Our second Parent of the Month is father-of-two Serafin Alonso from Madrid.
Hello Serafin – please tell us about your bilingual family
I work as a consultant I.T. engineer with clients all over the world, where English is the language we have in common. My wife Marisol works at an English school. We have two children aged 11 and 8 to whom I have been talking in English since they were babies. Along this bilingual journey we have used “Kids In Madrid” as a resource for English related activities to help expose our children to English language experiences in as many ways as possible. I didn’t learn English until after I finished my university degree and to begin with used it mainly at the workplace. However since my eldest child was born I made a concerted effort to improve my English by listening to the radio, reading, learning verbal expressions and vocabulary. I would say that it is thanks to our decision to become a bilingual family that I have become a more confident English speaker.
What practical tips have helped you improve your spoken English?
The top rule is to listen, listen and listen CAREFULLY! Secondly I would say that imitation is the key. Try to imitate English sounds to avoid having a typically Spanish accent. Specifically, take care with consonant sounds such as “b” and “v”; avoid say “es” when a word starts with “s”; pronounce “th” correctly in words such as “they” so that it doesn’t sound like you are saying “day”. Finally, importantly, read aloud every day. I read to my kids for about 20-30 minutes every night, which is beneficial for me as well as for my children.
What else has helped make your family bilingual?
At home we watch the television and play board games and videogames in English as a family. My children also go to English speaking after-school activities. It is very important for them to interact with other children that speak English too, not just their parents. Another factor that has helped us become bilingual has been going on holiday to English speaking countries where we choose English language audio guides at tourist attractions. My kids were able to speak English with staff and other guests at the restaurants, hotels and B&Bs. These holidays are immersive experiences that help build up their confidence.
What regular English language activities do your children do in Madrid?
When they were younger we regularly went to an English language playgroup and to Story Telling when they were aged 4-8. Now that they are older we take part in activities run by English-speaking families from this group at least once a month. We also go to the Readings Theatre at the International Library. My children are both Scouts with British Scouts Overseas in Madrid, which they enjoy very much.
Do your children go to a bilingual school?
No they do not. They attend the local state school close to our home.
Are they learning any other languages?
My daughter took an interest in Italian a few years ago and had some lessons with an Italian student who came to our house on Saturdays for a period of time. She will be learning French next year at Secondary school.
Why do you think it is important to talk to your children in English?
Apart from the fact that they will learn the language in a natural way (rather than by taking exams and doing copious amounts of homework) we think that this “extra” work for their young brains is good for them. You kind find many articles and studies that discuss the benefits of raising your children in a bilingual environment and I tend to agree with them.
Have you faced any criticism for choosing to talk English to your children?
I haven’t been criticized, although sometimes our in-laws ask us what we are talking about because they don’t understand.
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?
When some of my daughter’s friends watched a home video we had taken of the kids jumping on their beds when they were younger, these friends expressed surprise to see my then 3 year-old daughter say “Look what I can do Daddy” to the camera. My daughter’s friends whispered to each other “Wow. They could speak English then already!”.
What is your proudest moment as a bilingual parent?
I feel proud when they call me Daddy rather than “Papá” or when I hear them talking to each other in English on their own. I am also happy when my son writes stories for me in English. Finally, it is deeply satisfying to have native English speaking parents come up to me at the playgroup or at Scouts to say how good my children’s English is.
Thank you Serafin! We will take heed of your excellent advice.