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.





TAM Airbus A330-200 in the former livery

The Magic Red Carpet

The big day when we go back to the UK on the magic red carpet for a few weeks is fast approaching.  I think my brother is more excited about it than anyone else and he has dubbed it T-Day.  Every time I talk to him it tells me it is T-Day minus 25 days, or whatever it is.

We went back last November to introduce Thomas to my family and friends, but we are going back again now to take advantage of the fact that Thomas flies (almost) for free until he is 2.  Here are some of the things I am looking forward to, and some that I am also dreading.

Friends and family

It goes without saying that the best thing is going to be seeing my folks and my old friends again.  It is one thing keeping in touch on Facebook or talking on Skype, but an altogether different thing seeing people face to face.  This time around we will hopefully have a few friends come to visit us in Birmingham as well as making it down to London for a couple of days to meet up with various people.


English: Athenry Castle - Ireland

The fields of Athenry Castle

My family is all originally from Ireland and so we are going to be spending a few days in Athenry, Galway this year.  It is ages since I was last in Ireland and I am really looking forward to it.  My wife was once there when she was about 10 so she is very excited as well.  It is going to be brilliant for Thomas as the place we are staying at is also a working farm and so there are lots of cows, sheep, ducks and what have you.  If the weather is anything near decent he might well go berserk, but that is ok as there is loads of space for him to go berserk in.

The weather

The last couple of times we have been to the UK the weather has been abysmal.  My memories of going to Ireland as a kid are of rain, rain and more rain.  I remember going into Galway once and it was sunny but we didn’t know what to do as we only had wellies and jumpers, no t-shirts or shorts.

I am just hoping that it doesn’t rain too much.  it can be as cold as it likes, if it isn’t raining Thomas can get out in the garden and help granddad dig up some worms. We can also go off and visit parks and go for walks.  I have every part of my body crossed for this.

Guinness is good for you

Guinness is good for you


Although the quality of the beer is improving in Brazil, it still has nothing compared to a good pint in a pub.  This is perhaps one of the things that I most miss about Britain.


British food has a terrible reputation, but it is totally undeserved.  I have a list of things I want to have, including a Balti, a big bag of chips, a visit to Nathaniel’s in Mosley, lunch and beer at The Peacock, a proper breakfast, whatever gems my brother has discovered in the last  months and, of course, my mother’s delightful fare.

The flight

We went back to the UK last year for a few weeks, so the flight out there doesn’t really hold any fears for me.  It is a night flight and we have loads of tricks to entertain him for the 11 hours if he doesn’t sleep all the time.  The problem is coming home.  My wife can only be away for 2 weeks as she has to teach at university so, when we booked the flight, I thought it would be a great idea if I stayed on an extra week or so.  I mean, if you are going to be going all that way and you don’t have to be back for work then why not; it would at last make the grandparents happy.  As we get closer to the dat I am beginning to have serious concerns about coming back on my own with a nearly 2 year old but who finds it very difficult to sit down for more that 2 minutes at the best of times.  It will be bad for me and for Thomas.  It will be even worse for whoever has to sit next to us.

Language learning

The last time we were in the UK Thomas was only just starting to experiment with different words and sounds.  He still managed to pick up some words though, including my brother’s name which he still uses for any white van that he sees.  I am hoping that this time he will pick up even more vocabulary while he is exposed to English 24 hours a day.

Coming home

Did I mention that I am coming back on the plane alone with Thomas?  Just think of the beer!

Anyone got any handy hints for flying long haul with a toddler?

Related articles

Fly with Babies, Toddlers and Kids – Deliciousbaby.com

10 Tips for Flying Alone with Kids – Aintnomomjeans.com