28 February 2011


This week, I was talking to Michael and Julia in English (he doesn't speak Portuguese, so the family language in English, obviously), and Julia told me to speak in Portuguese with her! Amazing. She is still making an effort to speak Portuguese. When she speaks in English, I rephrase her sentences in Portuguese so she can repeat them. She is still a little gringa though, with her strong English accent, mixing feminine/masculine words, and mixing verb tenses. But she promised me she will teach Portuguese to Nicholas!

It's interesting to see how much she understands what a language is. The concept of a language. I have no idea how old I was when I realized that there was something called language. However, as both my mum and aunt were English teachers, I suppose "the understanding that there is a language named English" was somehow present in our lives from early on.

Our expatriate family life is definitely an open mind in this sense. Beyond Portuguese, English and Oshiwambo, we have playdates with families who speak primarily Afrikaans and German as well, so her exposure to other languages is getting broader. On that note, recently she's been quite keen to learn Afrikaans words. I can't help her at all, but we ask her teacher for the correct pronunciation of some words. The word of the week is Dagbreek (daybreak/dawn). It's the name of a school we pass by everyday. I was always saying da-g-breek, but it turns out we should say darr-breek. So that's it, we are now learning together!

03 February 2011

Raising gringos

It's been 7 months since I last posted here - what a shame. But a lot happened during this time, so I don't feel too bad. The biggest change in life is that now I'm a mother of 2 trilingual babies. Nicholas, our cute little bug, arrived on the 2nd of December. And a quick note here – I totally share Sarah’s relief about having a second child immersed in a bi/trilingual environment. Nicholas was already born into this adventure! So, I don't need to make a huge effort again to understand how it is going to be; what the hell OPOL means; which challenges we will face; which resources are/aren’t available; how creative and persistent we need to be.

On our trilingual baby #1 – I’m happy to say it seems Julia has turned the corner and is now a more active Portuguese speaker! As I mentioned before, although she understands everything in Portuguese, she had chosen English no matter who she was speaking to. However, my mother and aunt visited us in December and: (a) we were 3 people speaking Portuguese all day long; (b) they were more demanding with her to speak in Portuguese. The result is that all of a sudden she became really interested in her Portuguese DVDs, CDs, in learning nursery rhymes (not only listening but learning to sing along), etc. Even after their departure, she kept this way and is in fact communicating with me in Portuguese more often (probably 70% of the time). I’m really proud of her. We can see this is an effort, but she keeps trying. The most fascinating aspect is that she is clearly an English speaker speaking Portuguese.

The most obvious thing is for example of pragmatics, where the order of words appears the other way round:
• Where is my brown bear? / Cadê meu marrom urso? (In Portuguese, should be “urso marrom”, as generally adjectives come after nouns)
• It is not raining. / Está não chovendo. (should be “Não está chovendo”)

She also gets confused with verb conjugation (but probably native speakers do as well?). For example, she says “Eu te ama” (I love you – should be Eu te amo), mixing different conjugations (amo/ama) for different persons (I/she). Since I tell her both sentences: “Eu te amo” (I love you) and “Mamãe te ama” (Mummy loves you), she naturally gets confused. Likewise, she says “meu bolsa” (my bag), when it should be “minha bolsa” (minha is the feminine form of ‘mine’ and meu is the masculine form), and bag… for some reason… is feminine. I suppose this is a normal mistake for Portuguese speakers as well, to learn the gender of words, but of course if you are not a native speaker this is a more significant challenge. In her case, I hear Julia’s Portuguese acquisition as if she were in a point in between. She is not 100% immersed in a Portuguese environment, but has been exposed to the language since birth. The result is that she speaks totally as a gringa (a foreigner), as we would say in Brazil…

And then here comes my train of thoughts…
So she speaks as a gringa…
but she is not a gringa…
or is she?
How will it be when we move to Brazil, will she be considered Brazilian?
Will her friends tease her saying she is a gringa?
Surely she will overcome the grammar challenges. But if you think of bi/tri/multilingual kids as being not only exposed to more than one language but more than one culture...
Oh my!
Who could imagine that I would ever be a mother of 2 gringos?!
Me… an extremely proud Brazilian… mother of 2 gringos.

Life is definitely full of surprises!

05 July 2010

It's time for Carnival

Wow! How great to start the week with the Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, this time compiled by Sarah, from Bringing up Baby Bilingual, with lots of interesting posts from families who are blogging on their experience raising kids with more than 1 language. Well done Sarah! Please pay her a visit and enjoy the wonderful literature review. If you want more information on the Carnival, you can check it out on the Bilingual for Fun blog.

