your daughter feel comfortable speaking English. We aren’t planning to send Thomas to a bilingual school so we will have to work harder on other fronts. One of the ways I am hoping to make him feel comfortable, though, is with regular exposure to friends and family back in the UK.

      Fingers crossed, eh?

  5. Steven
    I wouldn’t worry about a strategy just do what comes natural. I speak to my wife in English (she speaks it better than me and it is natrual for us to do so) and to my kids in English, they all speak Portuguese to each other and the kids prefer to speak Portuguese with me. When they want to speak English with me they do but it is not forced it is natural. I have still put them through the English school experience as studying the lanagueg is needed to pass exams. It also gives them a chance to communicate with others in English as they would only ever speak to me in Brazil and my family over the phone. My kids and 20 and 16 and don’t have miuch problems shifting between one language and the other. They pass the Vestibular section in English without any problem, which is a bitch of an exam lol, and that is it. Do they make mistakes of course they do but don’t we all. They went to a nornal Brazilian private school and have never mixed with ‘expats’, I hate that word, as my friends and family are exclusively Brazilian. You need to cut yoursef off from your culture in some ways to have that understanding of how Brazilians think.

    • Hi Shaun, thanks for your message of support. Since I wrote that original post about our strategy we have, as you suggested, become a lot more relaxed about things. We do have a few ‘expat’ friends here, but I see them roughly once a fortnight for a few beers. 95% of my time is spent with Brazilians. We are also planning to send our son to a ‘normal’ Brazilian school. I know some people who send their kids to an itnernational school or a bilingual one, but I honestly can’t see the point.

  6. Hi, Stephen My mother language is Spanish ,I am a big advocate of exposing children to a new language as soon as possible, I have an older daughter 23yo she is fully trilingual , I spoke always Spanish to her, and she went to German school on saturdays and we live in LA ,English at school is just the commitment and do not give up , Now she wants to learn French .I am a founder of a fully Spanish immersed preschool ,My goal is to raise my second daughter at least bilingual she is 2yo . and I want to offer other languages as well, German, Portuguese, By the way I love portuguese.kids brains are wired in such a way that learning a new language is not a big deal,is natural and normal.I love your blog.

  7. Hi Stephen,

    I Just came across your blog as it was referenced in a BBC article on Curitiba (http://www.bbc.com/travel/feature/20141215-living-in-the-worlds-most-eco-friendly-cities).

    I read through some of your posts and thought I’d give you my experience on how we live bilingualism at home.

    I am Brit, married to a Brazilian, living in French-speaking Switzerland. We have 4 kids, the oldest almost 7. I only speak English to the kids, my wife only in Portuguese (although we are fluent in each other’s languages) and school is in French and English. When the neighbour comes round, they’ll speak French.

    It’s amazing how kids associate languages with different people when they first meet them, and remember for future reference. They also switch between languages without even thinking. And they naturally jump in as translator between grandmas, even at the tender age of 3!

    When we are together we keep the same routine – I still only speak English and my wife Portuguese. It also does not feel natural to speak to my kids in Portuguese.

    What is funny is that sometimes they’ll be speaking to their mum, and stop to turn to me to ask how a certain English word translates into Portuguese, and then turn back and continue the conversation. They also often intersperse their speech with words from the other language when they don’t know the equivalent. Sometimes they’ll mis the grammar between languages.

    I find that for my two older boys, their strongest language is English, due to the fact that the TV/movies are often in English, and I read to them at night. However, everyone’s Portuguese always gets a boost when we visit Brazil, or have family over from Brazil.

    Teaching them the cultural refrences I grew up with (and my wife on her side) is important to me and has to be much more intentional – and I also get them to watch some Cbeebies 🙂

    • Hi Alastair,

      I’m sorry to only just reply to your comment now, but I took time off over Christmas and I’ve only just seen this nw.

      Thanks for sharing your story. We noticed something similar over the Chrsitmas holidays. When our son was spending time only with my parents he was quite happy to speak English. As soon as either my wife or myself appeared, though, he slipped straight back into Portuguese.

  8. Hi,
    Wonderful all of you!!

    I have to be very brief: so my strategy for always unfailingly speaking only English to my kids whilst living in Italy, speaking to my husband in Italian and him speaking only English to them, whoever was present (translating for grandparents whenever necessary) worked perfectly. I also sent them to international school until the end of Middle School (couldn’t afford it any longer) to give them a good grounding in English.

    Once in Italian school, with Italian sports and after school activities, Italian TV and friends, my son started speaking to me spontaneously in Italian (I still answer in English as comes most naturally to me) and although as a bilingual myself I fully understand mixing languages can be practical and fun, I still feel he needs to carry on speaking English to me to not let grammar mistakes seep in from Italian. My daughter funnily enough carries on speaking to me in English. They are now 18 and 16.

    So I believe the one person one language to be the best method.

    I also played with them in German, French and Spanish when they were little but the languages were attributed to different puppets so they didn’t get confused – they are definitely good at languages in general as a result.



    Susan Brodar


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