This summer, just before the kids wen back to school, we went on, what I can only describe as, a ‘proper’ Spanish holiday. I honestly didn’t think these existed anymore! When we go to Spain, we all tend to holiday at the resorts lining the southern coast or reside on the Balearic Islands, as we did at the beginning of the summer this year when we went to Alcudia, Mallorca. A more cultural Spanish holiday or weekend city break may be to Madrid or Barcelona but at any of those destinations, you will never be far from an English speaking local or an Irish bar! We recently visited friends who have moved to Spain for two years as part of a temporary company transfer, they’re currently based in Northern Spain, just above Portugal in a coastal town called Baiona. Gady is not only a dear friend but also our ‘maestra de español’ (Spanish teacher) so the visit was also planned to gain practice speaking and understanding Spanish as well as spending time with friends!
J was always keen that the children learnt to speak Spanish because of its importance in business and global trade. We both agreed that the children needed to be exposed to different languages as early as possible and that there was no way we were going to wait until they were in secondary school (the only time they have the possible option of being taught Spanish). I’m still amazed at the fact that this country insist on teaching French in primary school, the education system here is in the dark ages in so many ways. I use the term ‘teach’ very loosely, as all they seem to do is colour in pictures during French lessons anyway!!
I met Gady when our children were at pre-school together and they all began lessons, with the boy attending a mother and toddler class at age 2! The classes were amazing, they cooked, conducted science experiments, created art and crafts, played and sang- all in Spanish! There was not a text-book in sight and they loved it! Soon, the girls were becoming competent in understanding while their speech was also beginning to develop. At this point, I realised the consequences of my actions and that soon the girls would be able to converse in a language that I didn’t understand. I panicked and booked a lesson! I’ve never looked back. Though I was slightly disappointed at first that my lessons weren’t quite so practical and that we weren’t going to be baking cakes and painting pictures each week (boo!), I found it liberating to be using my brain again in a way that I hadn’t for so long! It seems that you can indeed ‘teach an old dog, new tricks’!!
So, back to our trip, Northern Spain is beautiful! We flew into Porto and drove 90 minutes north to Baiona, through miles of picturesque countryside. Baiona itself, is a large bay with a port and gorgeous sandy beaches, rocky areas ideal for spotting sea creatures and nature trails around the coast and up into the hills. The view from their house was exquisite! Imagine waking to this every day.
No wonder the Spanish are so laid back! Why rush? I don’t think I’d get anything done if I had to walk past this window every morning!!
There was however, plenty to do and see. We took a day trip to Islas Cies, an island just off the coast which is a nature reserve boasting the best beach in the world! The 40 minute ferry trip was exciting in itself for the children, then we spent the day discovering the island’s natural beauty, lizard spotting and watching huge fish swim in the protected, crystal clear waters. The kids climbed and played on the beach, while we relaxed and enjoyed the tranquil atmosphere. Heaven!
Other days were spent kayaking, body-boarding and rock-pooling. There was a different beach, offering different activity possibilities for every day! Some calm and flat like a mill-pond, some breezy and wavy, many golden and sandy, and most with rocks around the edges, ideal for spotting small sea-dwelling creatures. The kids were in their element!
While enjoying all these activities, we were also immersed in the Spanish language, with many people speaking little English. I felt far more confident to speak here, knowing that they didn’t understand English. I’ve felt really self-conscious in the past, in Spanish hotels where they speak good English and have been embarrassed to try. Being completely surrounded by the language, improved my understanding and ability to comprehend enormously, something that I just don’t get enough of in the UK. Though I have continued with weekly lessons over Skype, I have been unable to find suitable classes for the children in Gady’s absence. During the holiday, the children remembered and picked up where they left off, which I need to continue with until she returns to the UK in March next year. Eventhough, they have had some time without lessons, starting early has certainly improved their ability to learn a language and K especially has retained a lot of what she has learned.
Have you considered learning a language as an adult? Are your children learning a second language? Do you think there should be more focus on language learning in primary schools? I’d love to hear your thoughts.