25 June 2010

English 1 x 0 Portuguese

In times of World Cup, I must admit (sadly) that English is winning the game in the Linke family. Portuguese is still present, Oshwambo is somewhere there, Afrikaans appears sometimes, but it is the English team that is going for the second round. It is official: Julia wants or prefers or finds it easier to speak in English.

Of course she still speaks in Portuguese with me, but not as a golden rule anymore. When we are chatting, she shifts back and forth, back and forth, back and forth... until the moment she sticks to English. I keep answering in Portuguese, of course (and now more than ever). However, as of now, she has clearly chosen English.

I guess that is happening mostly because of school. She is now very active there, sometimes doesn't want to come home, has music and dance classes, has lots of friends (and keeps talking about them all day long), and is expanding her understanding about the world – weather, actions, animals, plants. We can see that in her vocabulary. So probably it all makes more sense if it is in English.

Her favourite DVDs are also the ones in English. If I trick her and put something in Portuguese, she will eventually get into it and enjoy. But if you ask her what she wants to watch, it will be definitely “Winnie the Pooh” or, the winner at home, the Australian “Playschool”.

Her repertory of songs has expanded tremendously, and she keeps singing “I'm a little tea pot”, “Twinkle twinkle little star”, “Bah bah black sheep”, “Five little ducks”, “Row row row your boat” and “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree” all day long. She likes to hear a Brazilian CD with nursery rhymes, and when it is playing she might sing along. However if you just ask her to sing something spontaneously, it will definitely be an English rhyme.

I wonder what went wrong with my approach. Is it just a normal path for Babel families? Or have I failed?

Recently I've been quite sick and she has spent a lot of time with daddy. I wonder if it is a consequence of that as well. Surely as a mother (and with the Brazilian Catholic blood) I feel very guilty for not being capable of playing games with her daily, dancing and singing and counting… But oh well. I'm pregnant and facing tough times and that's how it is, unfortunately. I hope this will change, or at least it won’t stop her Portuguese language acquisition at all.

Time will tell.

07 May 2010


Michael, asks me "sapato"?
Julia turns to him and says, "sapato means shoes, daddy".
It does seem she will be the one to finally teach Michael some Portuguese!

29 April 2010

which language is that?

Julia's new words: pilinho and blankinho for pillow and cover. She has been doing that quite a lot recently - applying the diminutive suffix as in Portuguese language to English words.

15 April 2010


Our multilingual family was profiled in the Bringing up Baby Bilingual blog! It was nice to answer her questions.
Thanks, Sarah!

23 March 2010

A fourth language?

We have noticed that there is a fourth language starting to show up in our language maze - that is Afrikaans. Since Michael and I arrived in Namibia we have both been reluctant to learn Afrikaans, for historical/political reasons. Despite the fact that I find it neither a beautiful nor an attractive language, I thought it would be politically incorrect to speak Afrikaans. However, for our surprise, Afrikaans is probably Windhoek's most widely spoken language. So even though English is the official language at Julia's school, we have already noticed a few words in Afrikaans. So I am taking the opportunity to review our language diagram and bring this question to our multilingual experience - will Julia, differently than her parents, speak Afrikaans? (and is it time for us to stop being lazy and learn as well?)

24 February 2010


I woke up today hearing Julia greeting Maria in Oshiwambo. I felt so happy! My daughter is speaking a 3rd language that neither her mum nor dad has any idea about!


Between December and February, we spent 3 weeks in Australia and 2 weeks in Brazil. The impact of these trips on Julia's language abilities is incredible.

Looking back, I can't believe how unsure I was about her/our capacity to make it happen. We decided to try the OPOL approach, but I have always been a bit wary if this attempt would work, if that would make sense, if that wouldn't be too challenging. Since pregnancy I dedicated myself to speak only Portuguese with her, all the time, to avoid the baby speaking and make full and detailed sentences, to expose her as much as possible to my own language. It is strange to think that Portuguese is the minority language in my life today, but one that has always had such a central role in my family: my father is a journalist, mother is a psychoanalysts (with strong focus on psycholinguistics), aunt is an English/Portuguese translator/teacher, and sister is a psychologist. Writing and reading is what we do, daily - for earning life and for fun. It would be sad if Julia were not able to join us. So here I am, making me effort, trying my best, but doubting if that would really work.


