A Bilingual Child: 20 days in Birmingham

A bilingual child learns more than just English during a holiday in Birmingham, UK

20 days back in the UK.  20 days with so much to see, do and learn.

20 days to go to Legoland, pretend to be Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest and Nottingham castle, play in the snow, eat a few good curries a drink lots of decent beer (at least I did, not my 4-year-old son) and maybe find some time to relax.

20 days isn’t enough for family and friends, but then it never is.

20 days, with at least 3 spent at the wonderful IATEFL conference to meet up with old friends, made some new ones and even see the odd presentation.

And in 20 days Mr T’s English went from mainly passive understanding to something approaching a more active and natural level.

Before we went, I was a bit worried because although Mr T understands pretty much everything I say in English, he rarely talks in English.  As my wife had to stay in Brazil, this meant he would only hear English for the duration of the stay.  Would this be too much for him?  Would he spend all of his time running to me to ask me how to say things in English?  Would he just refuse to speak in English at all?

I decided to arrive in the UK two weeks before the conference to give him time to adapt before I disappeared for the conference. I think this turned out to be a good move because for the first week or so he was quite shy about speaking English.  He complained when I had to do some work as this meant he had to speak English.  When I was around, he gloried in prattling away in Portuguese safe in the knowledge that I would understand everything he was saying.

We had a party on the first Sunday and it took me a while, and a lot of patience, to encourage Mr T to join the other kids.  He was worried about not knowing anyone and not being able to communicate.  15 minutes after he plucked up the courage to join in, he was running around and playing games just like any other 4-year-old.

I was told by my family and friends that when I wasn’t around he would speak quite happily in English.  Once again, it would seem it was all my fault.  It was also noticeable that while he was able to communicate he didn’t have the flair and the extended utterances that he would normally exhibit in Portuguese.  He wasn’t able to tell stories, be inventive or interact with adults the way he normally does in Brazil.

By the end of the trip, especially over the last few days when I was away at the conference, he seemed a lot more comfortable.  He was able to laugh with my family and play jokes.  He sayed at my brother’s house the one night and didn’t want to leave (I think this was more to do with the fact that the stay included an afternoon at Toys R Us followed by sitting in front of the TV than anything else) with no communication breakdowns.

While he still speaks to me in Portuguese, we both left the UK feeling very good about ourselves and the progress Mr T had made.  In fact, he learnt so much in just 20 days that I am sure that if we were able to stay there for a couple of months he would be able to speak English as if he were an average 4-year-old British kid.  I just need to find the time and money to be able to make that happen.



World Cup 2014: From the Executive Box

England v Uruguay World Cup Ticket Brazil 2014

England v Uruguay World Cup Ticket

Last Wednesday I was (un)lucky enough to get a ticket at the last-minute for the England Uruguay game in the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo for both teams’ second game of the World Cup.  I was very excited to get a ticket as I had thought I wasn’t going to be able to get to any of the games in person and I have never been to any World Cup game anywhere.

I was even more excited because it was England playing in a game they had to win to stay in the competition.  After their encouraging 2-1 defeat to Italy in the opening game I was convinced that we would be able to play well against Uruguay and get that much-needed win.

It just goes to show how much I know about football.

But the day was still a success.

The atmosphere, organisation and help of the volunteers was obvious from the moment we got to the metro station. Lots of singing and colour all the way on the train and then, when we got out of the metro station, the noise only intensified.  We had a bit of a walk to get to the stadium itself and we had to run the gauntlet of various Bible bashers loudly proclaiming that Jesus loved us, but in no time at all we were at the stadium entrance.

The people I was with all had tickets to an executive box, but I had a normal ticket on the other side of the stadium.  Instead of heading for my seat I decided to chance my arm and see if I could get into the executive box, fully expecting to be told in no uncertain terms where to go.

I got through the first turnstile without any difficulty, but that was normal as it was just to get into the area immediately surrounding the stadium.  We then walked into the building where the first member of our group showed his ticket, but without asking to see anyone else’s ticket we were directed up some steps.  At this point the process repeated itself and we were directed up some further stairs.

When we got to the top there was a bit of confusion with lots of people coming and going at the same time.  I could see a desk where I knew we were supposed to go to show our tickets, but we decided to walk past it and see what happened.  Nobody said a word and, before I knew what was happening, I was in the box.

