Comme Si, Como What? English please.

Basically every night our supper table turns into a hodgepodge of languages. Up until recently it just ping-ponged from English to Portuguese, and whenever it got too far over to the latin side, I would come in sounding very authoritative.

English please. We’re speaking English right now.

When one starts to veer, it doesn’t matter who it is, the others follow along in lock-step. When one strays by more than a couple of words, somebody else responds and the conversation completely jumps the shark.

It’s weird and funny and completely unexpected. No matter how many times it happens. Yesterday Justice came home from school and told Nina that he had a new teacher. They’ve been in school for 2 weeks and the teacher quit. (Don’t get me started.) Here’s the exact quote of his explanation:

“Mom, she lived muito longe and had to take three comboios to school.”

English please. Like a bad driver, not wanting to choose a lane, sometimes our kids don’t ever want to choose a language and stick with it. I would estimate that our kids successfully complete a full sentence in English about 25% of the time. They spend all day long operating in one language at school. When they come home, it’s hard to just flip the switch and go full-American. It makes your brain hurt just a little bit. When it gets really bad, my teeth start to itch. (I made up that last part.)

Nanny, Mimi, Toni, Pawpaws (all of them) and Gramps…I know that hurts a little to hear that about your grandkids, but it is who they are, and that’s okay with me.

What Justice said was that his teacher lived very far from the school and had to take three trains to get there. Stuff like that is what make up our days.

I can handle two languages, but I’m going to have to warm up to a third. I actually prayed not long after arriving in Portugal that the Lord would let me forget my Spanish so I wouldn’t throw in a random word from the wrong language.

But, last night the rules started to change. Tectonic plates shifted a little in northern Portugal. I don’t remember exactly how it got started….my best guess is Trinity. She always beats me to the punch by asking everyone about their day while we are eating supper. She starts off very maturely by asking about what each person learned, and then ends giggling by asking Justice what he ate for lunch. She sits right next to him in the cafeteria and eats the same thing that he eats everyday. So, I think it was our little Trin-monster asking Brooklyn a question that opened a whole new can of worms.

Deep in Paris Trey Ratcliff via Compfight

Comme ci comme ça.

Wait a minute! What? That was Brooklyn’s answer. French. C’mon man!


I wanted to say that we don’t use foul language in our home and launch into a contemporary history lesson about why we should only eat Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast. I don’t like French, and neither did she, until this year. Now since Faith has the same torture, I believe she’s finding some sort of strange joy in learning the laziest sounding language on the planet.

But, I didn’t say anything discriminatory at all. I just let it go and watched as Justice asked Brooklyn how to say what she just said. Wide-eyed and drooling, I know he was thinking how cool it would be to confuse his mother and me with Fr-Engli-Gese.

This, coming from the kid who called every Portuguese girl here Anna for the first year and regularly answered every question asked him with, “Wogock!” We have no idea where that came from. My best guess is that’s what Portuguese sounded like to him at the time.

I don’t know if I can keep up with three languages around our bonding place. Who knows what will come next? Total linguistic anarchy. Will they actually start blending 3 languages into the same sentence? Worse yet is that Liberty is learning Spanish.

That’s right, America. Hang your head. Be ashamed. The public schools in Portugal teach two languages for 12 years (English and Portuguese) and then could possibly add two more languages for two years a piece. Portuguese students leave high school with the opportunity to study 3 foreign languages for more than one year.

But, while you hang your head in shame, please pray for me. If it gets much worse I may have to ditch my normal response of “English please.”

I might do better off to just start answering like Justice used to.


  • Nina in Portugal

    Our kids are knuckleheads, especially Justice. Hilarious knuckleheads…..

    It’s more like, “Wuguck”, meu amor. 😉

  • Tricia Gillespie

    This is SO funny! I’m completely linguistically challenged. I took Spanish in high school and two full years in college, but I couldn’t ever carry a conversation; however, whenever my son asks me something simple in English, I answer in Spanish and it drives him batty. It’s kind of fun really. My son takes French and he’s pretty good at it, much better than I would be. My kids only have the choice of Spanish or French in their school.

    Your children are very smart. It’s good and amazing that they are learning so many languages. After all, you never know what country God will send them to one day. 😉

    • Michael

      Truth be told, FringeGirl, they got it from us. Some words are just easier said and come out quicker in one language or another. Also, I regularly go around singing stuff like “Danke Schoen”. One of the days I’m going to write about the total meltdown that Brooklyn had when I told her we were going to speak Portuguese only in a Portuguese restaurant. She came totally unglued.
      Thanks for the comment! May both our kids and yours be willing to go anywhere and do anything for our Lord.

  • marytoo

    Reminds me of my home growing up. But my dad was very strict about us speaking English at home. He used to say, “If you are going to speak only one language, it is going to be English.” Woe betide the child that strayed into anything other than English when he happened to be walking into the room!

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