Monday, December 26, 2011

What to Remember When Raising Bilingual Children

So The Menace started out well with speaking English to my parents. The first day they got here, my almost 3 year old used all of his weak English vocabulary mixed in with Portuguese when needed. Come the second day he was over it.

I tried.  I told him "Menace, we have to speak in English to Grandma and Grandpa because they don't speak Portuguese."

All I got in reply: "NO, Portuguese."

Well, it seems that my little "bilingual" man is stating his preference for the time being. It doesn't bother me as 1. I know he'll end up speaking both and 2. I know that this kind of thing is normal. It may just be karma for Chatterbox's language choices. At 3 yrs old, when he finally picked up English fluently during a visit to the US, The Chatterbox declared his love for all things English. While Portuguese was his first spoken language, he refused to speak it to anyone in Brazil who he realized spoke a spattering of English.

It's just a fact of life that you have to accept a few things when raising bilingual children:

1. They will have a language preference. It will change many times but at any given point they will feel more comfortable talking in one or the other. Sometimes it comes down to feeling more comfortable talking about a certain subject in a certain language. For example, Chatterbox prefers talking about soccer in Portuguese

2. Sometimes bilingual children will have language delays. Sometimes they won't. Chatterbox was a bit of a late talker and the Menace was a very late talker. Both never stop now that they have started. On the other hand, I have friends whose kids spoke both languages at the same time as the "unilingual" kids. Be patient. Each child is different.

3. There will be language mixing. Do you really expect your child to be able to separate the two at a young age? Their little brains are alike a bowl of 2 servings alphabet soup. You try to sort that out without mixing a bit.

4. Ignore the "warnings" that two languages are too much for a little guy to learn. That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard and I heard it every single freaking day after the Chatterbox was born and I insisted on only speaking with him in English. They do not get confused, it does not harm them, and it is actually very good for them. Only when Chatterbox, at 3 years old, started speaking both languages fluently did the family admit that it was ok to do. Now they brag about how Mr. Rant and I were so smart in raising their grandchild bilingual.

5. Even if they do not reply to you in the language you are speaking, keep speaking to them in it. Both my boys completely understood English before actually speaking it. One day it literally clicked and they started busting out phrases in English, both after being stimulated by immersion in new English speaking situations (ie. visiting my parents or my parents visiting us).

What tips or questions do you have?


  1. do you speak to them in portuguese?

  2. I think what has helped my son to learn and hold on to English a lot is the fact that he prefers to watch t.v. shows and films in English. If given the option, he'll always choose English. It has expanded his vocabulary tremendously as he often says things I'd never say. I also think English is a much easier language to learn to read. We do flash cards and simple books and he's further along in reading English vs. Portuguese. Gotta love all of the 3 letter words in English, there are tons of them! Like you said, it will all balance out.

  3. I speak to them in English and they watch tv in English too. But they do go to a Brazilian school in Portuguese

  4. Children raised in a bilingual setting turn out awesome: I am the result of such an upbringing (yes, I agree, any doubts regarding the benefits of bilingualism has now been laid to rest). Yet for birthers, and conspiracy theorists in general, here you go:
    Plus this,
    and this,

    Anyway in spite of a bilingual childhood, and later becoming hot, I am not trained in the field of linguistics so I'll just stick to tips that I think helped me.
    As soon as reading has been acquired introduce comics in both language. I recommend Disney, which you can research here
    Ask fun questions like "Is Donald more of a grouch in English or Portuguese", or "is Goofy/Pateta a wolf/lobo or a dog/cachoro" I also loved questions about Disney terminology, like "What is Patópolis in English"*.
    I also adored this when I first started reading:

    After age 8 I started liking these:
    Plus "Archie", of course.
    That's it, hope it helps.


  5. The facts are this: learning two languages simutaneously makes stronger connections in your brain. This allows for many things, but one of the most amazing is a much less chance of developing Alzheimers/ going senile. Simultaneously biliingual children (as opposed to those that learn one and then the other at a later time, like after 6) do not have the same benefits at the same degree. Overall, it is the way to go IF you can do it right (like you guys did, talking in both languages, NOT putting your baby in Spanish class... grr...). Ok, there you have it, the nerdiness of Mrs. dos Santos shows through. I knew I took those masters' level classes for a reason.

  6. Totalt off topic (sorry) but Do brazilian people use loofah sponges (those round fluffy things) when they shower or just their hands? I always hear that brazilians smell good so i Want to know what to ide :D

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  9. I think this: if you have a great pronunciation of portuguese (without any accent), you should talk to your kids in both languages. But if not, you should talk only in English, and let they learn Portuguese at school, with their friends and native speakers.

    "Anonymous": No, we use soap! But I think some people use the sponges. BTW, your question is a bit strange, because it's like if I asked you if Americans use desinfectant...

