14 September, 2012

The English speakers club

Last night my kid and I were having one of those bedtime conversations, and right before falling asleep he started tapping my head in the dark and said:
-       “Papi! Papi! Can you hear me?”
-       “Yes I hear you, what´s up sweety?”
-       “Yaya (granny) doesn´t speak English”
-       Me in awe: “… you are right, she does not”
-       “Abu (grandpa) doesn´t speak English, Tita (aunty) María yes, she speaks English like you…”.
And he went on and on classifying people by language. It´s funny that as he hasn´t met yet anyone who speaks exclusively English, he put those who can speak at least some English in the English speakers club.
In the last 4 weeks, the structure of his sentences and his fluency have experienced a great improvement, and I think that apart from the normal development is due to 3 main reasons:
-       I´m putting him to sleep almost every night, and he spends around 45min to 1h speaking before he finally falls asleep, that makes an extra hour/day of 1 to 1 exposure talking about what happened during the day (we transfer experiences lived in Spanish into English so he is able to report in English in the future), we sing songs, and I tell him stories on demand. I end up exhaust because this last game requires a good deal of improvisation. It goes like: “Papi, tell me the story of me getting on a train”, and then I go “Once upon a time, there was a boy…”.  

-       We went on holidays for 2 weeks, so that means intensive exposure as I turn myself into the OPOL compliance department. We have played long hours together, most of the time in English. We also visited my father and his wife, who speak both English, not at a native or very fluent level, but they can follow our conversations, so this one has been a big trigger for the little man to start interacting in English with more than one people, and to understand that it makes sense to speak other language because there might be other people to communicate with in that language.

-       Bilingual school: He has started attending preschool classes in a bilingual school. This year will be only 3 hour/week in English, so 3 days a week they spend 1 hour of their daily routines with an English teacher, sometimes native. It´s a pity it´s only this little time and not always a native speakers is guaranteed, but trust me It´s the best you can get in Madrid for an affordable price when it comes to preschool. Next year (3 years old) he´ll start the “official school” and he´ll have 50% English and 50% Spanish, always with native speakers to support conversation.
Although this is the established program, we were at the inauguration of the scholar year last week, which is an even mainly to welcome new families and introduce the basics of how the school works. They put all the kids in one big classroom to play during the presentation, and some English teachers (from grades above) heard us speaking, so I asked them to please speak to him in English if there was some interaction. They were quite amused and surprise as the boy could maintain a light conversation in English, and he understood everything they said. They found our case interesting since I´m not native. I´ve been told there are several cases of children with parents of different backgrounds and native languages in the school. They recognize that in these cases things are much easier as the first big steps have been already taken. Every time they bump into my boy in the playground or in a common area they speak in English and so my kid reports when we talk about “people from school that speak like Papi”, so I must say I´m quite comforted, since one of my worries is the lack of exposure due to my long hours at the office.
Bilingual schools and local policies towards bilingualism are subjects to write tones of pages about, so although this is not the purpose of the blog, let me share some funny news I read recently.
I won´t declare myself as a firm supporter of the right party in Spain, but one of the objectives of Mrs. Esperanza Aguirre, President of the local government (Madrid) that I firmly applaud and support is to transform gradually all the public schools into bilingual ones from preschool, and to declare new ones to build as bilingual from the beginning, so they can directly hire native teachers (with public money). I find this idea a huge step forward in Education and a way to improve dramatically the employability of the new generation of Spaniards, as well as a start to finally topple down some horrible topics that we have insisted in nurturing for decades… Yet there have been voices against these measures. For god´s sake, high quality bilingual schools for free! Who can be against that?? Spaniards of course, these voices are coming mainly from teachers unions and parents associations, arguing that this will favor foreign workers over locals and comments like these have been heard: “what if I have a meeting with my kid´s teacher and I don´t understand anything because I don´t speak English?” or “Less English and more employment!!!” (for Spanish monolingual teachers I understand…).
Sometimes I sadly realize that we have the country that we deserve and that it´s very likely that our topics (“Olé torero”, “sangria”, “siesta”, “mi no entender señorita…”) will follow us to the end of times…