27 fev 2018 What I have been learning from my baby boy – part 2
One important thing I learned from my baby is that laziness starts from a very early age. Having been talking to him only in English for more than 2 years now, I can notice his incredible understanding of my production in spoken English. He understands nearly everything I speak to him, reacts appropriately to commands, and answers to my questions – but the answers are only in Portuguese. I am investigating why he doesn’t reply to me “in my language”, and I am coming to the conclusion that the main reason for this is simply laziness.
Let me explain this. I am not saying that he knows how to produce orally in English and only chooses not to reply to me using it. But what I am noticing is that, without some sort of stimulus, he will not make the effort to produce in English. All the environment surrounding him is in Portuguese: his classmates, the teacher, our friends and relatives… his only input in English comes from me, from apps he uses on his tablet, and from the cartoons he watches on TV. He sees no need to speak in English because nobody else speaks to him in English.
Another important finding is that, once he knows I can understand and speak Portuguese, he sees no reason to learn to speak in English to communicate with me. That’s a mistake I made: at one point I should’ve started to pretend I couldn’t understand his replies in Portuguese. That would’ve made him make an effort to communicate in English with me. But I didn’t do that. I will try and start doing it from now on and see how he is going to react. Since I realized his “laziness” to speak I started to ask him to speak to me “in dad’s language”. He is taking it quite well, but is a bit lost to start producing. So, I started to make him repeat the sentences after me. His pronunciation is terrific once he repeats, and little by little he is producing a bit more, but he is still not engaging completely – and that’s because he knows I understand Portuguese.
The fact that his listening skills development is somehow disconnected from that of his oral skills is an amazing finding. He makes sense, understands and responds to my spoken English, but that hasn’t caused the same progress in his spoken English.
His motivation to understand my spoken English is obvious: either he understands my language or he will not be able to communicate with me, especially because I do not speak in another language to him. But once he finds out that I can understand his language, his motivation to speak gets lower and so he simply doesn’t make the effort to learn to speak.
Living this experience has been giving me important elements to reflect on how we can improve kids’ bilingualism in a cultural context such as ours, where we are not naturally exposed to English everywhere. And motivation plays a key role: you must have strong reasons to learn something, for learning is hard work, demanding extra efforts from the learner. There will certainly be more learning from my baby throughout this endeavor, and I will make sure I keep sharing all this learning with you from time to time.