Our “Parent of the Month” this month is leonesa Maria Cerezal Flórez, who is currently living in Houston, Texas.
Hello María, Tell us your story! How did you and your family end up in Texas?
Well, we recently moved to Texas for work but our bilingual adventure actually began over a year ago when we decided to spend the academic year of 2016/17 in Ireland.
What language do you speak at home?
We follow the OPOL (One Parent, One Language) method and although we are now living in an English-speaking country I continue to speak English to our children and my husband speaks to them in Spanish.
How old are your children?
My son is 9 and my daughter is 7.
Have you been talking to them in English since they were born?
I began talking English to my son when he was 8 months old and to my daughter from the day she was born.
Why did you decide to bring up your family bilingually?
Because we know that English is everywhere. I work as a teacher at a bilingual school and I see how much children struggle with English. I try to explain to my pupils that English isn’t something “extra” that we’ve added to their curriculum, it is a necessary tool. I believe that being able to communicate in English is essential.
On a personal level there were several motives for me to speak English to my family. I liked the fact that they would pick up the language at an early age and that by being able to speak English a whole world of cultural experiences would be open to them. Today’s society is a global society.
How did you learn English?
I was lucky enough to spend most of my summer holidays as a child in Ireland. As a teenager I had formal English classes at high school and I continued my English studies during my university degree.
What advice would you give a Spanish family that is thinking of bringing up their family bilingually?
I recommend reading in English and also that they spend time listening to audio recordings that are specifically recorded to help English as a Second Language learners. However my strongest recommendation would be to spend time living abroad. We have done house swaps with families from all over the English speaking world. We have also sent our children to day camps whilst we lived abroad where the activities were in English for native speakers.
How would you describe your experience of being a bilingual family?
I am speaking to you today thanks to a bilingual journey I began 9 years ago. It has been a marvelous adventure!
Have you ever been criticized for this bilingual journey you and your family are on?
Lots of times. I find that many people have a closed mind about bilingualism. They don’t understand why someone like me who isn’t a native English speaker can talk to her own children in a foreign language. Nevertheless I did not pay attention to these criticisms and now I have two children that speak English easily and naturally. It is clear to everyone that English is not simply a language they learned at school.
Do you have any anecdotes or amusing stories about your bilingual experiences to share with the readers of Kids In Madrid?
We find it amusing when our children use literal translation to communicate what they want to say. The other day our daughter was angry with her brother and she said to him “no me llames nombres” which is the literal translation of “don’t call me names” but which is a turn of phrase Spaniards would never say, despite being grammatically correct. In this case we told them that what she really wanted to say was “¡no me faltes el respeto!” Being bilingual is all about speaking properly in both languages, not just in English.
Are you proud of being a mother of bilingual children?
Absolutely! I am very proud of having been able to achieve bilingualism at home before we moved abroad. Now that we’ve lived in Ireland and in the United States our children have improved their pronunciation and accents but the basic language skills were acquired at home when we were still in Spain. Their English is now better than mine and when they speak English you can’t tell that they are Spanish! They are fully integrated and this fact gives me a great sense of satisfaction.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Maria!
Interview written and created by Dominique White
If you’re interested in more stories from bilingual parents in Madrid, check out our blog.