Parent of the Month for June is Javier Mallo a Dad-of-2 who has been living in Madrid for 4 years.
Hello Javier – welcome to Kids in Madrid! Tell us a bit about your bilingual family.
We have two daughters aged 7 and 2 years old. I work as a translator and interpreter. English takes up a large part of my day. Our girls receive bilingual education at school, although I believe the concept behind “bilingual schools” perhaps needs to be looked at. We follow the OPOL (One Parent, One Language) method at home.
How did you learn English?
I first learnt English at school and then at a language academy, however I was fortunate that my parents could send me to Ireland for one and a half months in the summertime as well. The first time I went I was 12 years old and I went for four summers in a row. This was crucial to my language acquisition.
When did you start speaking English with your daughters?
I started speaking to my first child in English when she was 8 months old; with my second child I started from the day she was born.
Why do you think it is important to talk in English with your daughters?
I grew up with two languages (Spanish and Galician) and I began with English from the age of 11. I’ve always thought that being in contact with several languages is beneficial. Moreover it makes learning further languages easier to do.
Do you have any tips to share with our readers?
- When it comes to English pronunciation, I wouldn’t worry too much. Bilingual children begin by copying their parents but in the end learn to copy their teachers and classmates at school.
- When it comes to reading, from personal experience I would wait until they have learnt how to read in Spanish. Reading English is complicated compared to Spanish and there could be interference. Little by little we have introduced English reading without following strict rules. Our focus is on English being fun and musical. My daughter has just begun to learn to read in English at school and I have noticed that she looks at the word and associates it with what it is saying (rather than reading it by rote, as in Spanish).
- Another piece of advice I would give is to join playgroups in English where the whole family can join in. Watching TV and playing videogames in English is also a good idea, although when they reach a certain age they learn how to manually alter the language settings on the device they are using.
What activities do you do as a family in English?
We belong to a group of bilingual families that meets once a month. We also try to go to the theatre or to storytelling activities in English. In July our eldest daughter goes to a day camp which is 100% in English where she spends the day doing activities and playing with other English-speaking children.
What difficulties have you faced in talking to your children in English?
None at all. It has always felt natural and we’ve never experienced problems. Perhaps the only time problems arise is when we are with other people but I have always been clear that I speak to my children in English regardless of what others around us can or want to do.
Have you received any criticism for having chosen to speak English to your daughters?
Yes. People always comment. I once had to explain in the supermarket queue why I spoke English to my daughter when I was Spanish.
The most common criticisms come from two angles:
1) “you aren’t a native English speaker, your children aren’t going to become bilingual”
2) “If the child has two languages it will slow down development at school and could make life complicated for her”
Neither comment has particularly bothered me. Concerning the first line of criticism, I can say from experience that being “bilingual” is much more than being able to speak a language and that the learning comes from a wider sphere than the family circle. Concerning the second line of criticism, there may be cases when this could happen to begin with, but it is only temporary. In fact, in the world and throughout history it has been quite normal for individuals to be in contact with more than one language.
When do you feel most proud of your bilingual family?
Funnily enough, it is when my daughter mixes Spanish and English in the same sentence, which I know is something I should correct, but it doesn’t happen very often. However when I hear her say “te voy a splashar con el agua” makes me think that although we aren’t there yet, we’re certainly on the right road. It was also a source of pride to be able to set her loose at an American camp in the United States and see how she got on without any problems whatsoever for 6 hours a day.
Thanks Javier for shedding some light on your bilingual family!
If you’re interested in more stories from bilingual parents in Madrid, check out our blog.
Interview created and written by Dominique White