Monday, September 12, 2011

Say What?!

I had a "Say What?!" moment this weekend.

On Sunday we all headed down to a charity Feijoada with the family. I was hanging with the kiddos making sure they only got into innocent trouble when some dude came up to chat with them. Of course he somehow knew that Chatterbox is half American. Random news travels fast when served over rice, beans, and sausage.

The funny part was his reaction. When he talked to Chatterbox, he spoke in Portuguese. Obviously Chatterbox, being surrounded by Brazilian children as well, responded in Portuguese. Then man's reaction:

"WOW! You speak Portuguese really well!"

Say what? The man knows my kid's entire Brazilian extended family.We live in Brazil. His Father is Brazilian. Of course he speaks Portuguese!

And I know maybe for some reason or other, he thought that I would completely ignore the language of my son's home country, the language of his father, and the language of his family. I get that.

But the guy continued with his amazement and then it came out that he was not surprised at all that Chatterbox speaks English. Portuguese, for the half Brazilian kid living in Brazil surrounded by a Brazilian family, was the surprise.

It's moments like these when I wish we were teaching him some random 3rd language and I could say "Sorry, he only speaks Mandarin." 


  1. I'm always annoyed when no one in Estonia is impressed at how well my kids speak Estonian - all they seem to point out is that my 6-year old hasn't mastered the Estonian "r" properly yet :| Give the kid a break, he speaks 2 languages!

  2. I always feel like I've failed because my kids don't speak English. I mean, granted, they were 5 and 7 when we all started living together, but you'd think over 7 years of living with me would have taught them something. :/

  3. It's funny, even IF your husband wasn't Brazilian and IF you didn't speak Portuguese, they would pick some up anyway just by living in Brazil. I'll never forget seeing 5-year-olds from African refugee families in Israel speaking Hebrew. No one taught them, they just kinda absorbed it by playing with other kids and whatnot.

    Can I ask how you raised your kids bilingual? Some English days, some Portuguese days at home? Did you "teach" English or have your kids picked it up naturally? I don't have kids yet, but I'm thinking about this in advance... my husband doesn't speak English, so I might have to put some extra effort in on teaching the kids (and dad :-p)

  4. I just spoke to them in English. Of course when with a group who doesn't speak it I mix (unless I'm only speaking to my child). They just picked it up that way. The Portuguese came out stronger at first since they are around it more but the English eventually sank in. Of course they always understood since I have been speaking to them from birth.

    Now when it comes to reading/writing, that will take effort.

    Kelly, you didn't fail. YOu missed the window of absorption. 5 and 7 are ages when they start to prefer one language over another. Since they only had one, they'd pick it ;)

    MrsB, That is super annoying! My boys have never gotten any crap for how they pronounce things. And I imagine that the Estonian r is pretty damn hard to get!

  5. It happens the other way, too... like at my wedding (yes, WEDDING) one of my friends asked, "So, do you guys talk in Portuguese or something? I mean, like how do you communicate?" I had the same reaction as you: SAY WHAT? He has been working for an American company for years and moved to America when we got engaged, and you think he doesn't speak English? Think, people, think!

  6. I couldn't help but nod with recognition when I read your post, Rachel. Not because I'm a parent, but because as a mixed race person, I've actually been on the receiving end of this type of questioning. In my 30-"ahem", plus years on this planet, let's just say I've come across many folks that try to pigeon-hole people into neat little boxes. In the case of your little boys, they're growing up multi-cultural, so I think it's a very similar experience to that of mixed people or trans-racial adoptees--being seen as an anomaly and curiosity that does not fit neatly into one category! Your sons are absolutely gaining a rich and positive experience growing up this way! As for people who don't know how to wrap their heads around that, well, maybe jokingly affect a stoned hippie voice and say, "We're all part of a rainbow tribe, man..." and she what they say?

  7. I appreciated the approach of a Canadian couple. The wife spoke native French and the husband native English. Their household rule was that, until High School graduation, the children must speak fully in French to the mother and English to the father.

    Both mother and father were fluent in both languages, but grammatically perfect in their first language. They believed this rule taught the children to not mix the languages and to speak both perfectly.

    I'm not sure what they did around the family dinner table (I forgot to ask). I was simply present at a dinner when the woman's daughter moved from the kids table to ask her mom a question. They spoke in French. The mom then apologized that they had temporarily spoken a language not common to those at the table. She then explained the family rule.