This month’s “Parent of the Month” is Dad-of-two Arturo Garcés from Madrid.
Hello Arturo, thanks for taking part in “Parent of the Month”. Tell us a bit about your bilingual family.
Hi everyone. It is a pleasure to take part in this project for Kids in Madrid which I only heard about quite recently. I am 45 years old and have two youngsters, Silvia aged 7 and Jon who is two and a half years old. My wife Cristina and I have been together for 25 years. Although Cristina works as an English teacher in a primary school, I am the one who speaks English to the children in our family.
How did you learn English?
My adventures with English began in 1989 when I went to live in Los Angeles. It was a wonderful, although at times difficult, experience. I lived there until 1992 and then returned to Spain for six years. I studied make up and special effects and returned to Los Angeles for another year to continue studying and working in this field. After that I went to live in Great Britain for a year and a half (London and Edinburgh).
Do you use English at work?
Yes I use English at home and at work. I have used English in the majority of jobs I have had.
What method have you followed while bringing up your children bilingually?
I call it “Arturo’s Method” but realize the official name is OPOL. I speak to the children in English and Cristina speaks to them in Spanish. Sometimes we both speak Spanish as a family, but that happens rarely.
When did you begin speaking in English to your children?
I began speaking to Silvia in English when she was five months old. At first it took me a while to get used to talking to her in English but after a few weeks it became second nature. Occasionally when I talk to a small child I address him or her in English without realizing it. My brain associates English with children and I switch into English automatically in those circumstances.
For the first 5 months of my daughter’s life I kept saying to myself “I must speak to her in English” because I knew it was a golden opportunity to teach her something without her having to make a conscious effort. I know that by teaching her English I have given her a necessary skill for the future.
Can you give us some tips about pronunciation and reading skills?
When it comes to pronunciation, I would recommend that children learn the official way of expressing themselves and saying a word or a sentence. However they must also learn how things are said in real life, in “slang” as it were. I want my children to be able to communicate in English in any given circumstance. That’s why they need to learn a phrase like “I don’t have money” and its slang version “ain’t got money”, for example.
As for reading, the key is to read out loud and correct them when they make mistakes even if that interrupts the flow. I also read aloud to my children so that they can hear how words are said properly.
Why do you think it is important to talk in English with your children?
I think that my kids will benefit from knowing English when looking for work later on as young adults. English is a prerequisite for most jobs these days. Furthermore by using English in my family I’m giving my children the opportunity to learn two languages and be able to get on with people from all over the world.
What have you found difficult about talking in English with your children?
I would say that getting used to talking English at home was something that was difficult to begin with. But, as I said before, it soon became second nature. Another difficulty was the worry that I might be teaching my children to say some things incorrectly. Apart from that, plain sailing.
Do your children go to a bilingual school?
Yes. Silvia goes to the same bilingual school where my wife teaches. Our young son is still at nursery school where they also do some activities in English. When he starts infant school next term he will attend the same school as his Mum and sister.
Have you been criticized for deciding to talk to your children in English?
Not at all! On the contrary, people tell me how lucky my children are.
Do you have any anecdotes or stories to share with our Readers at Kids in Madrid about your journey as a bilingual Dad?
One amusing anecdote that comes to mind is the time I wanted to test my daughter to see if she really understood what I was saying. We were on the beach and I said to her “go and get that bucket and fill it with water and then pour it over that boy’s head” pointing out a boy we had never met. I never believed she could have understood me but the next moment she was about to do what I’d asked of her. She had understood! Ha ha ha!! I had to quickly go and stop her from doing it.
When do you feel pride about being bilingual dad?
The moment that most filled me with pride was the first time my child(ren) truly understood something I said to them in English. That is something you can never forget.
Many thanks for sharing your story with us Arturo!
If you’re interested in more stories from bilingual parents in Madrid, check out our blog.
Interview created and written by Dominique White