How moving abroad has influenced our son’s language skills?
Time for a readers’ choice! Many of you have asked about our son’s language skills, what languages does he use and how have we come into this point. Our son Luca has been in Spanish school almost a full school year now, so I thought that it would be a good idea to share his language journey with you till this day.
If we start from the beginning, Luca was only six weeks old when we moved from Finland to Spain, so he has been surrounded by several languages from the very beginning. At home, we of course speak Finnish as we both parents are Finnish, but outside the home he’s had already two languages.
Luca was at home with me until 18 months and that time he started an English day care called Apple Tree Club from Monday to Friday three and a half hours at time. We also visited at similar Spanish speaking places, but because with poor Spanish skills, I felt more comfortable leaving a small child in a place with which I could communicate fluently. So, at that point, Luca had heard English really only when we had friends visiting us.
Compared to the Finnish day care, Apple Tree Club was more home-like, maybe a bit of a club-type activity, and teaching language was English. Well, many of the children there spoke Spanish, but teachers used only English. Luca was very happy and felt comfortable there and got a good start with English. He also started watching at some children’s programs in English at home on his own initiative.
Approximately at the same time we also hired an English-speaking nanny who came to look after Luca every once in a while, if we had some plans with my husband. At that time, Luca learned quite quickly that his nanny spoke a different language than his parents and that with her, for example, drinking cup was a different word in English than in Finnish. I believe that English day care and nanny supported each other as the feedback from Apple Tree Club at the end of the school year was positive, especially in the area of development of English understanding. At that time, Luca was able to follow the instructions given in English, count from one to fifteen (of course in Finnish too), he used some basic phrases / greetings and words in English, but I don’t think he made any complete sentences in English at that time on his own initiative.
After that year, we moved to Nerja, to the south coast, and Luca started during the spring in a private Spanish-speaking day care called Blanca. We made this choice just because we planned to put Luca in a Spanish school in the future. You know, normally Spanish children start school at the age of three, but we decided that Luca would continue in Blanca in fall, because at that time we already knew, that we were going to move back to Madrid in the middle of the school year. Also, I didn’t like the idea of putting a three-year-old to school and that way Luca was also able to continue learning Spanish for a little longer, and his days stayed short as I went to get him home always after lunch. During that time, Luca’s Spanish language skills and understanding evolved at a tremendous pace, and at home he started watching children’s programs in three languages.
At the beginning of April, we moved back to Madrid, and Luca was lucky enough to return to the same familiar Apple Tree Club, and the change from Spanish to English went without any problems. Luca spent there four hours daily for a few months before we started our summer vacation.
At some point, I noticed that Luca didn’t even realize that he or someone else was using a different language, but associated a particular language to a specific place, situation, children’s program or person. One language was spoken at home, another language at day care, and maybe the third language with our friends. On iPad, all the games and kids’ programs were running smoothly in any language, and still today, Luca probably changes the language of the programs according to his mood. He listens songs in his room both in Finnish and in Spanish.
At the same time when we moved back to Madrid, Luca also started at the Finnish school. It’s held every other Saturday excluded all the holidays etc., a total of 30 times / year. This Finnish school takes only two hours and during that time they play, sing, do arts and crafts, go out and eat snacks, so it’s not “a real school” with textbooks, at least in this youngest kids’ group. Luca likes to go there a lot and I find it very useful that he can also use his Finnish language skills outside the home. Luckily, last autumn, we also found a wonderful Finnish babysitter who comes to our place every now and then to take care of Luca. I think it’s very important, because Luca’s Spanish skills are getting stronger every day and I don’t want the Finnish language to disappear.
So last fall, Luca started at Spanish school and has enjoyed it very much right from day one. I think that the time spent in the Spanish-speaking Blanca day care was more than a smart choice. Luca’s school is so-called bilingual school, so in addition to Spanish, they also use English every day.
To us, Luca doesn’t really speak Spanish at all and even goes a little abashed if we ask him to say something in Spanish. However, during this school year, his Spanish language skills have taken a huge step forward and we hear him talk smoothly with his friends. Those phrases aren’t very complicated, but still totally understandable. At school, Luca seems to be doing well and following the given instructions, at least as long as a 4.5-year-old kiddo can stay focused 😉 .
We got warned that the Finnish language might drop off with the time when Luca learns more Spanish. At the moment, however, his Finnish language skills are really good and developing all the time. For a few months back, Luca learned how to read and write, and is now very excited about it. And training these skills every day in Finnish. One of his favorite games is when we spread the paper letters on the table and try to form words or small sentences:
So, here’s in brief Luca’s language journey so far. Did I answer all to your questions or would you like to hear more about something? Leave a comment, and I’ll get back to this topic again.
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