This is the place where we are have documented the road we have walked in order to adopt our four children from Brazil and the road we are now on as a family. We are keenly aware that adopting is not just a process we've chosen to go through, but part of God's plan for us and for our children. May He be glorified through the process and through our family!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Speaking Portuguese

When we first decided to adopt, we thought we would adopt a hispanic child, and there was much conversation about what we would do to raise him or her bilingually.  We've done loads of research on methods families use to raise bilingual children:  OPOL, ML@H, Immersion, Dual Immersion, living abroad...  all had their hitches and we figured we'd do our best and play it by ear banking on the idea that some bilingualism is better than no bilingualism and that even if we did a terrible job, our child would be better off.  This was the logical path since Kim is a Spanish speaker and James is naturally skillful at languages. 

One of the big questions that came up when we were lead to adopt from Brazil (NOT a Spanish-speaking country, to the surprise of even well-educated individuals) left wondering how we would ever manage to raise bilingual children if their native language was one neither of us was proficient in.  We thought we'd have to give up that dream, but even so, we wanted to prepare ourselves, so we spent some time working through Rosetta Stone for Brazilian Portuguese, and practiced with some Brazilian friends.  This, too, was part of the Perfect Provision that God worked out for our family.   

We would have NEVER imagined the way our dreams of a bilingual family have worked themselves out.  We speak Portuguese at home and the children are all learning English and Spanish at their Dual Language school.  Trilingual is the new bilingual!  Somehow between the technology, the friends, the 6 weeks in Brazil and the crash course that is life with 4 children... somehow we've become reasonably proficient in Portuguese and speak it comfortably with our children 98% of the time.  

This amazes me every time I think about it. 

What is all this Portuguese speaking doing to their English-learning process?  
Lucky for us, human brains are pretty much programed to absorb as many languages as they plenty of input in.  The learning curve may be a little slower at the start, but after a few years, our children should have decent proficiency and literacy in three languages!  Right now they are able to understand most of what they hear in context, and they are speaking in small phrases and sentences when they need to.  Lucas is the most adventurous with his English and is already reading.  Luana can repeat anything she hears with perfect pronunciation.  Maynara is very good at social language and is already reading.  Brayan understands lots and asks lots of questions about "how do you say....?"  When we visit the grandparents, we see their English skills come out, and they can all ask for more cookies, pancakes, candy and games with native-like proficiency.  Everyone is doing very well at school and we will most likely have a kindergardener, a first grader, a third grader and a (gasp) sixth grader next school year.

Why does it matter that they keep speaking Portuguese?
It's a fact that if they stop speaking Portuguese now, they will never have more than a 4, 6, 8 or 10 year old's grasp of the language.  Even worse, they'll most likely lose their ability to speak their native language if we let them stop using it.  On principle, we want them to have the gift of multilingualism because we believe strongly in it.  But we also want our children to hold on to an important part of their birth culture.  If they grow up and decide they want to live in Brazil--or even visit their birth country--they will be out of place in their own country if they can't speak the language.  They may be Brazilian citizens with Brazilian passports, but they would lack the ability to fit in as Brazilians.  We're not willing to take that from them.  

Seriously?  Spanish too?
It turns out that Portuguese speakers are able to understand Spanish fairly well just because of the similarities between the two languages.  The children have latched right on to Spanish and are able to understand it well enough to keep up with the academic content without feeling like an outsider, and they are learning to read it easily.  It's a comfortable transition-language for them, and we hope they will continue to embrace it.

Sometimes it feels a little awkward to be speaking Portuguese; especially when we're out in public or when we just can't find the way or the words to express ourselves fully.  But then we think about what it would be like for our children to have to make this huge life adjustment without the benefit of being able to talk it through in their first language.  Imagine if they had had to leave Portuguese behind in Brazil and face their whole new life with no way to communicate.  Awkward, for sure.  We'll take that burden for them for as long as we can.  

We're learning fast too.  This is a full-immersion life for us and we're really glad to be able to share it with our beautiful children.

On a completely non-related note, here are some pictures from our visit to the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina.

1 comment:

Julia said...

That's so amazing! I feel a little jealous that your kids are going to end up with so many languages at their fingertips; I love languages and learn pretty easily but haven't ever had the opportunity to do more than dabble in a bunch. How fun...