We’re now in Portugal, where I’m from – though at this point I’ve spent as much time living in the UK as I have in Portugal. As mentioned in this post, I was looking forward to this long summer holiday and had great hopes and expectations for this trip. In that post, I also encouraged any parents raising bilingual children to visit home whenever possible as it can have such a great impact on the children’s bilingualism and biculturalism.
So, how did the first week of the summer holiday in Portugal go?
Not a good start…
The girls seem to have brought a tummy bug with them (I say brought because family who stayed in the UK also got it). We spent three days at home being poorly and it was not pretty.
By the third day, Amelia was still not herself. I called a 24h medical helpline and she was referred to a local hospital. Hospital S. Francisco Xavier has a reputable pediatric department. I can only say great things about our visit to Hospital S. Francisco Xavier! Amelia was seen within minutes of arriving and all staff was friendly and helpful. Plus, there was a private free car park for patients attending the pediatric A&E. The girls got better fairly quickly after the visit and business, as usual, could resume.
We then spent a few days hanging out with their cousins – my sister’s three children. They pretty much did what they normally do in terms of playing: drawing, colouring in, making masks, sports (yoga, judo, football), dancing, playing Doctors and Nurses, Mummies and Daddie and just general silliness. With the odd bit of Portuguese TV when someone needed quiet time.
Language learning is contextual: we learn and have a wider understanding of different words
by experiencing a variety of contexts.
Hanging out with family in the minority language country, even though we’re doing similar activities to what we do at home, offers a different dynamic. Language learning is contextual: we learn and have a wider understanding of different words by experiencing a variety of contexts. Portugal is not the polar opposite of the UK but it is a different culture, so there are not only nuances in dialogue and meaning, but also in social interactions and norms. It would be difficult for me to offer all of this rich experience by myself.
Ask family NOT to speak the majority language
The majority, or community language in this context is English which is the word spoken where we live, the UK, and Portuguese is the minority language as we have so few opportunities to speak it and expose the children to it, when back in London.
Everyone in my family can speak English, even the 5-year-old cousin, but I have asked everyone to refrain from speaking the language so that the girls can have full immersion. I was concerned that the girls might struggle with that and feel awkward but that was not the case at all. They both have been very happy, not as homesick as I expected, and socialising and playing nicely with the cousins and everyone else who crosses their path.
Sophia, who just turned 5 years old, has been speaking Portuguese of her own accord. She needs the occasional reminder, but I can see that day by day speaking Portuguese is becoming the norm. It was the same process for me I’m so used to speak English most of the time, that I too needed retraining.
To me, speaking the language is not good enough. As I mentioned previously in this blog, Id like my children to feel equally at home in Portugal as in the UK. That means they need to feel a personal, emotional connection. Them seeing my emotional connection, and feeling it by proxy is not enough. They need to have their own experiences and build their own emotional connections to the place and the people.
I try of course of providing them with interesting memorable experiences here. This week we’ve been to the Maat Museum (below) and to CCB (Centro Cultural de Belem, above) which is a fantastic cultural centre with exhibitions, performances, and lovely engaging gardens.
More importantly, perhaps, is spending time with Portuguese family and friends. Laughing, eating and playing together is what is going to bring them together and build a longlasting connection to the language and culture. It’s wonderful to see their relationship blossom.
Find out how we fared on week 2