“I’m American and Brazilian too!”

I’m American and Brazilian too!

That’s the answer my 6-year-old daughter gives anyone who questions her nationality. It may sound strange to some, but it is perfectly normal to her and to myself as well.

I’m married to an American who doesn’t speak Portuguese. We live in New Jersey, USA, where our daughters were born. Juliana (6) and Marina (3) are bilingual. They speak Portuguese and English perfectly for their age.With their aunts, Brazilian grandparents, the nanny, and myself, they speak only in Portuguese and rarely mix in any English. With their father, his family, and other American children they speak English.

I chose to raise my children bilingual from birth for two reasons:

1. Bilingualism will give them a lifetime advantage.

  • They will be able to (and already can) communicate with more people, including their Brazilian family.
  • They will have greater interest and ability to learn other languages.
  • Being fluent in Portuguese will help them be admitted to good colleges in the United States, Brazil, or other countries.
  • They will have more job opportunities in the United States and abroad.
  • They will adapt more easily if they choose or need to live in Brazil or another Portuguese speaking country.
  • They will be able to see and understand the world with a different perspective: one that is more open and inclusive (this is already true).

2. Portuguese is an inheritance they have a right to call their own.

When I received Juliana’s Brazilian passport at the Brazilian Consulate in New York and read, “Nationality: Brazilian,” my eyes filled with tears. I still get emotional when I remember that moment. Juliana, my first daughter, was only a few months old at the time. I thought to myself:

My daughter was born here in the United States, she is American, but she is Brazilian too! Since I am Brazilian, she was born with the right to be Brazilian. It is my duty as a mother to teach her the Portuguese language, so that she may not only know but also understand Brazilian culture and the social problems of Brazil. As a result, she will be able to exercise her right to Brazilian citizenship in any way she sees fit.

If I fail to teach Portuguese to my daughters, I will be taking away something that is rightfully theirs without asking for permission. I want my daughters to grow up proud to be American and Brazilian too! That is their identity. I want them to know where they come from so that throughout their lives it can be easier to choose where they want to go and which path to follow.

Portuguese as a heritage language and the opportunity to raise bilingual children

Portuguese is my native language and I am proudly fluent in it, as I am fluent in English, my second language. Despite speaking English every day at work, with my husband at home, and with everyone around me, I don’t allow that to influence my communication in Portuguese with my daughters.

I have spoken only Portuguese with my daughters since they were born, and that’s why they have learned their heritage language. It is a cultural and linguistic inheritance. It is a legacy that will always be part of their nationality and identity.

Many times us mommies and daddies, for whatever reason, lose the opportunity to teach our children our native language while they are still young and able to easily learn the language.

Babies and children learn two or more languages at the same time naturally. They intuitively learn to switch from one language to another depending on the situation or the person with whom they are speaking. When it comes to learning a second language, we know that the best results come from early exposure. However, I also believe in the saying that it is “better late than never.”

If you are a Brazilian daddy or mommy (like me) living outside of Brazil and you want your children to grow up bilingual, choose to speak only in Portuguese to your kids. Educate yourself and get used to speaking to your children only in your native language, just as you would talk to a relative in Brazil. Read books and watch cartoons and children’s TV shows in Portuguese in order to encourage language development and to maintain your children’s bilingualism.

Daily exposure to different languages and cultures teaches children to be inclusive and to become adults with a better understanding of multiculturalism. Growing up bilingual is a special gift that I can give to my daughters and that you can give your children as well.

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