The view was amazing!  We were right in the corner of the ground and from that angle the pitch looked smaller than normal.  After a quick look around I helped myself to the first in a long series of free glasses of champagne, beer and plates of food.

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At one point somebody came over to ask why we didn’t have pink wristbands and my friends explained that we hadn’t been given any.  I thought my game was up and quickly finished off a glass of champagne thinking I was going to be asked to leave.  However, once again, one person from our group showed his ticket and we were told it would be a good idea to go back to the desk and get our wristbands to avoid any confusion.  My friends went, but I stayed, put my jacket on to hide the absence of a wristband, and enjoyed the hospitality.

It was a good day out and a great experience.  The only thing lacking from the whole day was an England victory, or at least a good performance.  Maybe next time in Russia?


This blog piece is a part of the Multicultural Kid Blogs series on World Cup for Kids.  If you would like to follow the World Cup from the point of view of kids around the world then please go and check out the site.  There are bloggers from all of the competing countries as well as articles about Brasil and how to get kids interested in sport.

World Cup 2014: Anyone But England

Anyone But England

Worn by an Irishman in Brazil for the World Cup

Who are you supporting in the World Cup?  For some, this is an easy question to answer because you support the country you come from.  If you come from the likes of Holland, Germany, Brazil, or Argentina you rarely, if ever, fail to qualify.

As an Englishman, I have experience of not qualifying.  The 1994 World Cup in the USA took place without any country from the British Isles.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to worry too much about who to support as Ireland, the home of my dad and all my grandparents, had qualified.

It is one of my favourite World Cups because I didn’t need to obsess about form, injuries and referee decisions.  There was also Paul McGrath repelling everything Italy could throw at Ireland and that Ray Houghton goal, and gambol, that got even my granny jumping around the room.

But for others, there is always the need to find a country to support.

Some people decide on a country because of geographical, familial or cultural ties.  My dad, for instance, will always support England so long as Ireland are not involved.  This is also true for pretty much all of my Irish relatives who live in England.

Some people decide to follow a team based on one or two individuals.  I have a friend from New Zealand who loves Cristiano Ronaldo and so is supporting Portugal.

Others choose a team based on their style of play, so the likes of Holland attract a lot of fans.

If Brazil should ever fail to qualify for a tournament, then my wife will probably decide to support a team based on which one has the most good-looking players.  This time around, it would be Spain, apparently.

These are all good, positive ways of choosing a country to support.  But there is also a negative way of choosing, based on a country that, for whatever reason, you hate.

Some people choose not to support England on this basis, and it even has its own name: Anyone But England (ABE).  A few years ago Andy Murray, the Wimbledon tennis champion, got into a lot of trouble when he suggested he would support anyone but England.

Sometimes, and I think this was the case with Andy Murray, it is just a bit of friendly banter between rivals.  At other times it is seen as a way to get back at English arrogance and dominance.   Then there is also the matter of history and how the English acted and behaved towards their Celtic neighbours.

This ABE idea is not just related to football.  In rugby everyone wants to beat England and ups their game against us.  And it is also not confined to the Celtic countries around England.  Many Australians would also be very comfortable with the supporting anyone else at all.

Image that shows the result of a poll in Scotland to fond out who they are going to support in the WOrld CUp 2014

Who are you planning to support?

While we hear a lot about the ABE campaign, the fact is that it is just a minority of people.  A lot of Irish, Scots and Welsh do choose to support England. A recent Mori poll carried out in Scotland showed that 20% of the population planned to support England, while only 5% claimed to be supporting ABE.

Maybe one day Scotland will qualify for the World Cup and I can join an ‘Anyone But Scotland’ campaign.  But to be honest, I don’t think Scotland are going to qualify soon and anyway, I’d much rather support Brazil.  I might stand a chance of actually winning something, then.


This blog piece is a part of the Multicultural Kid Blogs series on World Cup for Kids.  If you would like to follow the World Cup from the point of view of kids around the world then please go and check out the site.  There are bloggers from all of the competing countries as well as articles about Brasil and how to get kids interested in sport.


World Cup 2014: Marking Life by World Cups

England play their first game in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil tomorrow against Italy.  For the first time in a long time I am actually hopeful about the England team and looking forwards to seeing them play in a major tournament.  In the past I have hoped they would win, sometimes even expected them to do well, but in my heart of hearts knew they it was all going to end in tears.

