Posted tagged ‘OPOL’

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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