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Help! OPOL family - what can I do to help dd continue learning her other language?

(9 Posts)
petisa Thu 13-Jan-11 23:33:34


I'd really appreciate your wise advice on this.

Up until a couple of months ago, I lived with my dp, dd1 (2.8) and dd2(4 months) in Spain. Our setup is OPOL, I speak English to the girls, dp speaks Spanish to them, and as a couple we speak Spanish.

Dd1's English is much stronger than her Spanish as I'm a SAHM and the mummies and toddlers we spent time with in Spain were all English speakers. Dp isn't from Spain, so dd doesn't see his family very much, so the only Spanish she was exposed to apart from her dad was on the street, in the park etc. She speaks in English almost all the time, though she seems to understand quite a lot of Spanish and can say quite a few individual words and a couple of short phrases in Spanish. It was starting to be a bit of a problem that she sometimes didn't understand her dad and he didn't understand her. They were working it out though, and dd1 had started repeating a lot of the things dp said and learning quickly. It seemed that she had reached a certain level of English and then had started to concentrate on her Spanish. Plus we were expecting her to go to Spanish nursery school in Sep and catch up.

Then disaster struck. Due to the recession dp had to close his business and I have had to come and live in my home town in the UK with the girls, while dp has gone to a more prosperous part of Spain to look for work. We plan to go back there when he gets a good job. He comes to see us for a week or so every couple of months. It is heartbreaking, with us having a little baby and toddler. sad

Anyway, the problem is now dd is exposed to English all day and very little Spanish. She's likely to understand her dad less and less each time she sees him. And they have been v close and he's very hands on, so communication problems can only add to the difficulties of being separated from her dad for dd... I think she's understandably angry with him and distancing herself and this will only make her distance herself more, no? What can I do??? sad

I've bought some dvds in Spanish with lots of songs (cantajuego, v famous in Spain) and dd loves them and watches them every day and is starting to sing along. But it's not the same as speaking... My town is too small to set up a Spanish speaking playgroup.

I speak Spanish fluently, but I have decided against speaking to her in Spanish in the home and effectively becoming a Spanish speaking parent, because I thought it would be too weird and confusing for her at an already confusing time. But could I maybe designate a "Spanish hour" of the day and speak to her in Spanish during that time, or something like that? Would that be a good idea do you think? Reading books in Spanish? Or playing specific games that are always in Spanish? What do you think I should do?

Any ideas and opinions would be greatly appreciated, TIA!

cory Fri 14-Jan-11 08:22:11

It sounds like for the time being, her Spanish probably is up to you. I wouldn't designate a special Spanish hour as that might become very rigid. But how about just casually dropping into Spanish after she has been watching one of her Spanish DVDs or anything else that naturally has her thinking in Spanish. Spanish games also sound like a good idea. If you do it lightly and naturally I don't think it will confuse her; she is still young.

petisa Fri 14-Jan-11 20:54:11

Hi cory,

Thanks for taking the time to read my novel and answer! I know you generally don't believe that mixing up the languages in the household does any harm, and it's reassuring to have read your experiences of bilingualism. I am aware that dd1's Spanish certainly won't come along in the same way as her English this year, but I am keen to at least keep up an interest. I was asking her her numbers in Spanish and reminding her of words this morning and she smiled and really enjoyed it, so I'm hoping I can keep it up, and that she'll be able to understand me and her dad when he next visits.

cory Sat 15-Jan-11 10:42:08

It's only a temporary measure anyway, hopefully you will all soon be back together and be able to go back to the OPOL approach.

frenchfancy Sat 15-Jan-11 18:44:12

Your DD will pick up the Spanish again, don't worry. In the meantime how about having a day where the only TV she is allowed is Spanish.

My girls watch both English and French TV and sometime I impose rules as to which they can watch (only French TV before school for example)

That means you are not forcing her to watch the spanish programmes, she can go and play if she wants, but she chooses to watch.

petisa Mon 31-Jan-11 21:16:54

Sorry I haven't come back on here in a while.Thanks for your advice and reassurance! So far dd is keen to practice and really enjoys speaking a bit of "Panish" together. I hope we are all back together soon cory! Damn recession.

CarmenTSN Mon 19-Nov-12 22:28:40

If interested in Spanish Nursery in London (close to Tufnell Park and Gospel Oak over ground station), which offers places for 2-5 and after school club, you can check

Hope this helps,

MmeLindor Mon 19-Nov-12 22:32:27

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chocolatecrispies Wed 21-Nov-12 20:12:19

Hi Petisa, I'm another who thinks the mixing won't do any harm and I think that most successful bilingual families do switch language if necessary. I have a good friend with the exact opposite of you - she is Spanish and moved from here with her English partner to live in Spain, and switched to English with her dc aged about 3 and 1. They then moved back to the UK and she switched back to Spanish. In my experience you are far more likely to be successful if you go for 'as much Spanish as possible' rather than 'Spanish hour' - but also allow yourself to speak English if you need to. It sounds like maintaining Spanish is really important for your dd relationship with their father and that can only come from you right now. I speak French with my children (non-native) but would switch to English immediately if we moved to France.

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