This time, though, I have no real expectations of a win, and I wouldn’t even be surprised if they got knocked out at the group stage.  I am, however, excited about the young squad we have and its potential over the next few years to improve, so this World Cup is more about having some fun and learning about tournament football for them.

But as I said, in the past it has been different.  Looking back at previous World Cups it is interesting how they act as landmarks in my life, helping me to remember who and where I was.

Spain 1982

The Best England Kit Ever

The Best England Kit Ever

I was 8 at the time of this World Cup and it is the first one I have any memory of.  I only really remember 4 things about it, though.    The first is the song that the England team sang before heading off to Spain.  I think it was the first song I ever bought.  Another memory is of Bryan Robson scoring the fastest goal ever at a World Cup with a header against France in the best England kit ever.  Third, I remember Brazil losing to France on penalties and the fact that I watched it at a cricket pitch after watching my uncle play.

The fourth thing I remember is that it was the time of the Falklands conflict and there was a lot of hostility towards England from various teams.

Mexico 1986

I remember much about this Word Cup, but the one of the things that sticks out the most was the Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs that had special toys celebrating the tournament.  The best toy was the one of the mascot, but it was very difficult to get so you had to buy lots of chocolate eggs.

I obviously remember the game with Maradona’s infamous Hand of God goal and the famous best goal ever in a World Cup.  I specifically remember watching the Hand of God goal and hearing the commentator saying the England fans were appealing for offside.  I didn’t realise it was handball, but I did know it wasn’t offside either because an England player had been the last one to touch the ball.  This was the first time I realised that commentators were rubbish.

Italy 1990

This was the first time Ireland had qualified for the World Cup and so lead to some soul-searching about whether to support them or England.  I chose England, just, and was rewarded with the best display in my lifetime.  It culminated in a semi-final appearance with Gazza in tears.  I remember that England should have beaten Germany, but we lost on penalties.

I still hate thinking about that match.

This was the last time I have been in England to watch a World Cup when we have been taking part in it.  This is quite a scary thought.

USA 1994

England didn’t qualify for this tournament, so I was thankful for my Irish roots as this time I was fully behind the men in green.  I remember a near riot at Glastonbury as there was a rumour they were going to show one of the Ireland games on the screen next to the main stage while a band was playing.  They didn’t show the game and the fans who had gathered let the band know in no uncertain terms what we thought of them.

This event provided one of my best memories of any World Cup when Ray Houghton scored his wonder goal against Italy.  Although it was an amazing goal it, it isn’t this that was so wonderful, but the sight of my granny leaping out of the chair when he scored.  I had never seen her move so fast, or jump so high as that day.

France 1998

I was in Taiwan for this World Cup, and so spent a lot of time in one of the few pubs that was showing any of the games.  The game we lost to Argentina was one of the best I have seen, and yet again my memory is that England should have won.  The pub we watched the game in was packed with England fans and, due to the time difference and the game going to penalties we rolled out of the pub at about 6am.  I had a class at 10am and vividly remember seeing my boss as we were leaving the pub and him warning me that I had better turn up to the class.

Japan & South Korea 2002

I was in Brazil for this World Cup.  It was quite a lonely one for me because the time difference, and the fact that I didn’t know any other English people in Brazil at that time, meant I watched most of the games on my own.

I watched England lose against Brazil with a couple of Brazilians.  I nearly beat the crap out of one of them when Brazil scored and he jumped up and down screaming in front of my face.  The only thing that held me back was the fact that he was twice my size and was pretty good at judo.  Otherwise…

Germany 2006

I was in Brazil for this one as well, and it was slightly better because I knew a couple of English people at that point.  It was my first World Cup as a married man, but that didn’t stop me enjoying myself.  I had high hopes for England in this World Cup, but as usual, they were dashed through Wayne Rooney getting himself sent off and then once again messing up the penalties.

One day I will watch England win a game on pemalties in the World Cup.  I may need to live well into my 100’s to manage it, but I refuse to die until we have done so.

South Africa 2010

I was in Rio de Janeiro for this one, but surprisingly I don’t really have any strong memories about it.  By this time I was starting to fall out of love with football in general because of issues like the importance of money.  I had also lost any hope whatsoever that England would ever win anything in my lifetime, especially as they had such an average team.

I do remember the noise of that bloody vuvuzela.  Surely it has to be one of the most irritating things ever allowed into a football stadium.

