They live right on the Camino de Santiago, so whether you've always dreamed of doing it or never heard of it, make sure you say hello to Maria!
Tell us a little about yourself and your family.
I’m from Galicia, one of Spain’s bilingual regions, so I grew up speaking two languages. Then I started studying English in school. I liked it so much that I became an English teacher. But then I got the opportunity to spend a year in Ireland improving my English while teaching Spanish in a primary school. And I discovered that I enjoyed teaching Spanish even more than teaching English. So I decided to stay in Ireland for “a bit longer”, which quickly turned into 15 years! During those years, I was teaching Spanish to adults mainly.
On a personal level, I met my now husband, who is from Nigeria and, like me, also grew up with two languages: his mother-tongue Yoruba and English, the language used in school. So, between the two of us we have four languages, English being the one in common. At some point you could have heard all four of them at our dinner table and it was fine, we could all understand each other.
We have two daughters, who are now 12 and 10. They were born in Ireland and we lived there until they were 8 and 6. That means that during those first years the strongest language was English.
Since you're back in Spain, English has become their minority language. How do you incorporate literacy practice in your daily lives?
They speak English at home with their dad and watch TV/movies in English when that option is available. Both girls love reading and my husband travels to the UK a lot, so he’s always getting new books and magazines in English for them.
Getting them to write is a bit harder. They study English in school, but they are far more advanced than their classmates. The fact that they have to do some writing in school helps, but we feel they could be writing more complex texts. We try to encourage them and give them writing ideas (write about a trip or some other experience they’ve had, write letters to their cousins in Nigeria...) but the truth is that they are not too keen. They just see it as extra homework.
How do you deal with difficulties you encounter?
I think we have been quite lucky and we haven’t had any real difficulties, just the usual stuff such as making up words they don’t know in one of the languages (I remember one of them saying “blanquito” in Spanish when she was talking about a “blanket” -blanket in Spanish is manta and blanquito means white).
For me, the fact that they started school in Ireland and learnt how to read in English there was a great help. I’m not sure their English reading skills would be so good now if things had been different. I think we would have needed professional help. Reading Spanish is easier because the pronunciation and the spelling match. So they learnt quite naturally, without much of an effort, once they knew how to read in English.
I did (and still do) speak Galician to them. When we were living in Ireland I was the only source of this language and it was easier to get Spanish input from Spanish-speaking friends, books, music, films… So I would speak Galician to my girls and they would reply in Spanish mixed with Galician. Both languages are similar, so I don’t think they even realized they were two different languages until we moved to Spain. After we moved, they adapted quite easily and soon started differentiating both languages and speaking correctly.
Staying consistent in raising multilingual kids is tough. How does your family stay motivated and focused?
I don’t find it particularly hard. As I mentioned before, when the girls were smaller we would be speaking four different languages during dinner time and it worked for us. I’ve never spoken English to them, not because I made a conscious effort, but because that’s what felt more natural.
What advantage do you see in your children from knowing different cultures and languages?
The most obvious benefit is that they can communicate in 3 different languages without having to work hard at it. And that will probably make it easier for them to learn other languages in the future.
It also gives them a wider vision of the world; they are aware of and familiar with different cultures, different perspectives.
What would you tell parents who are hesitating about teaching their kids to read in multiple languages?
I’d say Go for it! Don’t be afraid. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for and can handle a couple of languages at the same time. They won’t get confused and they won’t be slower than their peers (it might look that way at the beginning it’s not really significant). Once they learn in one language, they’ll apply that knowledge to the second one. And don’t forget to read a lot: to them, with them… just read!
Tell us about Spanish for the Camino.
I started less than a year ago. After moving back to Spain I had to rethink my teaching career. I tried a couple of things but I wasn’t happy with the outcome.
I live on the Camino de Santiago. For many years I didn't think much about it. But now I am back home and I see pilgrims passing by almost every day. Also, a few friends of mine have walked to Santiago recently and I want to do it too.
Everybody talks about the physical and mental challenges they overcome, the acts of kindness from total strangers, the bonding with fellow pilgrims... they describe it as a life-changing experience.
I think that knowing at least some basic Spanish can enrich this experience, so I started a blog where I combine tips for the Camino with basic Spanish that you are likely to need when you are on your way.
I have heard stories of pilgrims who felt frustrated or anxious because they were not able to speak the language; others thought their experience would have been better if they knew some Spanish. I’d like to help them have a better experience by giving them the tools to communicate in Spanish.