Today, I am super delighted to share with you this new interview in this series! It is an incredible bilingual mum who opened her heart to go into details about her adventure how she went about to raise her daughter bilingual in spite of not being a native of her minority language (ml). For those of you who think raising bilingual as a non-native is not possible… think again! 😉
Grab a cup of coffee, turn your phone off and enjoy the wealth of details and resources the lovely Beatriz shares with us to bring about her dream to raise bilingual.
Tell us a little bit about you, your family and the language strategy (OPOL, ml@h, Time & Place…) you use to rear your children bi/multilingual.
My husband and I are both Spanish and live in Madrid. We have an almost 5-year-old daughter. Our minority language is English, and this minority language is around us almost all the time at home, even though daddy doesn’t speak English.
I am a psychologist by training, though I have been working in the clinical trials field either for Pharmaceutical Companies or Clinical Research Organizations (CROs) for more than 20 years. Nobody knows how important is the methodology and statistical knowledge in psychology, and how many subjects about that we do learn as psychology students (in spite of not being a piece of cake for most of them).
Within the clinical trials field, a fluent level of English is always required since everything is in English, from the studies protocols to the operating procedures, work guidelines, not to mention the international studies (nowadays, most of them) where the team is composed of colleagues from different nationalities and countries, and you must be able to communicate with them, meet deadlines, reach agreements, elaborate your concerns, etc. English is the common language in clinical research and, of course, in this globalized world where we all live.
I was reared in a monolingual family, my first formal, special and purposeful contact with the English language came when I was 12, at school. The way we were taught English in the ’90s in Spain was first by reading, then by writing, we barely listened to it and in the end, we never spoke it. I come from a very humble family and we couldn’t even afford to buy the books for school, thus paid English lessons, academies or private schools were beyond our possibilities.
When I first started to work in clinical trials, my positions were quite basic as I was working part-time to pay the university taxes. However, sooner than expected I was promoted to better positions. Having the English background that I have mentioned earlier, my English proficiency has always been a major obstacle to my career.
Once my daughter was born, I wanted her to have close contact with the English language. That was all my ambition. As a baby, I started to expose her to English TV shows such as Baby TV, Super Simple Songs and PinkFong! among others. Also, the bedtime story was always read in English, every night. Therefore our initial bilingual approach was “Time and Place”. Several months later, by the age of 1, she began attending English lessons in an English academy which has developed a very interesting and playful method. She said her first English words before being able to take her first steps. I joined several bilingual Facebook groups and I started to handle more and more resources to maximize her bilingual exposure. Besides, my English skills were improving day after day.
By the age of 3, my little one was signed up for an English summer camp for 5 weeks, and she started to speak English quite fluently. As a result, our language strategy evolved to OPOL. We are not a family who uses OPOL strictly at home; we have adapted our OPOL strategy to switch to the majority language (ML), Spanish, at lunchtime or when we need to have a conversation together as a family since daddy neither speaks nor understands our minority language, English. Also, when we are out or with other children, family or friends are coming over to our place, we usually switch to the ML. My daughter and I continue speaking in English when we are alone, or at home. Surprisingly, many friends and relatives have joined us speaking in English several times. They find my daughter’s English fluency quite interesting and many times they want to be part of it.
Many non-native parents dream of raising bilingual but do not dare to go on and do it. What incited you to actually take the plunge?
Raising my daughter bilingual was not part of the initial plan. The fact is, however, that there were a lot of resources to be explored in front of me. As I found myself incorporating all those resources in our daily routines, I finally increased and maximized English exposure at home and realized that I really do lead a charmed life.
Many times I felt my English was not good enough to be a bilingual mum. I knew other bilingual families, but most of them were composed of native parents from different countries, or English teachers speaking fluent and almost perfectly pronounced English to their children. Sometimes I felt I was doing something wrong, pretending to be good enough for raising bilingual, which was out of my reach. I was feeling very vulnerable, as the weakest link in the bilingual chain.
Luckily, my bilingual community gave me a lot of support and strength, they really encouraged me to go ahead.
