Most people say things about language learning that I hold to be complete hogwash. Like, for instance, "Oh you're teaching your children? Yes well it's easy at their age, isn't it?". And that other classic, I'm no good at language, I'm just not a natural. Let's be clear, there are many languages which many people use every day that have nothig to do with speaking Spanish. There's the language of written music, algebra, braille, sign language...
I have absolutely no memory for names. I have often wondered why that is since if I'm given a noun to learn in spanish I usually manage but sit next to someone for an hour and I never trust myself to remember their name. For me, I think, it's the social pressure that gives me anxiety, then doubt, then the information just vanishes. For some people it's maths. I'm just no good at maths they say. So why bother trying? Why do we write off whole sections of life for ourselves?
For many children when I first do Spanish in their nursery their reaction is the same as that of an adult. For instance they say, no you're wrong! That's not the right word. It's Hello not Hola! Or they look at me agog, blank faced, too surprised to say anything. Or they get the giggles. They almost never join in first time!
Even when I get a Spanish child in my class it's no guarantee of immediate success. They understand that Spanish is their secret language with mummy or daddy. Then this stranger breezes into the class and begins using familliar words in an unfamilliar context. Singing songs that mummy doesn't sing. It can take even longer to win their confidence!
But learning a language is easier for children, you cry! Ah, well is it? I have seen the fury of a child unable to communicate at all. If you have had a child yourself you will have seen the crazed fury of a child unable to communicate their heart's desire to an increasingly confused parent! Now take that same child some 6 months later. They have aquired, even mastered a good few thousand words in their native language. Then drop that child into an environment where everyone in their nursery, road, local shop etc is talking a different language. Is their new language acquisition seamless, painless and fun? Like hell it is! They learn because they have to. If adults were forced to learn in the same conditions they'd learn too! Fortunately children have short memories and they forget the stupefying, aching levels of frustration along with the pain of teething, the potty accidents, the growing pains etc.
On the theme of potties I knew we were approaching an unexpected success when potty training my LO. We'd been speaking spanish around the house since he was born and he accepted most words and I had never experienced any rejection of Spanish from him until now. When he was doing a poo on the potty I said "Ooh que bien, haces una caca!". Understanding full well what I meant he said (mid strain) "No mummy! No! It's not caca! It's a poo!" After a few weeks of this happening every time he sat on the potty, he said in a proud voice: "Mummy look... I done a caca!" I could have danced, I was so proud!
It's been an interesting 4 years... When I had my first baby it felt weird talking in Spanish to him I literally had to practice. I had to practice my Spanish, and practice resisting the temptation to speak in english. How much spanish should I speak? How much of a balance could I strike? Should I speak only Spanish? What about English and even Catalan? How could I have a natural relationship with my child in a language that, just then, didn't feel all that natural?
When you have a baby, at least in my case, nothing came naturally! Instinct, I felt was cobblers! I had to learn everything. Including how to teach Spanish. With an extra child a couple ofyears later a lot came more naturally, but it still wasn't clear exactly how to proceed.
But singing, for me, was always natural. Singing, in any language, was how I spent some of the happiest hours with my two little ones. Singing and dancing. So that's how it started. I began singing in spanish and in english almost all the time. And once I could sing in Spanish I didn't mind chatting away in spanish while pushing them in their pushchairs.
And so it began..!
Spanish Gemma is a mum living in Kings Heath, Birmingham, UK.
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