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By mrmedia
I had heard that children of ex-Pats who were in the Spanish system struggled when it came to developing strong reading and writing skills in formal English. (As opposed to speaking fluently.) As a university academic in this area, I am interested in this topic and wondered what were the thoughts of those on this forum?

Does the system for teaching reading in Spanish transfer well to enable them to read effectively in English?
Are they able to get access to a healthy range of English children's literature?
Do children in international schools perform better at reading and writing in formal English?
Is it hard for parents to motivate their children to sustain interest and development in English/writing in English/reading in English?
Is there systematic support and processes in place within the Spanish system to ensure their English is developed?

We are so used to students in the UK having English as a second language that it is quite interesting academically to have English students with Spanish as a second language! But I don't know how well organised the support is, etc.

Lots of questions I know, but anything anyone has to offer will be most useful. I'm interested in writing a paper on this topic and your responses would be a strong starting point.

Many thanks
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By Woodybird
This is very much a personal, unqualified opinion based only on my own experience with my 9 year old - he started at spanish school at 4 years old and fortunately has done very well.

I made the decision not to force english reading and writing on him initially, as I wanted him to get a proper grasp of spanish first, and I was quite prepared to help him at home at a later time if he needed it.

He has always had english books, but his one big interest was Doctor Who so he has had a Doctor Who magazine every week since he was around 5 years old ( and he still has them all as he won't throw a single one away!). From these, and his books, he was reading fluently in english from around 6 years old IIRC.

IMO it is easier for a child to read english once they have learned to read in spanish, as every letter (with some exceptions) is pronounced in spanish and by pronouncing every letter in english, and already knowing the word in spoken english, they can work out what the word is. Hard to explain easily!

They will sometimes mis-pronounce a strange word, or use a strange conjugation of a verb in english, and of course this is unlikely to be corrected in school, as it would be if they were in english school.

As regards the teaching of english in spanish school, at Los Dolses the children now have english lessons from age 4 I believe, and in primary the english and spanish children are taught english separately, with the english children using more complex text books. From what I have seen, the level of english taught is roughly equivalent to the level in an english school.

As I stated this is only my personal experience, I am lucky my son found something he was interested in and was keen to be able to read in english and he really did teach himself. I was astounded to hear him reading out loud having had no formal teaching in english. In conclusion I believe that whilst the children might start actually being able to read english slightly later than they would do in England, being in Spanish school is not going to be a major dis-advantage, but they should be allowed to grasp the spanish first without being forced to attain a similar level in english at the same time.

Hope that made sense!
By win33
In my opinion a child can not be expected to read a foreign language unless they know how to read and write in their own language, i know this from my own experience both of my children have been born here and my 1st child has been to spanish nursery and is in spanish school, and the spanish school said to do spanish at school and their own language at home.

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By Woodybird
Win I don't quite follow your reasoning there - are you saying you taught your children to read and write in english before you sent them to spanish school? I can't see how that is possible when children here start school at 3?

What do you consider to be your children's first language if all their education has been in spanish? I would say that English is their first 'spoken' language but Spanish would be their first 'reading/writing' language?
By win33
No i didn't teach them to read in english, my son started school at 3 over here and he has been taught spanish, and very little english, as the school is spanish, he now has extra lessons to help him with his english reading as his tutor said that until you know the basics in reading in english then learning to read in spanish is a little more difficult, as the sounds are differnet to english at the end of the day it depends on the child attention span whether it being englsih or any other language. this is from my experience over here.
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By Woodybird
I see where you are coming from - but it seemed to me that having been taught to read the spanish sounds letter by letter it made reading english easier. If I remember back to my school days we were taught groups of letters rather than letter by letter as in spanish.

As I said just my experience and I agree every child is different!
By mrmedia
This is interesting as they have to learn a greater range of phonemes and graphemes for both languages. Is it an issue for you that they should read and write in English? Or that they feel enthusiasm for English books?
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By Woodybird
Yes it is important for me that my son (if possible) should be as fluent in english as he is in spanish, this was one of the reasons for me moving here and deciding to stay here (despite a change in our circumstances).

I feel that having a complete grasp of 2 languages will open doors in the future, whether he chooses to stay in Spain or any other spanish speaking country or return to the UK. Its too good an opportunity to waste. I was always prepared to give him more help with the English if it was needed but luckily for me he doesn't seem to need it.

