How Spanish Parents Can Overcome Their Reluctance To Talk English To Their Baby
More and more Spanish families are bringing up their children bilingually, giving them the chance to discover the world in two languages simultaneously.
One thing these parents struggle with, however, is a reluctance to speak English with their babies, especially when they are in public spaces like the park, swimming pool, doctor’s waiting room or supermarket.
At the Madrid Metropolitan we felt it was time to give these parents some encouragement. We Brits in Madrid truly admire all non-native English speakers who make an effort to communicate naturally with their little ones in our mother tongue!
Babies learn language better through accents
It is a well-known fact that babies hear more sounds than adults and when it comes to language acquisition what they tend to do is learn how not to distinguish between sounds as
they hone in their hearing abilities to the society they are born into.
Academic studies researching the impact of dialectal diversity in monolingual environments have concluded that children brought up where the same word is pronounced in a different accent soon learn to recognize words easier than those brought up in a single-accent homes.
Therefore, there is no need to worry about speaking English with an accent to your child as you are actually doing him or her a favour!
Furthermore, as Assistant Professor Michele Goldin from Touro University Graduate School of Education told us recently when we approached her for insights on bilingual language
acquisition, “various studies have shown that children acquire the pronunciation of their peers and local speech community rather than the accent of their parents. Exposing children to
multiple languages from an early age, regardless of parents’ pronunciation, opens a world of opportunity for them including greater communication skills, increased understanding and
empathy, and stronger cognitive flexibility”.
Mistakes can be corrected through laughter
Over at the British Council, the Bilingual Baby Club´s teachers have been trained in how to give corrective feedback positively. Any toddler that says a word learnt at home with emphasis
placed on the wrong syllable will soon learn the correct pronunciation of such word through repetition.
Really young kids usually eagerly repeat a sentence and then laugh. By having fun and making the little ones laugh, the Bilingual Baby Club teachers help the children to
remember how to say the sentence correctly because they enjoyed themselves learning it.
English-language children’s books are easy to follow
Spanish parents who have not been brought up in an English-speaking environment often enjoy reading English-language children’s books as much as the youngsters do! Parents pick up
vocabulary from these bright, clever and fun books. English as a second language experts speak warmly of books by authors such as Lucy Cousins, Nick Sharratt, Eric Carle, Mick Inkpin,
Eric Hill and Rod Campbell, all of which put great emphasis on telling a story through pictures and use simple non-rhyming language.
Braver parents try their hand at Julia Donaldson, Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl whose language is rich with alliteration and have a unique cadence which, once grasped, makes them a joy to read.
Normalising English speaking is positive for everyone
Young children instinctively notice when their parents swap languages depending on circumstances. Toddlers soon realise when a parent only speaks English in the company of
fellow parents that are bilingual advocates and never tries to use it with them in other settings.
This is because using a second language has still not been normalised in society, but awareness is beginning to seep in. Parents are role models and yet they are most affected by criticism
and prejudice from onlookers when using the second language with their children.
By joining bilingual parent support groups and going to early years English-speaking clubs, families find that they can successfully introduce a second language at home from birth.
Build up a social network in the second language of your child
Monolingual parents who actively choose to create a bilingual environment at home benefit greatly from joining a social network where the child’s second language is spoken.
Madrid is teeming with activities run in English for youngsters. There are also volunteer organisations such as Northern Stars which is a membership-based group of families who are raising their children in English.
Although recognizing the sacrifice involved in communicating in a second language from birth with your child, parents in a social network point to the enjoyment and complicity with other parents that makes the journey to bilingualism an easier one.
The main advantage of signing up to the regular activities and workshops run by professionals in a school or academy environment is the age-appropriate, tried and tested approach to
early years bilingualism they offer. Their wide range of stimulating activities and cutting-edge pedagogy provide the best introduction to English language in daily life that any family could
wish for. Furthermore, these groups create a community among like-minded parents.
Bravo for the next generation of bilingual madrileños!
The Madrid Metropolitan salutes you!