Blogger Ivan Larcombe on how his three-year-old son goes through different stages as he learns to cope with a new language.
My son’s linguistic skills often garner him praise. Many parents of similarly aged children whom we know (Oscar will be three in March) are quite impressed with how well and how much he speaks – he is quite the chatterbox at times. Yet most of these people have kids who are learning two or more languages at once and tend to be less vocal, which is apparently common for children learning multiple languages.
Oscar started going to a Spanish-speaking school recently and till then, he has had the ‘advantage’ of only having to tackle English. Now that has changed.
Before arriving in Barcelona in June 2008, we felt we were set to take on the challenges of picking up new languages. Oscar is at that amazing language acquisition age; Katie was prepared for a learning curve with her Spanish and I was ready to brush off my strong but rusty Spanish and break out my fledgling Catalan.
But life in a tri-lingual environment was not for us. English at home mixed with various degrees Spanish and Catalan in the world made for some interesting challenges.
Finding a pre-school for Oscar that wasn’t conducted in Catalan wasn’t easy and so we ended up joining some expat playgroups. Unfortunately, that meant that Oscar’s exposure to Spanish was minimal. That changed a few weeks ago when we relocated to Valencia and enrolled Oscar in a Spanish escuela infantil.
Before: don’t say that!
It was difficult to know what to expect from our little boy as he entered this new world. For the four or five months immediately preceding his first day at pre-school, Oscar would not tolerate me speaking Spanish to him. If we were out and I spoke to a Spaniard, that was fine. But every time I addressed him in our adopted language, he would scrunch up his face in an angry scowl and shout: “Don’t say that!” He still does it.
Oscar used to say that when I speak to him in Spanish.
Now that he has been in school for about a month, he doesn’t seem as upset. He still doesn’t like it when I speak to him, but he doesn’t always yell at me to stop.
His teachers tell us that his first Spanish words at school were ‘por favor’ and ‘gracias’. I just can’t express the depths of my parental pride at knowing he was beginning to use Spanish, and using it to be polite too.
Reading to him in Spanish
We’ve been buying Spanish books for Oscar upon our move to Spain and he never really had a problem with that. He just seems to accept that some books come that way.
We did run into trouble a few times when we read him a story that he already knows: Peter Pan in Spanish was a hard sell the first time. There were occasional groans from Oscar when we started reading a new book as soon as he realised it wasn’t in English, but they never continued for very long.
The many different faces of Oscar
Now: say that!
Now we have entered a new phase, one that will hopefully usher in a new era of ease with Spanish.
One of Oscar’s favourite television programmes is ‘Charlie and Lola’, a series available in book form and on DVD. It’s quite cute and we indulge him by letting him more often than we should.
That indulgence went up a notch when he started asking for the Spanish version ‘Juan y Tolola’. At first, he seemed appalled at seeing his familiar friends speaking in that other language; we were shocked when he asked for it specifically. It felt like a leap forward.
Oscar could have figured out that we are much more likely to say yes if he asks for anything in Spanish. And if that’s the case, up comes that parental pride again.
I don’t mind being manipulated by my son at this age – I think it’s a good sign that he’s learning how to get along in the world. And if he’s learning Spanish along the way, it couldn’t be better.
For Ivan, all roads lead to Valencia. After living in Madrid for nearly three years, he returned to his native Canada in 1999 and chose a Hispanic Studies programme at university. He then undertook a series of completely unrelated professional before returning to Spain in 2008. You can read about his experiences on his blog - Ivan in Valencia - and on various other sites, including a fortnightly blog, Ya te digo, to Expatica.