I can finally say that she speaks full sentences in English and Portuguese, not mixing too much anymore. Improving as fast as she can. She also translates for her silly parents more commonly, just so they don’t get lost! It’s clear that she is getting better into swapping languages in accordance to the recipient (beyond mum and dad).

She had a lot of fun repeating Portuguese long/complex words (helicóptero, libélula, bailarina, papagaio, guanabara, "escada perigosa", and even "lagoa rodrigo de freitas"). She is so happy for being understood by others. In Brazil, there were just few times when she mixed sentences, as when she wanted to play with playdough, she didn't know how it was in Portuguese, so my mum told her, massinha. Normally she would be able to say "eu quero brincar" (=I want to play), but I guess she got a bit confused with a word that already has play in it, so her sentence came as "vovó, eu quero play massinha" (=grandma, I want to play with playdough).

And as a final note, she says por favor/please and obrigada/thank you in both languages and more regularly. So hopefully she is also turning into a polite young lady. ;-)

So far, so good.

17 January 2010


We have just spent 3 weeks in Australia and Julia's vocabulary and control of English has expanded so much! She spent most of her time with her cousins (4 and 7 yo) and of course she tried to copy everything they did or said. "Excuse me", "don't!" and "nothing" were quickly introduced to her by them. She is now more emphatic with "please" (when she really wants something that one is not giving her). Australian animals are now mentioned daily: kookaburras, platypus and cockatoos. Dolphins, however, comes mixed with Portuguese (golfinho). She says "dolfinho".

Interestingly, she spoke quite a lot of Portuguese with me when we were there (sentences normally mixed with English). She only spoke in English with me when she didn't know the word in Portuguese. She didn't speak Portuguese with anyone else, but likewise sometimes could say a word in Portuguese that she still didn't know in English (and once she learnt it, she would swap to English). However this is pretty much the same reality here in Namibia, as I'm the only one speaking Portuguese. I'm curious to see how it will be when we go to Brazil in February.

When formulating sentences in Portuguese, she normally mixes both languages - particularly if she wants something. Most of the time she says "I want" in English and the rest might come in Portuguese (if she is speaking with me). Sometimes she says "Eu quero" (= I want), but not as a rule. She will tell me "I want to sentar aqui", and if I don't address it soon, she will turn to Mike and say "I want to sit down here". My guess is that there are 2 reasons for her difficulty with formulating sentences in Portuguese: it is the minority language and words can be very long. And oh lord, she is only 2 years and 2 months, what else would I want? :-) I'm a proud mother.

On a final note, many people in Australia were really amazed with the fact that Julia is learning 3 languages (and is already quite functional in all of them). Australia is a geographically isolated country and bilinguism/multilinguism (and the multi-cultural family) is something relatively new. Inevitably, this reality seems to be changing. We spent a couple of days in a caravan park on the beach where I saw 2 little girls (+- 8 yo) teasing a third one because she didn't know how to count up to 10 in Italian. They were doing it out loud and telling the poor girl that "she should know how important it is to know a second language".

08 December 2009

here we go

yes, she is trilingual: "mummy, abre, plix. tangi". and this is just the beginning.

(=mummy, open please. thanks)

30 November 2009

Tangi, meme.

It's official now, Julia says sentences that we can clearly understand. It's unbelievable how her capacity to communicate has improved in the last 2 months! She repeats a lot of what we say.

I've noticed that in Portuguese we have lots of words with 3 or 4 syllables (I have never paid attention to that before), and it seems a bit of a challenge for her. I do a lot of pronouncing in syllables with her, so we have been practicing different sounds, which is a lot of fun. So we say for example, lâm-pa-da, or ca-cho-rro, I pronounce each syllable and she follows me.

She says "I want to sit here", which for me sounds quite complex, or "I want to read a book", or "I want one bic" (biscuit), but no sentences in Portuguese. It's clear English is the main language at the moment for her. While Michael was away (for 1 month), her vocabulary in Portuguese increased a lot. Now that he is back she is again focusing more on English, which after all is the "family language".

But the funny think is she doesn't say "thank you" or "obrigada". It's ONLY "tangi meme", which means "thank you madam" in Oshivambo (meme = madam, woman, or mother), and she does it regardless if it is for a man or a woman.

18 November 2009

language diagram

Very much inspired by all the family diagrams I've stumble on recently (babelkid, multitongue, bilingualism, trilingual+1), here is our language diagram. Still quiet simple. English rules, but who knows what is going to happen in the future... Afrikaans will need to be included soon, once BK is further exposed to environment. And of course, so far there is only one BK around, but hopefully it will change...

