"One of the best presents a parent can make is the gift of a language"

The 5 Questions: How do you inspire your child to learn a new language?

Profile: Marcelo and sons Marcelo, Mateo, Nicholas
Location: Madrid
Marcelo, Mateo and Nicholas’ native language: Spanish
Language they learn: English

What is your favorite activity that helps your sons learn English when you were in Madrid?

My wife Sonia and I are both native Spanish speakers. My parents taught me English early on. So I decided even before little Marcelo was born that I would only speak in English to him, and Sonia in Spanish. One of my favorite activities is reading before bedtime.

What is a helpful tool you use?

We had cable TV in Madrid. You are actually able to change the setting of cable TV, so that the default language becomes English instead of Spanish. This allowed the kids to watch Disney Channel or Nickelodeon exclusively in English. It helped develop their hearing and vocabulary in English. I would also buy books and DVDs each time I was traveling to England.

What is your #1 challenge?

I was very strict with myself to only speak in English with the kids, and Sonia would speak in Spanish. In a public setting, it felt awkward at the beginning. I’m Spanish speaking, people know that, and here I go speaking in English to the kids. However, I believe that one of the best presents a parent can make to the children is the gift of a language. So I just stuck with it.

What helps in overcoming this challenge?

I asked my family (brother, sister, my father, etc.) to help me in speaking in English with the kids. The support of my family helped me in being perseverant.

Any tip or advice you have for other parents?

Because our sons learned two languages at the same time, it took the kids a little longer to make full sentences when they learned how to speak. Some parents are concerned about it and give up. Don’t give up.

Also, creating a fun environment, associating the language they learn with fun, helps a lot (play dates with English-speaking kids, doing fun activities together in English).

We now moved to the US and the kids are going to school here. So I now have to find a solution to the reverse problem: how do I make sure that the kids keep their level of Spanish?