Last but not least, my husband’s support deserves a special mention in this interview. He was on board from the moment I expressed my desire to raise our little one bilingual, and he never had any doubts about me speaking to her in English or regarding the purchases to get the resources that I considered more suitable, no matter how much money should be spent on them. He never set boundaries on my bilingual proposals, and believe me, quite a few of them turned out to be a fiasco.
What are the 5 (or more) things you did that, with hindsight, have made a difference on your bilingual journey, and why do you think they had this positive effect?
1. Using screen time to our advantage in the ml:When used effectively, screen time can be an advantage to bilingual children to aid in their language development. Screen time itself isn’t bad; it is when there are no limits that it can be an issue. As with anything, moderation is the key.
Up to this day my daughter has never watched TV shows or movies in Spanish, it is all in English. I have found my daughter playing with her toys reproducing the dialogues from some of the episodes of her favorite shows. For parents raising bilingual children who aren’t able to provide enough language exposure, the effective use of screen time can be a practical and affordable way to boost the minority language.
When holidays are coming and my daughter is going to stay at home longer than usual (during the lockdown for instance, also for Easter or Christmas holiday), to increase her English immersion at home, we usually purchase one of the British television streaming packages Transponder.tv, which creates the impression of being in the UK. CBeebies is the perfect channel for us right now, and during the holidays in the mornings, we usually have our breakfast while watching CBeebies shows.
Besides, when the issue of biliteracy arrived I took good advantage of TV shows like Alphablocks to prepare the way for raising a bilerate bilingual child.
Regarding apps to boost English skills, I have to confess that a large proportion of the work of teaching my daughter English biliteracy went on the app “Teach your Monster to Read”, her phonics knowledge came about naturally, just through playing. Other apps worth mentioning are Lingokids, Khan Academy Kids, and the 3 parts of Hairies Phonics from the Nessie learning group (BTW they have an ever-resourceful Facebook page).
2. Being part of a bilingual community and getting in contact with other families doing the same:When I first found the Spanglisheasy Facebook grouprun by Raquel Aliste, I was quite sceptical about it. I thought that, in the end, someone would try to sell me English courses, books, make some profit off my back. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.
The spirit of this group is like no other, the members help each other, share experiences, give support and many many many resources in a completely altruistic way, just for the pleasure to spread the bilingual word.
It became my bilingual reference group when my daughter was a baby, and currently it still is. As I became more and more confident about my bilingual approach, and the resources that I was using with my daughter proved to be effective, I started to participate more actively. I have met very interesting people struggling with the same bilingual challenges, and now they are my traveling companions in one of the most important journeys of my life.
I cannot mention all the people who have provided me plenty with tools, tips and English resources, but I would like to mention the most important two of them:
- Amy’s blog Our ml Home: before knowing Amy’s blog, we started to come into contact through the Spanglisheasy Facebook group. She provided me with amazing tips, tools and resources from her multilingual experience and most of them became my essentials, such as audiobooks, the Oxford Owl website, or astounding blogs like Modern Mrs. Darcy or This Reading Mama. She also became my fellow bilingual mum to share tips with about phonics, when we started to put into practice the knowledge acquired at the phonics academy developed by Raquel Aliste.
- Bilingual meetings at Ezcaray arranged by Sara Fernández Lobato:As a family, the experience of traveling to the mountains to spend the whole weekend chatting, sharing experiences, resources, games and pure air along with other bilingual families is priceless. Some of my most loved family memories took place during these gatherings. These meetings used to be held quarterly in the charming village of Ezcaray, La Rioja. However, due to the Covid-19 outbreak, Sara has re-invented these gatherings into virtual meetings and we are having grown-ups Teatime and Kids club meetings weekly. In case you haven’t heard about this awesome Facebook group yet, I highly recommend it to all the bilingual parents raising English-Spanish children. It is called: Encuentros familias bilingües inglés-castellano, and I am a proud member of it.
3. Books and audiobooks: Bedtime story in English was the first routine we settled down once my baby was born. Making it part of our daily routine ensured that my baby heard different types of vocabulary regularly. We have read hundreds of books so far, and reading aloud is a very important part of our bilingual approach.
