24 August, 2012

Relatives, bilingual schools and some “pearls”

It´s summertime so we are having many get-togethers with our relatives, in particular with our sisters and cousins with same aged kids. Swimming pool, bbq, lunch, dinner, etc… yeah, I´ve put on 5 kg/11 pounds and I don´t want any comments about it… I´ll try to fix that later… Apart from gobbling and slurping, we have shared lots of time with Dani´s cousins (1 boy and 5 girls) 6 in total aged between 1 month and 4.5 years old, and we are having lots of fun. We´ve been able to compare also Dani´s speech development with the others and we´ve observed that he is on the average or even above the rest of his same aged cousins in Spanish, apart from speaking English at about 60%-70% of the level of Spanish.
These get-togethers have been a good field test for the speech pattern in our family, as typical doubts in bilingual environments arose as expected: “Should I continue speaking English to my kid, even when other kids are around and don´t understand anything?”, “What about other adults?”, “Should I speak first in English to my kid and then repeat things in Spanish for the rest of the people?”.
I have opted for a flexible approach given the fact that our relatives support the idea of speaking both languages to our kid, and sometimes they even confess that they wish they could do the same with their kids. I speak only English with him and I usually go on like this when other adults or 2 of his cousins (girls) aged almost 4 and 4.5 years old are around, as they attend bilingual schools. I positively know that they understand me although they answer questions in Spanish even when prompted in English. I think this is mostly because they feel insecure about the language, maybe as a result of not producing any English words out of school. It seems like this turns summer into an English time-off, as they don´t identify the family environment as a place where they can/should speak English. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons why kids attending bilingual schools don´t seem to be actually bilingual in Spain, as they don´t have family support or anyone encouraging them to use the language out of the class, or just anyone who actually knows the language. They are getting a passive bilingualism, which hopefully will become active if they use the language as they grow older (summer camps, trips, extra activities with natives). It´s soon yet to know how this country is going to improve in languages at a generational level, as all these bilingual state funded programs have been working only 3-4 years in some of our schools.

Although late (they should´ve done this 30 years ago like Norway or Finland) I think It´s a very positive thing, but I know that in many of the schools teachers are far from native-like, exposure is limited, and plans are poorly implemented. I´d hate seeing this done under the Spanish topic of poor performance. It´s sad but it´s true. I´m Spanish and I feel really ashamed when things like this are on TV.

Not even one of the presidents that we had since democracy started in 1975 has been able to attend an international meeting in English or other language than Spanish during their term of office, while others like Greece, Italy or France do it.
Going back to the family, the other kids that don´t know any English just look at me frowning at times, so I know they are not catching it but they just go with the flow. When I see it´s imperative to switch into Spanish I do it, but then I feel like I have to keep a low profile so my kid´s radar doesn´t detect me, or he´ll start repeating out loud everything I said in Spanish.
We have also observed some translations from Dani to his cousins, as he identifies them as Spanish speakers: “Dani go and show your cousin the wound on your foot”, and there he goes: “Mira N, tengo una pupa en el pie!”, and here is another “pearl” dropped during our way home:
-       Papi: “So Dani, I heard that you took the bus this morning?”
-       Dani: “yes”
-       Papi: “and who were you with when you took the bus?”
-       Dani: “With abu”
-       Papi: “That´s great, and which color was the bus you took?”
-       Dani: “blue” (the public buses in our area are all green)
-       Papi: “Are you sure? All the busses that we usually see around are green”
-       Dani: “It was blue, Papi don´t try to fool me”

Which strategy do you follow when relatives are around and don´t know the language?
Are there any public, semi-public/afordable bilingual programs in the schools where you live? Are these programs truly bilingual?
Any “pearls” from your kids that you want to share?


  1. I now speak the community language with my kids, but we used the minority language for about 5 years and in that time I was absolutely militant about talking it all the time with them. It's quite a personal decision, but I felt that as a non-native speaker of the language, my kids would need all the input I could give them, so I didn't want to switch to English at any point. I just used simultaneous translation where necessary, so our relatives could understand.

  2. Interesting post! I am a native English speaker and speak the minority language at all times with my daughter...she´s only 15 months so not embarrassed yet!However, at the moment still finding it a little awkward and rude to speak the minority language in front of Spanish family & friends especially when they don´t know or speak it!Find the comments on bilingual schools very interesting and so true!!

  3. Thank you for sharing!

    Elena and Pablo are learning French with me, and we live in the US. When family or friends that do not speak French are around, I always say things in French and in the language of our friends or family members.Even if what I say does not include them.

    I do want to talk to my kids in French at all times, but I also want to make sure other people do not feel left out.