Brazil 2014

English: Man blowing a vuvuzela, Cape Town, So...

I’ll tell you what you can do with that vuvuzela (Wikipedia)

Which brings us up to date.  My first World Cup as a dad!

I am quite sad that my son is still only 2 years old because he is not going to have any memories at all of having the World Cup in one of hs own countries.  As things stand, England aren’t going to get to host a World Cup because FIFA seems to hate them and I don’t think Brazil will be queuing up to go through this painful process again.  For future World Cups I will make sure my son has great memories to act as landmarks in his own life.  Assuming he gets into football and that FIFA doesn’t kill it.

By the way, some of my memories might not actually be totally 100% correct.  I have decided not to check them because I like my memories as they are, so please excuse any mistakes.

This blog piece is a part of the Multicultural Kid Blogs series on World Cup for Kids.  If you would like to follow the World Cup from the point of view of kids around the world then please go and check out the site.  There are bloggers from all of the competing countries as well as articles about Brasil and how to get kids interested in sport.


World Cup 2014: England or Brazil

World cup England

How England’s World Cup dreams always end up. (@Doug88888)

In case you hadn’t heard, the World Cup is about to start here in Brazil.  As an Englishman living here I am just thankful that England managed to qualify because I don’t think life would have been bearable trying to deal with the build up knowing that I wouldn’t have much of a part in it.

As it is, I am much more relaxed about this World Cup than I have been for a long time.  The reason is that I know England haven’t got a cat in hell’s chance of winning it, so I don’t need to worry about broken bones or Rooney’s fitness.  I am happy to see a young and exciting England team that might be pretty good in Russia, but is just along for the ride and the experience here.  If we can qualify for the knock-out phase I think most English people would be happy.

The same cannot be said for most of my Brazilian friends and family.

First of all there is immense disappointment at the way the preparations for the tournament have been handled.  This has led to many people not getting overly excited by what should have been the highlight of many people’s lives.  The excitement is starting to rise slightly, but not like I had imagined it would be when Brazil was initially awarded to right to host the competition.

Secondly, there is the fear that they don’t have the team they need to win the World Cup.

It has almost become a cliché to suggest that the loss Brazil suffered in 1950, the last time the World Cup was here, against Uruguay in the final caused the country a lot of heartache.  Some people have even suggested that the defeat was at least partially responsible for a national feeling of inferiority that has only started to be lifted in recent years with an improving economy.  Most Brazilians are also only too aware that, until Spain won the last World Cup, they were the only winners never to have actually won at home.

They feel that their team is a bit lightweight to change things and finally win on home soil.  Apart from Neymar, they are very weak up front and might well struggle to score the goals they need.  However, they have a manager who has been through all of this before and won the tournament with a very conservative attitude, and this might well be what the team needs.

Divided House: Brazil or England?

Divided House

A Divided House

Our house obviously has divided loyalties.  My wife will be supporting Brazil, but if/when they go out would take an interest in England, if we are still in it.  If not, she’ll probably support Spain because they have the best looking players.

My son, who will celebrate his 3rd birthday just after the final, is supporting Brazil and will shout their name out a punch the air whenever you ask him.  If you ask about England, he just shakes his head and repeats ‘Brazil!’  I would like to encourage him to support England, but he deserves better than that.

I will of course be supporting England from pubs for as long as we stay in it.  When they go out I don’t think I’ll be supporting Brazil right away, instead I’ll cheer for Uruguay if only to wind up as many of my friends as possible.


World Cup for Kids

During the World Cup I’ll be posting blogs about England and Brazil as part a project hosted by Multicultural Kid Blogs that aims to look at the tournament through the eyes of kids around the world.  You can find more blogs and ideas by going to the World Cup for Kids page and clicking on the country or countries you are interested in.



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The Next Football Sensation

English: A possible dive

Never touched him, ref! (Wikipedia)

If Mr. T were ever to be a good footballer he would be able to choose on of 3 countries to play for.  If he were very good, he could choose to play for Brazil because that is where he was born.

If he were average he could play for England because that was where I was born.

If he were distinctly below average he could play for Ireland because that is where he dodo (granddad) was born.

I am happy to report that at the moment it looks like he might have some of the skills necessary to actuallyplay for Brazil.

I am not talking about his first touch, passing ability or shooting skills.  When we play with a football together and he is more likely to pick it up, sit on it or completely miss it as actually hit it with his foot.  He certainly has nothing on Maradona’s grandson seen here when he was two years old.