It took so long for me to reach the English C1 advanced level, and my teacher’s advice for the last 3 years has always been the same, you have to increase your listening at least 120% more, this way you will be able to correct your pronunciation, improve your vocabulary and become more confident to cope with international teleconferences or international face to face meetings at work.Listening is the first language skill that we acquire and 85% of what we learn, we learn by listening.
So I did it. I increased the amount of time that I spent listening by purchasing audiobooks. At the beginning I could barely understand the principal idea, I had to slow down the speed of the speech, it was complicated. Though, after spending 3 months listening to my favorite books in the English audiobook version, I could experience the sweet smell of success, and nowadays listening to audiobooks is one of my favorite activities, listening to audiobooks while I am taking a jog.
As it could not be otherwise, my little one started to copy me, she wanted to listen to audiobooks too. We got hooked on the audiobook experience. At this moment we have an extensive audio library and the bedtime story has turned into the audiobook night time. Most children’s audiobooks repeat the story twice, first time to read along, and the second time as storytelling, also Julia Donaldson’s audiobooks include a bonus track song, and this allows children to improve their comprehension and their relish as well.
4. Teaching my daughter to read in the ml:I could never have thought that I was able to teach my daughter to read and write in English. Ever. Then by the age of 4 and a half, she started to learn about letters in the Spanish school, and she was taught to write her name and her friend’s names, and I suddenly realized that I didn’t want her to build her English reading and writing knowledge on her Spanish literacy skills. Thus, I started to investigate and contact other bilingual fellows, I discovered phonics, and finally, I attended phonics lessons and phonics mentoring to do the job properly.
I cannot be more proud of it. My little one is an early reader and I have significantly improved my pronunciation and my English proficiency.
For those of you who consider teaching your children to read in the ml, I highly recommend you to have a look into the following links, they will give you a perfect starting point to go:
- OxfordOwl: Learn to Read with Phonics: A Parent Guide
- ThisReadingMama: Reading Readiness Signs & Checklist
- TheMeasuredMum: 5 Things Kids Need…Before they’re Ready to Sound out Words
5. Hiring a bilingual nanny: During the summer school holidays, we usually sign up for our daughter for a summer English camp held by her English academy. The results of having her immerse in English 5 hours a day have been extraordinary as it has boosted her spoken English enormously.
Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the summer camp planned for this year was cancelled. That’s when I decided to give a call to the director of the academy asking for suggestions. They brought me into contact with an assistant teacher who was unemployed at that time because of the cancellation of the summer camps. Since then she has been coming over to play in English with my daughter 2 hours/twice a week. I am thrilled. My daughter is over the moon asking constantly when her lovely English friend is coming over. The assistant teacher has become very fond of my daughter, and we have decided to continue this English playtime beyond the summer season.
6. Board games:I am a big fan of board games, everybody knows that. Playing is the very best way for children to learn, regulate emotions, and socialize with others. Besides, if you play board games in the ml you can obtain extra exposure and most of them include instructions in several languages. Educational board games for kids are one of the greatest ways to get children involved in conversation.
In the following links you can find some suggestions of educational board games that can be played bilingual:
Research conducted in France and reported in the British Medical Journal on the impact of board games on mental health shows that regular playing of board games helped reduce the incidence of dementia as well as reduce risks of depression (if you are interested in the report check this link out Playing board games, cognitive decline and dementia: a French population-based cohort study). The report stated: “playing board games could be a particularly relevant way to preserve cognition and to prevent cognitive decline or dementia.” Interestingly they also stated: “Other stimulating leisure activities like reading, travelling, gardening, doing odd jobs or playing sports do not offer the same advantages and ease of practice.” That’s pretty compelling! Go Board Games!
What is the n°1 tip you would give to any bilingual family on this bumpy journey?
Have fun, enjoy the journey, and make friends. Be part of a bilingual community and get in contact with other families doing the same, they will encourage you to go ahead and provide you plenty of tools to deal with it.
What specific tip(s) could you give to other non-natives who would like to raise bilingual?
The same advice that Amy included in her last post for SpanglishEasy’ blog: “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great” (Zig Ziglar).