Immersing children in a new language and educational system
July 20, 2010 3:41am CST
I know there are Mylotters from all over the world contributing here, and I'd be very interested in your thoughts on my situation. I have two daughters, 5 and 10 years, and we are English and lived in Spain for 2 years. So far they have been in English/International education, but from September they are going into the Spanish educational system. We have had some criticism for this decision, mainly from friends and family still in the UK, and also from people at the International school who are committed to that system. They insist that the UK system is the best in the world, and also that we will negatively affect our girls learning by switching to a new system, where everything will be in a new language. Our decision is based on the fact that we are committed to Spain for the long term and this is where they will grow up, so the worst thing would be for them to leave school unable to work or attend university here. And they are never going to learn Spanish properly at the International school - after a couple years their progress is really quite limited - because they are surrounded by English people, spoken English, etc. We want them to learn the 'real' Spanish, that's spoken in the streets and playgrounds, and make Spanish friends as well as English ones. I am sure they will struggle a bit at first, but they are both academically bright and can afford a degree of catch-up time as they assimilate the language - everyone says this happens in months at their age (and they do already have some Spanish of course). Part of the reason we moved here was to give our children the cultural and linguistic opportunity to be truly bilingual and international - in the UK we start second language learning way too late in my opinion, when the 'window of opportunity' is all but closed. I'd love to know what everyone thinks about our decision, whether your kids speak different languages or have changed country/language/culture, and how they were affected... thanks!
1 person likes this
• Cambridge, England
20 Jul 10
My niece moved to Spain when her children were about the same age as yours. They have been brought up bilingually, speaking English with their mother and Spanish with their father and grandmother. They went to the local schools and are now just finishing University in England. Like their father, they are fluent in both English and Spanish and would pass as a native in both countries. The earlier a child begins to learn a second language, the more naturally they are able to acquire it and there never seems to be a problem with confusing the two languages (occasionally they will come out with a word in the other language and generally laugh and correct themselves).
20 Jul 10
Thank you very much for that encouraging response... we cannot immerse in both languages at home as our language learning as adults is way behind theirs (going to have to accelerate that big time though to keep up!), and we work in a UK company online all day. But we hope that between home and school/social life, they will get the opportunities your great-nieces have enjoyed, and grow up truly bilingual. It sounds like they have done brilliantly academically, and I wish them every success as they move into the world of work on graduation.
27 Jul 10
I believe it is an advantage if your kids know how to speak two languages. I am from the Philippines and we were brought up to speak in English and our native language which is Pilipino/Tagalog. I would say that this is an advantage for us filipinos because it has brought in a lot of investments in the country since a lot of call centers have been established here due to the fact that we can speak fluently in English.
27 Jul 10
Certainly I agree, it's a major flaw in the UK economy, that so few of the population have second language skills. You clearly write excellent English, the kind of language skills that are so hard to acquire as an adult, and have to be absorbed as a child... thank you for responding!
• United Kingdom
27 Jul 10
I think that children can grow up bilingual if they have the opportunity to go to a foreign school and yet they can speak their mother tongue language at home. I believe that children that live in England and begin foreign language lessons at age eleven it can be too late and not enough. Most English people are not skilled with knowing any foreign languages fluently. Some have basic French, German or Spanish but they forget parts of it as they grow older. At evening classes only beginners courses are popular for foreign languages I have found in the United Kingdom. In some cases the English education system might be better than its counterpart not with Spain though. Spanish schools are great and your daughters could grow up speaking Spanish fluently. A Welsh medium girl began an English school and she grew up bilingual. Good luck with your daughters education.
• Cambridge, England
27 Jul 10
Many people in Wales are bilingual, some better than others, depending whether they speak Welsh at home or not. For better or for worse, all children in Wales learn Welsh by law; in the 1950's anyone caught speaking Welsh at school was beaten. The right to speak Welsh is therefore upheld as something which people fought for and consequently the enforced learning of Welsh is seen as an imposition by those who live in English-speaking areas of Wales. In Spain (depending on where you live) children may well encounter a similar situation. In school they will learn Castillian, in the playground and with friends they may very well learn to speak Valencian, Catalonian or one of the other 14 languages of Spain (many of these are more closely related to Castillian Spanish than Geordie is related to English and, with the exception of Basque, are much closer to it than Welsh is to English.)
28 Jul 10
Yes, in my area of Spain the first language is Valenciano, and the girls will have to learn that at school too. Although we have been careful to choose a school who's primary language of communication is Castellano, so we can communicate with them! In time though immersing the girls in two new languages simultaneously will hopefully mean they become fluent in both, and Valenciano fluency will enable them to understand and write Catalan, and easily learn French as well. Around here politically it's very similar to Welsh language and culture, in that years of oppression has produced somewhat of a backlash, and divides people a bit (you see road signs of place names being altered back and forth several times between different preferred spellings!) You also get crazy situations like a major hospital in Valencia carrying a vacancy for a senior cardiologist for months, with waiting lists for urgent surgery building, because no local language speaker could be found to appoint. Still the point is well made that thank goodness we are none of us trying to learn Basque! I am struggling enough with the supposedly 'easy' Castellano (never having learned languages at school properly myself)...
1 Mar 11
In my teaching career I've experienced that following bilingual system at an earlier age has a great effect to master the language with rich vocabulary and refined terms of a polished language. When these children learn later age they lag behind.It appears that the learning load is heavy if a child follows the bilingual system. But later on we discover that the hardship at the earlier age lays a sound foundation and great self confidence.
1 Mar 11
I think you'll need them to get out of their comfort zone and face their challenges, i think having difficulties on speaking spanish is just a start.as time goes by, believe and have faith that they'l be comfortable learning the spanish dialect. getting out of the comfort zone is a sign of courage.wouldnt be nice and impressive to have bilingual kids? the more you pamper them,the more you encourage their limitations.