Our first Parent of the Month is mum-of-two Beatriz Caballero from San Sebastian de Los Reyes.
Hello Beatriz – how did you become a bilingual family?
I am an English teacher and when I was pregnant with my eldest, I decided to talk to my baby in English. I thought it was going to be relatively easy but as soon as he was born and I was holding him in my arms, I realized that it wouldn’t be as easy as I thought. Although I use English in the workplace it isn’t my mother tongue. I didn’t have the right language to talk to my baby. Wow, I thought, it is going to be more difficult than I expected. But I didn´t give up and I began to read books about how to raise bilingual babies, toddlers and family. I watched videos on the internet about English mums talking to their babies and I picked up vocabulary, tone, intonation etc. My son and I learnt how to become a bilingual family together!
Tell us about your family
There are four of us. Ricardo, my husband, is a firefighter based at Alcobendas fire station. He lives an active lifestyle and encourages us to do the same. I work as an English teacher in San Sebastián de los Reyes. I speak English at home with the children, as well as teaching our kids to draw, paint and rollerblade. Arturo is 7 years old, sensitive and well-behaved. He is a confident English speaker. He has a lot of imagination and is a very good storyteller. Vera is 4 years old, with a great sense of humour and a good, though lazy, level of spoken English. Both children go to a Spanish, non-bilingual school, and it is my husband who keeps an eye on their homework. We decided to work on and reinforce English at home and in our family leisure time.
What after school and leisure activities do you do in English?
My children go to an English playgroup in Madrid called Educachild Valdebernardo where they learn to read and write at the same time as play in English. This support is essential for me and backs up the work I do at home as the main English speaking reference for the family. Furthermore, whenever we can, we go to events, storytelling and workshops in English. Every summer we go to the UK to put our English to practice, sometimes taking up teaching assistant roles (me) whilst the children go to a local nursery school, sometimes travelling to see the English countryside, sometimes staying with English-speaking families.
Why do you think it is important to talk to your children in English?
Because it has positive effects on intelligence and other aspects of a child’s life. Children exposed to multiple languages are more creative, sociable and develop problem-solving skills better. It is going to be easier for them to learn new languages in the future, although for the time being English is the only language they are learning.
Have you faced any criticism for choosing to talk English to your children?
Yes, I faced criticism and skepticism, mostly at the beginning, from my family and some friends who thought my children would not learn English properly and that they were going to make a mess of both languages. Now they are surprised to see how my children talk to me in English and how they are able to switch between languages without any problem. They value my effort and determination.
What advice do you have for Spanish families that are hoping to become bilingual?
As well as suggesting that Spanish parents play English language music, watch English language TV & films, listen to the radio in English and play videogames in English, I would also advocate language immersion and traveling abroad as much as possible. I would tell families to look for exchange experiences with other families in the same situation. I would encourage them to use Skype to connect with English speaking family members.
Do you have any anecdotes or funny stories you would like to share with readers of Kids in Madrid about your adventures as a bilingual parent?
Once when we were returning from Luton Airport some Spanish tourists mistook me for a foreign Mum because I am blonde, fair skinned and spoke in English to my children. They started to talk in broken English to my children and I didn’t want to hurt their feelings by admitting that I am Spanish and that my children are too!
What is your proudest moment as a bilingual parent?
I am proud of being a bilingual parent every single day when I see my children talking to each other in English and watching how they relate to each other and play in this language. I also feel a sense of pride when we are abroad and I see my children so relaxed. They enjoy playing with foreign children in a new environment, regardless of the spoken language.
Thank you Beatriz, your story is an inspiration to us all!
Interview designed and written by Dominique White
If you are Spanish but speak to your children in English and would like to be considered as a Parent of the Month please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org