Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Profile: Ju (learning English and sign language in Brazil)

Alison is an American living in Brazil with her family and working as an English teacher. Her son, Ju, 16 months, receives input in English from her and in Portuguese from her husband, the nanny, and the rest of the outside world. She felt it was important for the parents to be consistent with the language they use with him so that he could differentiate more easily between English and Portuguese. Interestingly, she notes that he now has certain expectations for the languages:

"When I speak in Portuguese to him, like to tell him and the nanny at the same time that I will go take a shower or something of the sort, he doesn't acknowledge that I am speaking to him. Recently he learned to blow kisses, manda um beijo, and only will do it when he is told in Portuguese by ANYONE but me. If I say it Portuguese, he just looks at me like I am making a joke or something." This resonates with what I've been reading in the research--kids know early on who is "supposed" to speak which language.

Alison continues, "The only words he actually produces are in Portuguese, but those are limited to things he wants and likes, like gata (cat - I have two and he wants to play with them and grab them and touch them), apo for sapo (frog - my neighbor has frog statues all over the place that he likes to pet and talk to), and rua (street/out - he loves to go out to play and run around in the grass)."

Here are some examples of how Ju started producing words in Portuguese: "He goes through sound 'phases' where he will practice one sound over and over, most of which sound like they are Portuguese. The first one i noticed was an isolated /t/ sound with no vowel following, just 't, t, t, t, t....' About a month after this, he began to say "ata," which I think was the beginning of "gata," but at the time just meant anything he was excited about. A later one was the sound /dj/ like in just, which appears in many places in Portuguese, especially in Bahia where we live, and is not so common as a babbling sound in English (so far as I know). The most recent one is "kotchikotchi" which kinda sounds like "cocó" (poop), which my husband insists he makes more often when he has a dirty diaper."

While Ju is currently only speaking words that sound like Portuguese, he "shows understanding of words in both languages. If I ask him to find the 'truck' he does, as well as responds to commands in English. There are some objects that we just use the Portuguese word for, like "pãno," which is a cloth diaper rag that he sleeps with. He also responds to signs, which we have used with both English and Portuguese words. Sometimes you just have to make the sign and he responds without any language at all." This process sound very similar to that of other very young bilingual children I've encountered or read about. Readers, would you agree?

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