This month’s Parent of the Month is Carlos Sanchez from Madrid, father of a 7 year old and a 15 month old. In a recent podcast on Crecer en Inglés Carlos spoke about why he decided to start talking English to his younger child from birth after not having done so with his first child. His story was so interesting we decided to ask him more to help parents in Madrid!
Hello Carlos – welcome to Kids in Madrid! When you decided to speak to your newborn in English, how did his elder brother take it?
When our elder son was very young we tried making certain daily routines at home such as mealtime or bathtime as English-speaking activities, but he did not want to. Later on, when his younger brother came along, I decided to speak to the youngest one solely in English. Before doing that I had a conversation with his older brother and said he could either join in with me speaking English to the baby or speak Spanish to him, whatever he preferred. The fact that I gave him this option was very important as I did not want him to feel excluded from our conversations but nor did I want him to feel obliged to speak English. His reply has been to join in sometimes in English and sometimes in Spanish. We do not make a big deal about this.
Do you have a different method for each of your children?
That’s right. With our eldest son, who is now 7 years old, we still do not speak to him in English but rather we continue reading books, listening to songs or going to activities in English with him. It was only later that we decided to use English at home on a regular basis.
Why do you think it is important to speak English to at home?
My partner and I always knew the importance of English in this day and age and we wanted to get this across to our children naturally, despite the fact that neither of us is bilingual.
Do your children go to a bilingual nursery or primary school?
No, our children do not go to a bilingual school. We had a look at all the options available to us and we decided that there were other issues that needed to be met which made us choose a certain school/kindergarten despite it not being bilingual.
Do your children do any activities in English?
Our eldest son went to Kids & Us in Getafe for four years. We were very happy with the method they used there because it was very different from the usual approach found in language schools. Furthermore, the support for parents was excellent. We had several meetings with the teachers who were able to advise us on games and activities to do at home so as to continue working on English every day.
What advice would you give to a family that would like to bring up their children in a bilingual environment?
Above all, the most important piece of advice I can give is that the child needs to begin making the language their own from a very young age. As my eldest child got older I noticed that he wasn’t able to use English as naturally as I would have liked. Somehow he wasn’t able to transfer his vocabulary to his speech. He knew lots of English from books, songs and games, but he wasn’t comfortable using the words. That is why we decided to speak English at home with his younger brother.
My advice to families that are thinking about going along the bilingual route is that they begin within their own comfort zone. Nothing should be forced. They should also take as much advice as possible and use all the different media available to them: songs, TV programmes, books. If their neighbourhood has English speaking activities for children, they really should make an effort to participate.
What do you find difficult about talking in English to your children?
One of the greatest difficulties I have in speaking English – both to my children and to other people – is speaking fluidly. I find that I am still rusty. Apart from that, I must admit to being unfamiliar with certain turns of phrase or specific words used informally in speech. However whenever I have a doubt I take note of the problem in my mobile and at night when the kids are in bed I go over the difficulties and find a way of including these words or idioms in my daily speech. Something else I have found incredibly useful has been the online bilingual parenting course run by Crecer en Ingles and Alex Perdel’s Aventura Bilingüe podcast which has provided me with a lot of language tools that I need to bring up my children bilingually. I also use Diana Sampedro’s Baby English book a lot.
When do you feel most proud of belonging to a bilingual family?
I think that English has somehow stuck at home and as his younger brother grows up communicating solely in English there, I’ve found my older son has begun using it more and more too. I guess English can be contagious! This makes me feel incredibly pleased.
Thank you Carlos for telling us your story!
If you’re interested in more stories from bilingual parents in Madrid, check out our blog.