01 November 2009

Flog! Flog! Flog!

When I started this blog, I knew that would happen - I would commit to something that I simply could not keep up to date! Shame on me. Life is really hectic and I apologise for that. Here is a summary of what has happened recently:

Julia is about to turn 2 and I can confidently say she fully understands English, Portuguese and Oshiwambo. She doesn't say many sentences but honestly she chats SO MUCH that I am sure she is saying much more than couple of sentences, but mummy and daddy simply can't understand. It's her own language. She does say few sentences like "mummy shower" frequently, or "é a vovó" (that is gramma), but that's all I can get.

She says lots of words in both English and Portuguese, quite good vocabulary. The last few weeks she started repeting a lot of what we say, and she loves new words like aranha (spider), acacia or marula (both indigenous trees we planted recently). Tia Lina (Auntie Lina, my sister), is i-a-ina (repeated 50 times a day). I don't know about Oshiwambo because I can't understand a word apart from greetings, but when she is with Maria, Nampa or Kornelia they are only communicating in Oshiwambo and she is totally into it. She says a lot "nene alala", which is a mix of Portuguese (neném) and Oshiwambo (alala, no idea how to write it but that's the sound) - "baby wants to sleep".

From Michael's notes -- Oshwambo speakers normally mix the Ls and Rs, so they might say light when they mean right. One day Julia and Michael were watching The Muppet Show and she start jumping and yelling Flog, Flog, Flog when the frog appeared (she loves him). Michael looked at me and said, oh yes, she IS INDEED learning Oshwambo. :-)

I think it's very clear for her that mummy and daddy speak different languages. Some words she says in both languages (i..e. flower/flor), she tends to point to me in Portuguese and to her dad in English. So I guess she is starting to get into the "One Person One Language" mood. Also, something funny is if Mike tries to talk to her in Portuguese (for example read a book), she laughs and gives him a hug. Sort of "good try dad". So cute. Alternatively she gets mad at him and start yelling "no! mummy mummy, mummy". The same if either of us try to speak in Oshwambo! She doesn't take us serious, which is hilarious.

The challenge over the last few weeks is that she is already out of nappies but needs to communicate correctly if she wants to go to the toilet, otherwise - accident! Toilet training is already a challenge in itself, but she is facing a bilingual toilet training, mostly because I was the reference for her in the process and of course I used the Portuguese vocabulary. However most of the time she is only with Maria, or at the kindergarden, and in both cases they use English words (now I come to think that I'm not sure if Maria uses any Oshwambo word in this situation). She knows the toilet vocabulary in both languages, but I think she still mixes a lot (pee-pee/wee-wee/pipi/xixi/poo/cocô) regardless the recipient of the message. Last week I noticed she was saying xixi to Maria who did not notice it. I talked to the teachers and they said "oh yes", and told me of 2 accidents that happened probably due to the bilingual process. So now they all know, but most important she knows and she is getting better at that.

13 April 2009

expanding the vocabulary?

for the sake of documenting, here are some new "words":
"au-au" for dog
"quack quack" for ducks
"nana" for banana
"caca" for poo (in Portuguese)

I'm not sure how it should be, but I think she is not evolving much on her vocabulary, I see other kids her age saying more "real" words, like "thank you". But it does not worry me at all. I'm happy to see that she understands a lot in both languages. Body parts, books, toys in general, i.e. "choose a book" or "where is your armpit" and she answers correctly both in English and Portuguese. For some words I've noticed she answers correctly in Oshwambo as well. And she looks really intrigued when I greet Maria in Oshwambo - as if asking "how come?!".

14 March 2009

first words

Julia, 15 months.

1- Dodói, pronounced by her as "tatai".
Dodói is how you say, in Portuguese, "wound" or "ill/sick" when talking to children. Over the last month she saw her dad's leg with a big wound and one of my fingers with a band-aid. She loves the word now, and loves to cuddle us if she sees we have a "tatai".

2- Água (water), pronounced "aca".

3- Pé (foot), pronounced "péi" or "pái".

4- Mãe, mamãe, mum and mummy, used in both languages. In Portuguese, she pronounces as if she were not native speaker: "máie".

5- Papai and Daddy, in both languages.

I wonder what she is speaking in Oshiwambo... Apart from "meme", which means "mum" or "mrs" (she uses sometimes), I haven't been able to identify anything else. But she does communicate all day long with Ovambo people... so she will probably teach Michael and me in the future.

