When I was working full time, every morning on the way to work I would think “I must speak more Portuguese with the girls”. I would put a reminder on the mobile phone’s diary, perfectly timed with the expected home time, reminding me to speak “PORTUGUES”. It didn’t work. My mind was not in the right place. I was not yet really committed.
One day, after being told by my 4-year-old to speak English because she didn’t understand or like Portuguese, I decided I had to do more. I would commit wholeheartedly or risk losing this unique opportunity to give my children the gift of bilingualism and all the extraordinary and wonderful benefits that come with it.
It would take time to change long-ingrained habits, to become more mindful of the ultimate goal and of what needed to be done to achieve it.
Small step #1. Visual Reminders
I picked up the largest post-it note I could find and, in my best handwriting, I wrote ‘Fala Portugues’ (speak Portuguese). Then I stuck it on my wardrobe, positioned so it would be the first thing I would see first thing in the morning. I even drew a sun on it! A good omen? A visual reminder of the beautiful Portuguese sun? A superstition? All of the above.
Small step #2. Enlist the partner’s support
It’s not easy being the minority language parent – the burden is on us, on top of everything else. I would need help and support. So I also made a Post It note for my husband. It read:
- Encourage and celebrate
- Support all endeavours
- Talk Portuguese – ask the girls to speak Portuguese
- Remind Andrea to speak Portuguese
It had a Portuguese flag with a heart in the place of the circle. It was a visual representation to help him help me.
Small step #3. Enlist the children’s support
What preschooler doesn’t like being helpful and telling their parents what to do?
One day, on a weekend family lunch, I asked my children, and husband, to help me speak more Portuguese. “Mummy needs to speak more Portuguese. Can you help me? Will you remind me to speak more Portuguese”? The reply was an enthusiastic and dutiful ‘Yes Mummy’.
Ok, so far, it’s looking good.
Small step #4 Stickers and Flags
Kids love stickers, right? They also love drawing and colouring in, right? I thought we could make it fun and rewarding for them, and also create a visual clue for all of us. It’s a win-win.
So I drew the Portuguese flag and we coloured it in together. Then I drew a line in the middle and a line across, splitting it into 4 sections. In each section I wrote the name of a core family member, and put the image on the fridge door.
I kneeled to my children’s level and explained that from now on, whenever any of us spoke Portuguese, we’d get a sticker to put on the flag.
The decision of when anyone had a sticker was a relaxed affair. If we spoke Portuguese all the time, I’d be dishing out stickers constantly! At the start, not much Portuguese was spoken by the girls or myself, but it did a good job to reinforce the idea and remind us to do it. We still have similar flags on the fridge and don’t use them all the time, but occasionally they may ask, or I might notice that they have made a great effort in speaking Portuguese that day and offer a sticker to recognise the event.
All these small steps pretty much happened organically as a result of the seismic shift I felt when my daughter told me to speak English and not Portuguese.
Small step #5 Buy a book and confirm your intent
I had been aware of Adam Beck’s blog and work for a year or 2. As my efforts intensified I started reading more. I considered buying Beck’s book for months, but the truth is, as a mum of 2 small children, I don’t have much time to read books. So I procrastinated. And procrastinated…. Until I asked myself how committed I really was. Next thing, I hit the ‘buy now’ button on Amazon. That act confirmed my intent to take the matter seriously. It’s also a fantastic book, great for lay people like most of us parents. The book drove home, repeatedly, key points that would help me become more mindful of the project ahead.
The 5 steps above worked for us. It helped me, and my family, slowly change our mindset and create new habits that would support the emergence of the minority language. I’d love to hear what works for you.