Our Parent of the Month for September 2017 is Israel Ramos, a father of two children aged 6 and 7 years old, who live in Madrid.
Hi Israel – Welcome to Kids in Madrid! Tell us about your bilingual family.
When our eldest child was only a few months old my wife and I decided to start following the One Parent One Language method. From that moment onwards I began speaking in English to our son and then to his younger sister when she was born. My wife speaks to them in Spanish. Although my children tend to reply to me in Spanish I have persevered with English and I have begun to notice that they truly are bilingual despite the idiosyncrasy of our dual language conversations.
How did you learn English?
In the same way as many other Spaniards of my generation, by going to a language academy to improve upon the English that was taught at school. Later on, when I began travelling and realized the importance of English, I began making a concerted effort by listening to the radio, going to the cinema and having conversations with my foreign friends etc. However I have to admit that I really noticed a big improvement when I discovered the Vaughan method of learning English, thanks to my father who had become hooked on that way of learning the language.
When did you begin talking in English to your children?
With my eldest, from when he was 8 months old. With my youngest, from the day she was born.
Why do you think it is important to speak to your children in English?
I wanted my children to learn English naturally, almost without realizing it. In fact, as they have grown up, I have found myself learning more and more vocabulary to keep up with their likes and interests. When my son joined a football team I had no idea how to speak to him about sports in English! Having a grasp of the vocabulary is a constant task for me – I have the WordReference app on my mobile!
Do you have any advice for our readers?
I would ask them to pay attention to pronunciation. It is important to imitate how native English speakers express themselves.
What activities do your children do in English?
Both children have gone to an English academy from the age of one because their school does not start its bilingual programme until Primary (age 6 onwards). Furthermore my children have gone to summer day camps which are 100% in English. When I pick them up from camp in the afternoon they usually continue talking to me in English because they have spent the day surrounded by that language. It is easier for them to tell me what they have been up to in English and so they do. We also have an Irish friend who comes to play with them at home on a regular basis.
What difficulties have you had in talking English to your children?
The lack of vocabulary. Sometimes I have to go in circles to express myself in English because I don’t have the right words to hand.
Are you children learning another language?
Yes. They recently began learning French. However they find learning French a chore, like doing homework, whereas they learned English without realizing it.
Do you have any anecdotes to share with us?
As I mentioned earlier, although I have always spoken to my children in English, they usually reply in Spanish. Some time ago I decided to play a game with them: seeing as they always wanted me to talk to them in Spanish I said that I would do so if they spoke to me in English. They love this game! And thus – finally! – my children have started talking to me in English.
When have you felt proud of your bilingual family?
When I realized that my son has a greater knowledge of English vocabulary than I do and that he gets jokes that simply go over my head when we are watching films together. Or this summer when my daughter saw a group of three Irish girls playing together and decided to go and join them. She was able to fit in naturally with them and had a great time. It was then that I realized that I had achieved my goal: that my kids use English as a means of communication and are completely at home speaking it.
Thank you for telling us about your bilingual family Israel!
Interview written and created by Dominique White
If you’re interested in more stories from bilingual parents in Madrid, check out our blog.