11 December 2008


Julia and I have been in Brazil since the 25th of November. At first, she was amazed with so many exciting people and things and toys and trees. We came alone, and even during the 3 long flights she was totally fine and happy. On the 3rd day, though, she got scared. And she cried all day long, in a tone I hadn't heard before. She was clearly sad and, to my view, missing her dad. Julia and Michael are very close, he is the one who gets her in the cot every morning, reads to her almost every night, and they have lots of loving moments by themselves. But on the 3rd day in Brazil she realised all the exciting changes meant there was no more daddy around. And she also realised that all of a sudden not only mummy was speaking Portuguese with her, but everybody else. I suppose that was strange. On the 4th morning we talked to Michael in the skype, and that's when she said, for the first time clearly and loud, "daddy". And she waved to him. I could never imagine Julia was to speak her first word, in English, during her trip to Brazil.

(I am not considering all the mama-dada-baba. And I wonder if she was already saying daddy before, but not yet understood?... Who knows).

15 October 2008


For some time I've been teaching Julia "eyes, nose, mouth" (in Portuguese). As I say each word, I touch her face, then we touch my face, etc. Last week for the first time I asked her "where are mummy's eyes?", and she touched my nose. I thought oh well it was just a coincidence (that she touched one part of my face, even though the wrong one -- but we love any achievement, even if a bit wrong, isn't it?). But she kept doing it every time. Some days later, her dad asked where were his eyes (in English), and she did the same! Now when we ask she stops before touching our nose, and thinks a bit, but often touches the mouth or nose before the eyes. She does it right in the third attempt.

I recently realised she is really learning things pretty fast (oh so obvious but I suppose you know what I mean?), so I'm all the time trying to teach her new words and concepts. Yesterday during a nappy change she was clapping hands but suddently I asked her where is your foot? And she showed me her foot! As straightforward as that. Is it quite obvious for a 10-month baby and I'm a bit out to lunch? Maybe.

I always think Portuguese will be in disadvantage here, because English is the predominant language at home (and second I think it is Oshiwambo, between Julia and Maria). But I might be wrong.

Little chatterbox

It might be a bit early to start this blog, as Julia is still not speaking any specific language but her own. Indeed my decisions are quite often premature, but the reason for that is so I have an opportunity to think/register every little (and sometimes seemingly meaningless) language development of Julia. I am sure they will add to something interesting later on, and show us lessons in terms of what is and what isn't meaningful.

I read in different places, and the Pediatrician confirmed, that children who is bi/tri/multilingual tend to speak later. It seems to me they need more time to absorbe information and understand that there are different ways of saying the same thing, and different receivers for each way. So I am quite impressed with the little chatterbox we have at home. Although the dialogues are sequences of baba-dada-mama--therefore not really comprehensable--, she has clear intentions. I think the video below shows that quite well. I wasn't expecting it so early, she started with 6 months.

So now I wonder which language she will choose for her chatterbox routine... or will she choose one?

Chatting over dinner

Julia about 4 months ago, making a very clear statement (!) about something that only her dad understood (he was the one behind the camera). She was about 7 months old at this time.

14 October 2008

The first

First post, never an easy one. So here we go. My name is Clarisse, Julia's mother, Michael's wife. I'm a Brazilian, married to an Australian, living in Namibia. Julia will be 11 months soon. Her first words are still to be understood, but they are already been said. Lots of dada-mama-papa, sometimes as a clear statement, others more as small chat.

There are three languages at home:
- Portuguese: my mother tongue, language I speak with Julia,
- English: Michael's language, the language we speak between ourselves, and Namibia's official language (although you might want to name what they say Namlish), and
- Oshivambo, one of the Namibian local languages, spoken by Maria, Julia's nanny. They are together everyday, so a big part of her awake time she is with Maria.

Both Michael and I work a lot from home, meaning we can eventually give her lunch or read a book during our working hours.

I have been reading a lot about how to raise a trilingual baby, and recently found interesting resources and blogs from families on a similar situation as ours. It's definitely exciting and I feel like embarking in this adventure that is to watch Julia's endeavours. Because I love action research, I decided to register her development in this blog. I am sure this will be something interesting for us as a family to revisite in the future, and maybe even to share with others (although I can't promise much on that side).

Of course I'm not English native speaker and I won't bother my husband asking him to review every post, so please bear with me.

So here we go...