  10. Anom didn't ask if soap is used. The question put forth is if sponges are common, or just plain hands. Your analogy with asking Americans if they use disinfectant is incorrect since that references the product used to achieve cleanliness, while the topic is what device is used for application.
    So the correct analogy to Anom's comment when using the context --disinfectant-- that you selected, and accepting the premise that he/she is actually from the United States would have to be different. To get it right you would need to ask if Americans use mops, or prefer another instrument when applying disinfectant.
    Perhaps there is room for expansion in Brazil's domestic sponge market and herein lies what sparked Anom's curiosity, or said person actually thinks Brazilians have a peculiar scent which is pleasing ( wierd, but this could actually be his/her preception).

  11. I wanted to say that we use -only- soap, without any complement (only shampoo, of course). Yes, i admit it, my analogy isn't so good. But I think you got the point. Like any other country in the world, people are different, and you can't have an overview. It's like I thought people in US are fat (which isn't true, since only a part of them are).

  12. Im sorry if i asked this question , i just love brazil and have this thing that i wondered what to use, but Im sorry

  13. I'm not offended, but I think your question is a bit... strange.

  14. most people use sponges yes

  15. "Most" people? Are you kidding? Are you brazilian/live here?

  16. getting back to topic (not that sponges aren't fascinating...), my kid is 5 and bilingual. I have only spoken English to him (and his dad Portuguese).. He has been in full time Portuguese language school since he was 4 months old (7am to 5pm). I was worried that my time with him would not be enough time with English, but his English is fine. TV and DVDs in English help a lot (he also prefers to watch his cartoons on Discovery Kids in English). He mixes a lot, especially adding transition words in Portuguese (like que) in his English phrases. However, I have never had him refuse to speak English or not answer me in English. What I have noticed is that our immersion trips to visit family in the US have helped to cement his English a lot. The latest research does not confirm any developmental delay (such as speaking) and confirms that there are immense benefits to being bilingual, since it works your executive function of the brain (responsible for multi-tasking, for one). Even passive knowledge of another language (just understanding) is beneficial, so more power to you Rachael and everyone raising their kids bilingual!

  17. You mean showercreme? soap is so drying

  18. I use soap, and sponge ( this way one really removes the dirt ). I have always been suspicious of this Showercreme stuff, it just seems so girly. I admit this is a somewhat silly and prejudiced outlook so if anyone has evidence of greater efficacy linked to showercreme please provide source.
    I use Dove soap. It ranked second in Proteste's soap analysis, but first when considering cost benefit (indicated by the dot in circle symbol in the link that follows).

    Granado Tradicional soap got first place but it costs quite a bit more than Dove, and only surpasses it because of durability. I think Dove is the best buy in this scenario.

  19. I use Dove too! It's the best brazilian soap, indeed.

  20. Both kids, 5 and 10, speak Portuguese and English. The little one actually speaks more Portuenglish - mish-mashing the two when I speak to him. I only speak English with the kids and the wife speaks only Portuguese to them.

    My dad, a retired physician, told me that kids are able to learn something like 5 different languages concurrently when they are between 4 to 7 years of age. I need to get my mom to teach the little one Spanish and dad to teach Jamaican patois before he gets much older!

    Sponges? We don't need no stinkin' sponges! Really, never ever seen a sponge in any family members shower. Just soap.

    BTW - has anyone else ever noticed that when Brazilians buy soap they always smell it before they put it in their basket? I doesn't matter if they buy the same brand/scent a million times. They always sniff it.

  21. I am sensing hatred towards soap bar sniffers. Is this really the message we want to be sending during the holidays?
    Tolerance people, tolerance.

  22. Have any tips on a good deodorant ? And my last thought Do you think its really necessaru to use a new towel after every shower? People sometimes tell me that i shouls but i mean it would be so much lundry..

  23. Here is a video of The Christmas Story read in Jamaican Patois.

    @Greg: Now you say something nice about Soap Sniffers.
    @Soap Sniffers: In return now you say something nice about Greg.

    I wonder if Greg's "We don't need no stinking sponges" line is a reference to the movie below. If so then kudos, it is an all time classic.

    I myself possess a PLETHORA of sponges...

  24. @ Deodorant Anom

    Here is a link concerning deodorant

    This article though is limited. Why don't you just invest the 42 reais ( per year) and get a subscription to Proteste? You will also receive their archives which includes the results of all the products they have tested so far. Plus special editions on financial matters ( hidden banking Fees, auto insurance, health insurance , best rates for loans, etc).
    I don't work for this magazine, I am just a subscriber so believe me: it is definitely worth the money.

  25. Funny, a post about bilingual kids turns into sponges, soap and deoderant! The reason why sponges and loofah exfoliating mesh things aren't so popular here is because you can't have them for too long without mold being an issue. Nothing like washing yourself with a moldy sponge. Even my pumice stone grows mold after a couple of weeks in the shower. Gross. I use apricot scrub in the tube/container, no mold issues.

  26. sponges are very popular in brazil!

  27. Gritty - Awesome good link on the Christmas story. It sounds just like my grandmother when she used to read to us when we were little! My all time favorite is when my dad or uncles would tell us Brer Anancy stories in full shanty-town patois.

    Uh, I didn't mean to harsh on the soap sniffers. I am personally a mango sniffer myself (if you are Jamaican you would totally understand).

    The "we don't need no stinkin'..." ref was to Blazing Saddles - one of Mel Brook's all time classics.