This month’s Parent of the Month is the blogger Alex Perdel from Seville, whose toddler son inspired him to become an expert in bringing up families bilingually when neither parent is a native speaker.
Hello Alex. Thank you for taking part in “Parent of the Month”. Please tell us about the Aventura Bilingüe (bilingual adventure) that you began when you became a first time Dad in November 2015.
Hi! From before he was born I knew that I wanted to talk regularly to my son in English. I started to find out information about bilingualism from the point of view of parents who are not native speakers and found out that it can be done but it takes daily perseverance and that it is a long term project. The idea of speaking to my son in English thrilled me even though I also knew it was a bit of a crazy idea. I started my blog crecer en inglés to keep motivating myself. I started to share my experiences, anecdotes and information about bilingual parenting on the blog … and the rest is history as they say!
Are you saying you began to talk in English to your son before he was born? Exactly! I spoke to him in the tummy but I only said a few words and phrases. When he was born I found it much more difficult. I was so nervous I hardly knew how to speak English or Spanish to him! But as time went by I gained more confidence and thus began my Aventura bilingüe. Nowadays I only speak English to him.
How did you learn English?
I always say that I have a medium level of English because I was taught English at Primary and Secondary school but I didn’t really need English back then.
I actually began English lessons at the age of 6 with a neighbour who had lived in the United States and France. His English and French were very good and he would teach English through play which was excellent.
At the age of 8 I began classes at school and my knowledge of English was much better than my classmates thanks to the 2 years of private classes I had had. However when I reached Secondary School the exams became much harder and I lost a lot of interest in English then.
Many years later and of my own accord I began to learn English again at a language academy and began to practice spoken English with groups of native speakers. However I would say that it wasn’t until I began my Aventura Bilingüe that my English level improved more than it had ever done throughout my time at language academies and at school.
Does your son go to a bilingual nursery school?
We would have liked him to have gone to a bilingual nursery school but there aren’t any near to our home. However twice a week a native English speaking girl goes to his nursery and plays with the children in English.
When he starts infants school he will probably receive bilingual education as almost all of the schools around us are bilingual.
Do you do set activities in English?
Not yet but soon we will start to look for activities to do in English such as storytelling sessions. There aren’t that many options available in Seville but we are bound to find something.
What advice would you give a Spanish family that is thinking about bringing up a bilingual family?
They need to surround themselves with English at home and increase the amount of exposure to the language as much as possible. At home we watch the television in English, my smartphone, computer etc are in English. All the songs we listen to, the games we play and the books we read are in English. This makes English seem more natural to the child from day one.
I also recommend that these families read blogs from others who are in the same situation. There are lots of blogs which offer good advice. Reading these blogs really helps to find others to identify and share experiences with.
Two years ago there were only 2 or 3 blogs talking about bilingual families in Spanish. Now there are many more bloggers and we have created a community where we talk amongst ourselves and discuss matters over social media.
Starting my blog and broadcasting the podcast “Aventura Bilingüe” has helped me link up with many other families and learn from them all so that now I’m in a position to teach others what I do via online courses.
Why do you think it is important to talk in English with your son?
I think it is very important not just for his future in the workplace but also because of the benefits that being bilingual has on his brain. English is important because he will learn how to communicate and express emotions, feelings and opinions in two different languages.
Have you ever had any difficulties with this foreign language?
Mainly with vocabulary and pronunciation. I know I also make some grammar mistakes but I don’t think they matter if the message gets across. The greatest problem for me is finding the words I need to describe something or finding that I am pronouncing them incorrectly. I spend my days watching translators and memorizing as many words as possible.
Have you ever received any negative feedback for having chosen to take this journey towards bilingualism at home?
I haven’t been criticized but my decision has been met with skepticism. People thought I was half crazy to want to speak to my son in English and that I’d give up after a few weeks.
None of my friends or family are doing anything similar and they are all surprised how much my son understands in both languages at the age of 18 months. The best thing about it is how natural it seems to him. We are constantly surprised and this shows us that the hard work we are putting in at home is paying off.
Do you have any funny stories or anecdotes to share with the readers of Kids In Madrid about your adventures as a bilingual father?
One of the anecdotes that happens quite a lot these days is that when someone says something to him in Spanish he doesn’t do anything but when they say the same thing in English he does. It is almost as if he pays more attention to English and is more comfortable in that language and although for the time being he obviously doesn’t speak it he seems to understand almost everything.
Something else I’d like to point out is how difficult it was for me to watch the Disney film Aladdin with him in English! I have the original voices from the Spanish dubbed version engraved in my heart and mind from when I was a child. I find it so hard to put that film on in English even though I know that is best for my son and that he will learn those voices and love them as much as I did and do the Spanish ones.
Are you proud to be a bilingual parent?
There are 2 reasons to be particularly proud of this adventure. Firstly when I meet people who don’t know that I am bringing up my child bilingually and they tell me how much they love the idea. Secondly is when friends of ours start saying a few words to our son in English without us asking them to… it appears we have infected a lot of people with the English bug!
Thanks for sharing your story with us Alex and congratulations on your blog! Kids in Madrid recommends the weekly podcast Aventura Bilingüe: https://www.crecereningles.com/podcast/
Interview created and written by Dominique White
Parent of the Month will return in September 2017 after the summer holidays.
If you’re interested in more stories from bilingual parents in Madrid, check out our blog.