I am not talking about his energy levels and his ability to run for a whole game.  It is true that he has a lot of energy and loves running after tractors in the park, but I don’t think he is any different to most toddlers.

He does, however, have that one ability that it seems is increasingly important in the modern game.

He can dive like a Barcelona player.

In order to make sure he practises this unique ability we have developed a game.  He runs for 4 or 5 paces and then has to dive theatrically on the floor.  I pretend to be an ambulance and come rushing up to him.  I check his legs, rub his knees, tickle his tummy, make sure he has still got a pulse and then I put my ear to his mouth to see if he is still breathing.

This usually results in a fit of giggles which proves he is ready to go again.

I put him back on his feet and runs another 4 or 5 paces and then falls to the floor as if he has been shot by a sniper.  I do my ambulance routine all over again and then he is off for another few paces before we he tumbles to the ground and so on.

I must say I am pleased with the results so far and his diving skills have improved dramatically.  I am hoping to get him to start waving an imaginary yellow card in the air for our next step.

So, if in 20 years you see the name of Greene writhing around a football pitch acting as if his leg has just been chopped off, you’ll know who to blame thank.

Parents and The Ashes

The Ashes Urn

The Ashes Urn (Wikipedia)

I am rejoicing.

It is quite a strange feeling for me, but British sport seems to have developed a backbone and started to win stuff.  Following on from the successful Olympics last year the British and Irish (though mainly Welsh) Lions beat Australia in the rugby earlier in the summer.

Justin Rose won the first golf major by an Englishman in 17 years at the USPGA and Andy Murray, a Scot, became the first British man since the 1930’s to win Wimbledon.

For me, though, the highlight is cricket.  I was brought up on terrible English cricket teams, constantly getting drubbed by the West Indies and then Australia, and to be honest practically everyone that was put in front of us.  No matter what the score, an English collapse was never too far away.

Then in 2005 the unthinkable happened and England beat Australia in one of the greatest Ashes series ever.

This year’s Ashes has quite lived up to the vintage of 2005, but it has still been exciting and, more importantly for me, England are now 3-0 up with 1 more to play.  It means England have won the last 3 Ashes series and 4 out of the last 5.  Oh happy days.

It’s a Dad’s Game

The undoubted man of the series so far has been Ian Bell.  He has always had the class but his temperament had been more questionable.  It seemed that he flattered to deceive, only ever scoring runs when his team mates had done all the hard work.  This time it has been different.  This time he has been the man to get England out of a series of holes.  He has been the leading run scorer in often difficult situations.

Many commentators have asked what has happened to Ian Bell to make him more steely.  One answer that I have seen a number of times is the fact that last year he became a father and this has given him a different outlook on life.  Whether this is true or not we will have to wait for his autobiography to find out, but I found it intriguing to think about how becoming a dad can change your outlook on life.  I know it has changed mine and will be writing about this in future blogs.

English: Mo Farah at the 2010 European Athleti...

Mo Farah wins again (Wikipedia)

There has been news and lots of talk recently about men taking paternity leave to be prest at the birth of their children and to be a apart of those all important first few weeks.  It must be admitted, though, that it is relatively easy to be father in professional sport.  Whether it is fair or not, it is accepted than some men will be sportsmen and must be away from their homes in order to achieve their potential.  I read yesterday how Mo Farah, the long distance runner, is almost a stranger to his young twin daughters because of his commitment to his sport.  This has largely been accepted as a price that has to be paid in order to be the best of the best.

Not Really a Mum’s Game


Women’s cricket (RaeAllen)

It must be far more difficult to be a mother when the sport you play is amateur and you have to juggle so many different responsibilities.  Women’s cricket has practically no money whatsoever so to play at the highest level means a far greater level of commitment that in the men’s game.  My utmost respect, therefore, goes out to Sarah Elliot who plays cricket for the Australia women’s team.  She had her first daughter 9 months ago and on 12th August, in her first test match since becoming a mum, scored a century that has put Australia in a dominant position against England.

Whenever one of the few journalists who is covering the game has mentioned this feat by Sarah they have made sure to also mention the fact that she is a new mum.

So perhaps the world hasn’t changed all that much.  Women still find it harder than men to compete and England (women) are still losing to Australia.

And of course our football team continues to be crap!