Learning Spanish in Spain
Is immersion the easiest way to learn a language? Raising a bilingual or trilingual kid with travel can greatly help the process. I've written a series on how to raise a biilingual or multilingual child ( something that is very rare in America with monolingual parents like us) with tips about language learning at home or abroad.
”One free lunch in the world is to learn another language in early childhood.” Pinker - MIT Linguist
Growing up bilingual and then trilingual, ( and deeply triliterate as well) has been amazing for our 12 year old. We've almost completed our Mandarin goals and she wants to learn French next. We can't wait for that and also to spend more time in Spain, Provence and all of Europe again ( maybe more in Tahiti too). Our ultimate family adventure gives us many homes to return to with friends waiting.
There are many extra advantages of becoming a bilingual or trilingual from birth, so we started when she was in the womb with both Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. It's definitely been worth the effort for our global kid.
BILINGUAL READING AND WRITING
Proper bilingual or trilingual reading and writing is a much more complicated process, especially if neither parent is fluent in the secondary languages. Without using local foreign school dips, added to our homeschooling, ( or worldschooling as we call it) I doubt if we could have easily raised such a fluent triliterate kiddo.
Mozart was already very fluent in verbal Spanish before we arrived in Spain when she was five, but she was not reading in Spanish, though she was an advanced reader in English. She was even beginning to fall behind a bit in her Spanish as her English ( in an all English country) got stronger and stronger. We found out that this is typical for all bilingual kids after about age four as they succumb to the dominant languge ( even when the parents are native speakers of the 2nd language).
Foreign local schools are a fantastic way to become multi-literate and multilingual while deeply immersing in a culture. it's really been an awesome experience! In 20-20 hind sight we see it was one of our smartest decisions on our non-stop-almost-8-year world tour. We also spent lots of time in Barcelona with Spanish ( only) speaking friends and all around Spain, so that reinforced the language as well understanding various accents.
Locals consider her a native speaker, but deep fluency doesn't come quickly and there was a reason we spent those four years and she completed the first 4 grades in Spain. We continue with her Spanish and keeping in touch with Spanish speaking friends even in Asia and as we travel the world. We won't leave Asia until she is reading and writing Mandarin at a 6th grade level.
She was barely six when she started her first day of school in Spain. We're monolinguals who have worked hard to raise her as a very fluent trilingual /triliterate from birth, but her Spanish was becoming more receptive because she was living in an English dominated society in California. Now she is as fluent as a native speaker and still enjoys reading and talking in Spanish daily.
We are eclectic unschoolers and mostly do child led learning, but decided to put her into a local school in Spain for five months for several years to immerse deeply in the language, literature and culture. It was also a way to give her consistent friends and a base as we travel the world.
The school in Spain that we went to was very flexible. We traveled Europe by campervan for 7 months and then got a rental apartment in sunny Adnalusia for the winter, and put her in school for just 5 months. We usually arrived in late November and left in late April. The hours were relaxed, just 9am to 2pm and sometimes we'd take time off for short trips.
This allowed us to also participate fully with local traditions and festivals like Three Kings at Christmas, Semana Santa and Carnival which became part of us. Also time for learning Flameco starting at six and being part of an ancient village ( while skipping the summer heat of Spain).
WAYS TO IMMERSE THROUGH TRAVEL
Not everyone can spend the time that we did ( over 4 years with the school dips) on our world trip, but long term immersion travel can be arranged in various ways for most people who want to make this happen. Some do home exchanges, sometimes just moms and kids go, some dedicate a year and some do it over the summer.
I encourage every one who is raising a bilingual or more child, to find a way to do long term immersion as it will make a huge difference and doesn't have to be expensive since slow travel can cost less than staying at home.
CREATING AN IMMERSION ENVIRONMENT
If you can't right now, here are the key tips for creating an immersion environment no matter where you are:
• One parent only talking in the other language
• Playing music in the other language/s
• Reading books outloud in the other language/s
• Watching TV/movies in the other language/s
• Playing tapes of the parent who speaks the language when they are away
• Making sure she was always responding back, not just understanding
• Helping her know how to respond if needed
• Reading and writing daily when the child is old enough
• Have friends talk to her only in the other language/s
What else would you like to know about learning Spanish in Spain? Have you done any immersion travel?