09 September, 2015

She said YES!

She finally said YES!! Well, actually not only once, my little princess started saying “YES”… instead of “SI” when I speak to her in English which is a big milestone since no English words seemed to be in her stockroom… 

This happened back in May. Now she turned 2 years and 6 months old she is like a mini-pink-cutest ever-strawberry cupcake-chatterbox, but mainly in Spanish…
The fact is she understands everything in English but she is still reluctant to answer in the same language. The closest reference that we have is her brother, and to be fair I think she speaks more Spanish (more precise, right verbal tenses, accurate and conjugated adjectives…), BUT less English than him at the same age, as he had his 2 year old spur in a more balanced way between the 2 languages.

The good thing is that when I get stricter and I pretend not to understand anything she is asking for, she switches and tries to say it in English, so I know she gets the OPOL picture. Now that I sat and mull this over, I think the difference lays a lot on 2 facts:

1.       I don´t turn a deaf ear on Spanish as often as I used to with the boy, I just don´t have the time now that there are 2 monkeys jumping around and more things to handle at the same time. The result is that she doesn´t have to switch mentally as many times as her brother did to get what she wants.

2.       My wife didn’t have the need to switch into English with the boy to increase exposure so we didn´t work on this option. Now apparently we should reconsider it, seing the results…
The big boy plays an important role too. He speaks in English to her sometimes but not very often, and lately he speaks Spanish to me sometimes, with her witnessing the scene. I answer in English and we zigzag a little until we follow the conversation in English. But in the end, when you look at the whole pic, again she doesn´t really feel THE NEED, which is the key point that prompts the speaking part.

Despite all this, I´ve perceived a change in my mindset. I feel much more in peace with the whole situation when hard phases come along, given the great results reached by the big boy. I mean he is a competent user of English now; he is 5 years old and if dropped in an English speaking country (let´s say) he´d be more than able to communicate and survive. As an example, we went to the beach during our holidays last month and while we were there he met a group of 4-5 year old British kids and started playing naturally with them... in English. I just felt like we had got something big, really big in fact, like all the pieces were matching together.

There´s also an interesting (revealing) thing that I´m noticing lately, and this is that, as I read in some books at the beginning of this adventure, what mum does impacts a 70% on the outcome, and what dad does matters only the other 30%, provided an equal amount of exposure… This, translated into a practical example is as follows: no matter how many times I ask the question in English, the girl´s answer is in Spanish, mum asks the question in English ONCE, and she automatically makes the effort of answering in English… Here you go Papi, in your face… but hey! Papi never gives up, Papi never surrenders…

03 January, 2015

Hard Times in Bilingual town...

It´s been a while since last time I had the chance to write a new post. I won´t blame stressful life, work overload or raising 2 kids… Exhausted? Yes. Are these all the reasons? Probably, but this time we´ll also add a bit of laziness to be completely honest…

Last time I wrote we were evaluating the signals that we perceived in our big kid which led us to think he might be a gifted individual. We talked to the specialized department in his school, which recommended observation both in school and at home. After last months he seems to be balancing, developing his motor skills which are compared to those of his peers and also his cognitive skills. Yet he started reading by himself at 3, he doesn´t seem to enjoy practicing, even though we try to read with him and guide him somehow to explore and learn new things. Well, not catchy apparently… so his reading hasn´t improved much in a year. 
He is more now into dinosaurs fighting, crashing cars and all the normal stuff that a 4,5 yo kid is supposed to love. His interest in science (virus, bacteria… curiosity health issues in general) is still there, but it is not growing exponentially as one could think after the past month’s boost. Rather than being a “gifted child” as it is normally defined, we think he might just be a precocious bright little fellow, but within the reasonable parameters for his age. I have to admit this is kind of a relief as we were a bit afraid of how to deal with an exponential gifted kid.

Regarding bilingualism, we have gone through some important milestones lately and we were doing fine in terms of bilingual goals so far. One of the main fears when you see it´s actually working is if you´ll be able to keep it that way. Here´s a piece of advice for those who are a step behind in this journey: Probably not, but let´s not panic.

The fact is that the boy has started losing some English, partially but progressively. He is hardly initiating conversations in English with me now and it really puts me in a difficult situation if we want to continue with the active exposure to the language, without affecting the communication. I have to review my “flexibility rules” once and again so he doesn´t get mad at me or refuses to speak the language because it´s bothering him. I mean he tells me his things, like how his day in school was or something that happened, and I listen actively reformulating what he says but in English.
A typical conversation after school goes this way:

  • ...so tell me, how was your day?
  • G me ha arañado en la cara!!
  • No way! G has scratched your face in a quarrel today?
  • Si, y la profesora le ha dicho que eso estaba muy mal!!!
  • Wow, I see, well that´s true, scratching your friend´s face is definitely a very naughty thing… What happened in the end?
  • Pues que…
  • English Dani please remember
  • … well… hm… The teacher… Papi, no me acuerdo de cómo se dice “castigado”
  • Grounded
  • … well, the teacher grounded G…, y luego nos hemos ido a jugar pero G no ha venido porque estaba castigado!

(Oh crap stay in English mode for good shake!!!) Of course I don´t yell at him or anything I just try to guide him and be resilient (focus Dad! never surrender… stay hungry… stay foolish…)

The thing is that a year ago I was able to make him believe that I didn´t understand Spanish so he actually bought it and switched into English or he just assumed naturally that it was OUR language. Now things are different. He is a smart little man and knows perfectly well that I´m Spanish and he is getting lazier to look for the right word, which isn´t at the top of his mind as he only uses English with me mostly.

I have tried to explain him what happens if we don´t use a language, that, as he sees is in daily life it IS useful (his school is bilingual, but not double immersion program, they only put more effort in English which is not bad though). He seems to understand the point and for the next hour he really makes the effort to switch and use the language as much as possible, but I see a trend in what´s happening and It´s a bit frustrating.

Our little girl is starting to speak now and she ia also affected by this “Spanish flu”… She utters things mainly in Spanish and with a bit of insistence on my part (“Pelota, well done girl ,but Papi says…”) he switches then but she makes clear she is not supercool with it.
I know very well that we´ll go through different phases and there´ll be ups and downs along the road, but when you are in one of those “downs” it doesn´t feel pleasant at all… I think the way to take this in a constructive way is to see it as an evolution of the process and a challenge in terms of adaptation. We´ll see how it goes…