This month’s Parent of the Month is Flavia Scarpa from Madrid, mother of one small bilingual child and director of Criaturas Digitales.
Hello Flavia. Thanks for taking part in “Parent of the Month”. Tell us about your family.
Hi, our family has three members: Alexia, Miguel and I. Alexia was born in San Francisco and from the day she was born we have made a concerted effort to bring her up bilingually so that, in the future, she will be able to easily live and work in Spain or the United States. We have been reading Kids in Madrid since we came back from the States and started making weekend plans in Madrid.
Did you start speaking English to her from birth?
That’s right. From day one we have spoken English to her, with more emphasis since we have returned from the States.
How did you learn English?
I learnt it at school. The level wasn’t particularly high and the methodology could have been better. However, I also spent a month every summer in Manchester for three years in a row. Later on, I studied and worked in San Francisco.
Do you use English at work?
Yes. I have an international client for whom I do customer relations. I use English with people from around the world.
Does your daughter go to a bilingual school?
She goes to a British school where Spanish is taught as a foreign language. They only speak English at school and sometimes she comes home tired of speaking English all day and isn’t keen on continuing with me.
Do you do any activities in English?
In the summer she goes to an English camp where she learns about American culture, which is what particularly interests us in our case.
Is she learning any other languages?
Does watching cartoons in Korean, French or Italian count? Ha ha ha! No, seriously, at the moment we are concentrating on English.
What tips would you give a Spanish family that is thinking about starting a bilingual family?
You can make it happen! Try to make friends with people from the States or the UK, or from any other English speaking country. I think au pairs are also a good idea or an exchange student.
Why do you think it is important to talk English with your daughter?
There is nothing but advantages! Languages are living beings, they need to be practiced on a daily basis. If not, they die away. Also speaking several languages as a child is an enrichening experience and can be fun too! Furthermore, it forces us parents to practice too. Knowing English (and other foreign languages) opens doors to new friendships and a wider circle of acquaintance. It has also been shown that knowing other languages helps personal development and improves your brain.
Have you ever received negative comments for having decided to bring your child up bilingually?
I have received a few looks of surprise from people who think I am being snobby by talking to her in English. However, I am the first to admit that my English is by no means perfect. But what I learnt in San Francisco is that we Spaniards are too shy about using spoken English until we are fluent in it. But if we don’t speak, we don’t improve. So I realized it was time to put my worries to one side. I do what I can and keep studying to improve. My daughter knows that sometimes I have to look words up in order to find the right vocabulary and she knows I’m not fluent in all English expressions but we help each other … in fact, her vocabulary is more advanced than mine is now!
Are you proud of being a bilingual parent?
I feel very proud of my daughter when I see her helping a classmate who is new to school and doesn’t speak a word of Spanish. All my hard work pays off when I see gestures like that from her. We live in a global village and I think that the more cultures we learn and languages we speak the better it will be for us to respect each other and live in peace…. this sounds rather spiritual, ha ha ha! But it is what I think.
It has been a pleasure to meet you Flavia!
Interview written and created by Dominique White.
If you’re interested in more stories from bilingual parents in Madrid, check out our blog.