Archive for the ‘Being the Spanish speaker’ category

From passive facilitator to active agent = result

May 31, 2011

Even though I have only just started speaking the odd bit of Spanish at home with my children (and on some days none at all) amazingly there is already a ripple effect happening. The kids are more enthusiastic about Spanish, they ask me to do simple vocabulary games with them and they have even used the odd word or phrase with each other.

The actual amount of Spanish spoken is so little that I think part of the effect must come purely from the intention or change of heart that I have had as regards my role in this experiment. I have gone from being a passive facilitator (promoting contact with other Spanish-speaking people or situations) to being an active agent (speaking Spanish to them myself).

If I can just keep it up and increase the amount we speak at home then I think it could have far greater results than I had hoped for.


Zero Spanish day

May 24, 2011

Well, that didn’t take long did it? 4 days in and already I’m flagging.

In my defence I was at work all morning and out all afternoon on PTA business.

Idea! I will put a pile of Spanish story books by the kid’s beds so I can cheat make up for lost time at the end of the day and read to them a little in Spanish at bedtime.

Pasito a pasito

May 23, 2011

Well, I cancelled the shoe buying trip after a quick pre-shopping surf on the net showed nothing suitable in any of the shops I was hoping to visit.

Note to children’s shoe designers: my daughters are not tiny prostitutes, nor do they spend their lives at parties and they do not want to wear boots in what passes for summer in Scotland.

Let’s hope social services don’t drag me off when I have to send my kids to school barefoot in a few days or cut the ends off their too-small shoes so that their squashed toes can stick out.

Bilingual play date went as expected: I spoke loads of Spanish and my kids spoke almost none, though the older one did make the effort when speaking to the mother. Since I was speaking Spanish to her I did manage to slip in a few asides to my kids so at least it wasn’t a Zero Spanish day.

So far, so not very good

May 22, 2011

Family outing today with non-Spanish speaking family, no Spanish spoken…

Tomorrow we have a play date with Spanish-speaking friends so the mother and I will speak lots of Spanish while the kids lapse into English in another room!

Before this I have to get through emergency shoe shopping with both kids. They literally have nothing to put on their feet except wellies and crocs. Bound to be a nightmare. Maybe I can throw some Spanish in to lighten things up? Seems like a good way to get them used to me speaking it to them is to be funny with it. They like word play.

How it began

May 22, 2011

Today my 4 year old wasn’t too well so she didn’t go to Spanish Saturday school with her sister.

I remembered they had enjoyed using the Growstorygrow website so I logged on, so the little one would at least have some Spanish input that day.

I don’t usually speak Spanish to my children and I don’t often hear them speak it either – on the one day a week that the 4 year old is with our Spanish-speaking babysitter she switches back to English as soon as I arrive home. So I don’t have a very good idea of how much Spanish the 4 year old actually knows or remembers, 22 months after we left Spain.

As we were reading some of the animated stories on Growstorygrow together I realised that she actually knows a lot more than I had thought, or hoped.

We were reading a story about clothes and I asked her ‘Que te pongas?’ (What are you going to put on?). She answered ‘Me pongo una bata’. (I’ll put on a housecoat/dressing gown/pinny). This cracked me up as a ‘bata’ is the garment of choice for a middle-aged or elderly Spanish housewife to do the dusting in.

We were having fun and speaking naturally to each other and we continued when her sister got home from Spanish class. We did a game where we had to take it in turns to say a word in English and the others had to see who could say it in Spanish first.

It suddenly seemed to me that maybe I could be the Spanish speaker in this house, that in fact it was the only solution, given the fact that their dad has failed to do what should come naturally to him as a native speaker, who also speaks 2 other languages fluently and can get by in a handful more.

This is how it began.

Today I made a decision

May 21, 2011

Today I made a decision which I hope will save my children’s bilingualism from an otherwise almost certain death.


Originally from Scotland I lived in Spain for 19 years from the age of 22. Both children were born in Spain where we spoke English at home and they attended full-time Spanish nursery school from the age of 2. We moved back to the UK when they were almost 3 and almost 6 years old.

Their dad is a native speaker of Spanish but has spoken only English to them from birth.

Some months before we left Spain to return to the UK we agreed that he would start to speak more Spanish to the children so that it would become a habit and they would have the benefit of hearing it regularly once we had moved country.

He did start speaking some Spanish to them but for reasons best known to himself he has been unable to maintain this now we are in the UK. He now speaks only English to them.

I now wish we had done OPOL from the start in Spain but it wasn’t appropriate for us at the time and we thought we were doing the best for them by both speaking English at home (it wasn’t hard to do since we had already been speaking it together for 15 years). In fact their English was at native level despite living in Spain all their lives. I was proud of their English.

Now all the work I put in when we lived in Spain seems like it was a waste of time – reading English books to them, lugging piles of second-hand English books and story tapes back to Spain in my luggage (maybe that’s why they call it ‘lug’gage!) after each trip home to the UK, talking and talking and talking to them till my throat hurt and never, ever speaking Spanish to them. I needn’t have bothered, we moved back to the UK so they would have ended up speaking perfect English anyway.

I was convinced it wasn’t my job to speak Spanish to them here in the UK. As the native speaker it was their dad’s job surely?

I have done absolutely everything else I could to facilitate their bilingualism – I have sought out other Spanish-speaking families and met with them regularly, found a Saturday school and made sure they went every week (with their dad so they would associate the language with him), trawled the web for resources, hired a part-time Spanish-speaking nanny even though we can’t afford her and don’t really need the extra child-care hours, given in to their demands to watch more DVDs than I’d like by stipulating that half the time they should be in Spanish etc. etc.

However, it just isn’t enough. I know that at the end of the day if they aren’t hearing Spanish for most of the time they aren’t at school then they won’t advance and what they do know will fade away. (The official figure, if you want to give bilingualism a chance, is that for 30% of a child’s waking hours they should be hearing the target language).

So, today I made the decision to start speaking Spanish to them. Not all the time, but as much as I can.

It might seem a small thing for those of you who already speak a non-native language to your children but for me it is a very big deal. I am inspired by the number of parents I have met on the net who are raising their children in a language which is not that parent’s first language. Especially Corey of Multilingual Living.

I had convinced myself that it would be detrimental for them to hear a bad accent, shaky grammar and dire pronunciation. Hopefully I’ll make up for all that in enthusiasm, a very extensive vocabulary (though I say it myself) and the fact I can talk the hind leg off a donkey wearing a sombrero. Because quality it may not be but quantity I can certainly manage.

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