I’m from Seville (Spain). I have always loved languages, so I studied English Philology (Linguistics) at the University of Seville. I came for the first time to Belgium in 1995 as an Erasmus student on my last year. Normally, I would only stay 7 months, but I found the love of my life and I stayed 6 years instead. These things happen when you are young.
In 2001 we both left everything we had in Belgium and moved to Seville, where we stayed for 10 years, till the economic crisis (really hard in Spain) made us move again back to Belgium.
In the meantime, we had our 2 children, Mauro and Clara, who only spoke Spanish at that time, because daddy had to travel a lot. When we moved back to Belgium they were 6,5 and 3 years old, but they adapted real good, like kids do, right?
What advantages do you see in your children from knowing different cultures and languages?
This was actually one of the reasons why we decided to go ahead and move to Belgium. We knew the kids would benefit from living in the center of Europe, being already able to speak Spanish. And after 7 years I can say we were right.
They say learning a language is the perfect “food” for your brain, so learning since you are a child can only do you good. Besides, I believe this capacity gives you another look on the world. You “understand” better about the society, countries, languages and cultures.
Since we live in Belgium, my children are bilingual Spanish/Dutch and they are both very good at understanding other languages. Mauro is now 13 and can speak and understand quite a lot of English and French too, so I’m guessing when he is 17 he will be able to easily communicate in 4 languages. That’s great! And they love it too. They can watch tv shows, play games, listen to music or play with other kids in different languages. That’s so cool! And very useful for the future, of course. I really only find benefits!
I always speak Spanish to my children, so they are used to using both languages everyday. I have to say, though, they answer sometimes in Dutch. I guess after a day at school it’s easier this way and not having to “switch” languages. But this is not a problem, I just keep on speaking Spanish. Sometimes we really don’t even realize anymore which language we are speaking to each other.
I have to say Spanish expats get a great opportunity to let their children go to specific lessons to learn about Spanish language and culture. The Spanish government organizes these for free and we are very grateful for that. My kids go every Saturday for 1,5 hours and they are in contact with other Spanish kids too.
Staying consistent in raising multilingual kids is tough. How do you and your kids stay motivated and focused on the goal?
I have to confess that this is hard sometimes. For Mauro this is more natural. He keeps in touch with the Spanish language everyday through YouTube videos or playing online with his Spanish cousins. For Clara it’s different. She feels less connected to Spain or the Spanish language.
We go 3 times a year to Spain and before getting there, they switch to Spanish without even thinking about it. When they are in touch with Spanish kids they are so proud they can speak and write so well. When we come back home their Spanish is great again. So travelling and keeping in touch with family and friends help a lot. And it’s a motivation in itself, really.
Have you encountered difficulties? How have you dealt with them?
Of course, Dutch became their first language a few years ago. So, yes, they make mistakes in Spanish, but mostly when they write, because this doesn’t happen very often. Where to put the right Spanish accents can sometimes be a problem for them. But since I’m a teacher too, I could give Mauro some tricks he applies very well now. Next year will be Clara’s turn :)
Reading is really the answer to the writing difficulties, and that’s why we try to have books and comics in both languages. And nowadays you can always buy new stuff on the Internet, we sure cannot complain about that any more.
The more they read the better they will write. The more they listen the better they will speak. Easy? Not at all, but keep on going and meet with other parents in the same situation as yours. This could mean the world to you. You would learn from other experiences and you would understand you are not alone!
What would you tell parents who are hesitating about teaching their kids to read in multiple languages?
I truly believe the sooner you start speaking your mother tongue to your child the better he will learn it. I don’t say the sooner, but the better. A child’s brain is ready for this and much more, it’s like a sponge, so go for it. When he’s an adult he will sure be incredibly grateful for your efforts. And these efforts become really natural after a while. I read a lot about this when I was pregnant for the first time, and I learned that there are children who will need some time to “separate” both languages before they speak. So, it could take your child a year longer or so, but then he will not speak one but two languages! How cool is that? This is just priceless!
Tell us about Leer Spaans Online - how it started, your goals, how you see it in the future.
I had worked as a Spanish teacher when I was young and I really liked it, but I had other ideas for my future. You know, a more “serious” job in a serious company where I could develop all my potential.
But some years ago, I started thinking about this and I realized I was certainly not the person I wanted to be when I was young. I started to analyse myself, what I enjoyed doing the most and what my abilities were… I reached the fantastic conclusion that I should go back to where I started. I wanted to be again the link between all these people who want to learn Spanish and to know better our culture and my beautiful country. I could not imagine a better thing to do than helping them on their way to get more fluent and showing them everything Spain has to offer them. So, that is what I’m doing now.
There are so many people everywhere who love Spain, the culture, the gastronomy and the language. And not all of them necessarily want to learn on the traditional way: going to evening school after you worked 8 hours and just listen how a teacher tries to explain you and 20 others (20 different interests and ways of learning) some grammar rules you are not really interested in. All my admiration for these colleagues. But there are other ways. More fun ways. My goal is to help them get there by doing, listening or speaking about things they care about. They should be interested in what they are doing to learn on a better way.
I have now a new project in mind to take little groups with me to Spain so we can share authentic experiences there during some days. This could be so helpful and it would be great to see them reach their goals in a shorter period of time. Hopefully this can become a reality in 2019. I will sure let you know!