Bilingual education | nada too tired

April 20, 2017



Funny how it became actually very normal to us that Yuna talks two languages. Although she mostly speaks Portugese, she easily switches to Dutch as soon as my parents are coming over for a week, or while  skyping with my brother. About a year ago she still seemed to think that the whole world speaks Portugese, whilst my parents listening to her stories with permanently lifted eyebrows. Not that she seemed to be too much bothered about that. In fact she went on and on, including moving hands non stop, because that makes an important part of the Portugese communication style.


You're not my friend


Yuna had an age of 2,5 years, when we moved to Portugal. In that moment she spoke most of the time Dutch. She did understand well Portugese, as her dad always communicated with her in his mother tongue. Incredible to see that only after six weeks, this completely changed. Even to me she started to talk Portugese. Within six weeks she changed to a Portugese toddler, talking with passion, intonations and typical one-lines that she learned at the nursery school from her little friends. I still see her standing with her arms crossed on the middle of the street, not very willing to walk any step further with me. 'Tu não es minha amiga' (you are NOT my friend), she said. I couldn't help myself laughing out loud, which fortunately made her laughing too. And as toddlers can change their mind very quickly, we were best friends again. Lucky me.


Although I continued talking Dutch with her, she more and more responded me in Portugese. Good for me, because I learned fast with her. But also a bit worrying, as obviously I didn't want her to loose the Dutch language. The biggest part of the week she was spending at school, in a fully Portugese environment. How I could make the Dutch language a bit more part of her daily routine, I wondered? I bought some Dtuch cd's with fairytales, musics and stories, which she listens during our daily travel back and forward to the school. That makes 40 minutes of a small sacrifice, as today I know about ten cd's inside out by head (could that be a skill?). Books I only read to her in Dutch and also Disney dvd's I only buy with Dutch language option. Today Yuna sings out load 'Let it go' in three versions. Inexhaustible.


It's in the mix


Since half a year Yuna knows to translate the words one by one. For instance, when she used to ask 'confitura' (Portugese for marmalade) on her bread, I always used to repeat the word in Dutch (jam). As if it was some of a misunderstanding from my side, she always answered; 'no, I don't want jam, I want confitura'. Which clearly showed that she wasn't aware yet of the languages seperately.


Today she is aware of speaking Portugese and Dutch. As her vocabulary is growing, she knows the translation from many words. In case she doesn't, she just puts everything in the mix. Mostly we understand, but in case we don't, her passionate irritation just comes out in one language (with a lot of hand moves) ;-)  

Nada too tired


So appearantly we are not doing such a bad job with our bilingual education. We didn't realize though that in fact we were giving a more and less trilingual education. We both have always spoken with Yuna in our mother tongue, but between us we are used to speak English (not perfectly English, but let's say we do have a good understanding. I hope ;-). Never to Yuna directly, but of course we knew that she would catch some things from that. However we didn't realize that she actually understands everything we say. So one evening while having dinner Yuna was almost falling asleep, I suggested better to bring her to bed as 'she might be a bit too tired'. She suddenly turned out to be more awake than we were thinking and replied "não não, eu sou nada too tired' (no, no I'm not too tired at all).


With three languages in the mix here at home, we're slowly developing a new 'secret language'. We cook up words, we mix them and twist them. Others might think that we are slightly nuts when they hear us talking, but as long as we understand each other, we like to think that we are doing fine.





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