Four years on… how are we doing?

I am sure that some of you who read our blog come back time and time again to see how we are doing, how are the children coping with the multilingual environment. It could be that you are planning the same, you are unsure of what to expect, you want reassurance there are other people out there doing the same, or you are just curious and want to follow our adventure through time. [Read more...]

Confessions of a monolingual Brit

Flying the flag for monolingualism?

I’d never learned a foreign language until I started French at 11 years old. My Mother spoke both English and Welsh but had never taught me the celtic language, although she had helped me to read and write in English from a young age.

British monolingualism

Most people would love to learn another language to full fluency.

My introduction to French was not a happy one. The teacher, a French native, seemed to quickly latch on to the fact that a handful to children in the class had attended a local Catholic private school before attending my state comprehensive and already knew some French. It felt as if she was teaching to their higher level and I was quickly left behind and assumed I had no ability in the subject. I was of the first generation where very little English grammar is taught to students, and although I knew my way around a verb, a noun and an adjective, it all seemed more complex in French.

Even so, I liked the subject far more than German, which I began at the same time. The school did not have a culture of trying to push students forward. You just existed at the level to which you naturally settled – high flyer, middler or struggler. As a poor, humble 11 year old from the sticks that had barely met anyone from the North let alone another country, France seemed a remote and ultimately meaningless place and no one was really selling it to me.

When it came to GCSEs the school was very keen on every student taking a modern language so I naturally took French, despite being at a much lower level than I was in the humanities or sciences. My GCSE teacher, a Scot, was a revelation and, for a short time, I suddenly became enthusiastic for learning a language, although as I felt so far behind was not up for the hard graft needed to get back on track and only ended up with a poor grade (possibly made a grade worse by severe hayfever during the exam, to offer a feeble excuse).

In adulthood I toyed with learning other languages, usually spurred on by a foreign friend or enjoying the cinema of a given nation or culture but it was only meeting my future Spanish wife that I managed to finally pick up a language to an intermediate proficiency.

I attended a two week intensive Spanish course at one of the many private language schools in Madrid and was amazed just how fast you can absorb fresh knowledge. The ‘intermediate level’ course wasn’t expensive but the two young tutors were skilled, professional teachers that seemed to live and breathe the language and could communicate enthusiasm as well as complex conjugations.

The experience made me wonder why language learning seemed so hard in school? How can it be possible to attend lessons at school for five years and still have huge craters in your knowledge? Why is language learning such a turn off for so many kids at school, with fewer students taking modern language GCSEs and A Levels at a time when so many adults are keen to learn, with huge sales of language learning books and software, and good language tutors in constant demand?

Anyway, with a bilingual baby bouncing through her first year, I probably need a fresh kick up the backside to take my Spanish to the next level. Lidia’s family do not speak English at all, so it’s my Spanish or nothing. I wouldn’t want mother and daughter to have a top secret special language in which to discuss Papa.

Four Months on…

Little Baby is here already, growing fast and tall. At the moment the only thing she’s worried about is where her next feed is coming from. She doesn’t mind what language we speak to her as long as she gets fed!

She’s already trying to communicate by grunting and grabbing. It’s cute to see how she “talks” to her dollies or her granddad, in her baby language talk that only she understand.

In terms of mummy’s plan of talking to her in two different languages, well this is what we have got up to. We have set a more or less fixed routine so some days we speak only Spanish and some days only French, but when daddy is home we speak English to daddy.

I’m also trying to set up a group of like-minded parents and with good French level who want to speak to their children in French. The group would be something like a support group, so we can meet, organize activities for the children, sing French songs, etc.

There are a couple of people on the group so far, and I need to do some marketing to get the word out.

There are also some language activities around which sound interesting, groups where they teach nursery rhymes in French to kids, or French classes for toddles and little ones. I think these are brilliant in terms of the fun factor, although this shouldn’t be the only activity for immersion. I’ve read somewhere recently that for a kid to really become anything like bilingual, they need to be exposed to the language at least 1/3 of their waking time. So, unfortunately one hour a week of nursery rhymes is hardly going to do the trick. Although, I still believe it’s great in terms of the fun factor for baby and parent, and the social factor as well. Getting out and about and meeting other parents is also important.

So, anyway at the moment we are sticking to our program of one day French one day Spanish. I’m collecting baby books and nursery rhymes in both languages. Our local second hand bookshop has a very good section, and sometimes you can find French and Spanish baby books.

At the moment songs are the most important. As Baby enjoys music and seeing me jumping about and doing funny faces. But the main thing is that nursery rhymes in any language are really aimed to teach babies words and actions, so they’re perfect for learning without studying!

And that’s all for now.