Despite all that is going on in the Spanish education system and all the uncertainties I would far rather be here than back in the UK at the present time, but again just my humble opinion!
By mrmedia
I suppose part of what I am asking is if all ex Pats approach the issue with the same approach for the same reasons. Presumably, you want your children to have the option of working in an English speaking country if that is what they desire when they are older. Is there any organisational support? Does the British Consulate, for example, support exPats with support or is there an interactive website where exPats can get help with this?
By Menina
As a retired teacher of foreign languages (Spanish and French) and someone who has created and conducted piloto courses for young children in Australia, I have been following this thread with interest. Now, please allow me to give you my opinion.
It has been demonstrated over many years that learning two or more languages from an early age is not only feasable but beneficial to children.
All languages are acquired. The fact that you are born in England does not mean that you are an English speaker. You have to go through a long process of learning; however, children are more receptive than adults and their brains absorbe knowledge like sponges. Some children are more gifted than others in certain areas, such as language, but they will all acquire the target language.
Personally, I was brought speaking Spanish and French and I attended a bilingual school. English was also added, so it was my third language (and then I lived in Australia for 25 years!!!!). I also managed to learn some Italian, Portuguese and a little bit of German. Languages have helped me enormously throughout life and I consider them an assett. The best one you can give to your children. And I have two grown up daughters who are fluent in both English and Spanish and who also have a good understanding of French.
Now, my advice would be to start children in both Spanish and English from a very early age. No problem with phonemes and graphemes. To start with, we share the same alphabet (well, in Spanish we have an extra character, the "ñ") but we are not talking about two different alphabets as in the case of Russian and English or even characters as it happens in some languages. Granted that in Spanish phonemes and graphemes tend to closely correspond to each other and in English things become more complicated. There are rules, but plenty of exceptions. Just a small example of what I am trying to say. En English, we could spell the word FISH as GHOTI:
GH as in TOUGH
O as in WOMEN
I think that this illustrates my point.
If you want children to have a good command of the English language, they will need a lot of help at home. You cannot expect most Spanish schools to provide this, unless they are totally bilingual and staffed by native teachers with proper qualifications in ESL or EFL. The level of most Spanish teachers of English is not very high.
Children will need coaching at home and this should be regarded as a pleasant activity and an excellent opportunity to bond the child with his/her family and background. The person in charge of the "lessons" will need plenty of preparation, just as any good teacher will have. Here is an example of an activity which is simple and effective. Each week you should aim to teach the child to spell 10 words in English. Words that have difficulties which need to be addressed. Prepare 10 flash cards with those words and stick around the house. When the child learns to spell and pronounce those words correctly, move on to the next 10 words.
And I will leave it at that as I am already boring you to death.
By CathM
Both of my children attended nursery school in the UK but we moved to Spain when they were 3 and 4. They both went into the Spanish school system and have done very well. Neither child has had to repeat and their Spanish is very good. They can read and write English ok but their spelling does leave alot to be desired. This is due to they spell the Spanish way (each letter that is sounded is spelt out) and sometimes causes problems. I do teach them at home but it is only evident when they are writing something. I have to agree with the statement about Spanish teachers teaching English, my daughters English teacher in her last year of primary school could not spell. I was forever correcting her spelling which, as you can guess, did not go down very well. I went into school to see her but she was not bothered about the children spelling correctly, she wanted them to understand the language. I mentioned that we spoke English in the home but they needed to be able to spell if they were writing comprehension, she didn´t agree with me!!! Needless to say I give my children spelling tests and if they have English homework I always check it before they hand it in. Their teacher in secondary school is better then the primary teacher and she does require correct spelling. Personally I thing I am giving both my children a very good start in life as they will be able to speak, write and understand 2 languages. My youngest is also studying Valencian and is doing very well, she does have an aptitude for Valencian unlike my eldest who hated Valencian with a passion!!!

By Menina
Allow me to say that you are doing all the necessary to ensure that your children will have an excellent command of the languages, Cath. Just insist on English spelling and make sure that they read a lot in English. Reading is a great tool and there are plenty of good books around.
I further agree with your comments about some teachers of Foreign Languages. I had a terrible problem with my daughters' French teacher..... And I have seen them "in action" at some professional meetings and courses. There is very little quality control in Foreign Language teaching. Not only in Spain....
By mrmedia
I find it worrying that there is no formal system of support as leaving it to individual parents means they literally have to re-invent the wheel each time. That is, put together a supportive network, identify best practice, locate suitable materials and build up a wealth of knowledge and understanding. If a learning community is well resourced and maintained then new comers can quickly overcome the early hurdles and get up to speed. That would be my first point.

Spelling badly due to phonics will be sweeping England soon as the government is insisting that all English students learn to read solely through phonics. You are absolutely right to do spelling tests - it is what we call a finite skill. In other words, there are so many you have to learn before you can spell accurately. Once someone has the habit, then they are away.

Reading has a direct correlation with all other learning and language acquisition. The more you read the better you access all subjects and the better you develop language skills. English, for example, just as Spanish is, is rooted in metonyms, allegories, colloquialisms and cultural references that flummox the non-native speaker. My American wife was left totally puzzled yesterday after hearing the old London expression, 'Shut yer cake hole!' I'm afraid I rather had to go through the whole explanation of the hole in which you place cake, that is your mouth etc. But anyone who reads widely collates this cultural language knowledge and is able to read even further texts requiring even more cultural knowledge. (Roddy Doyle,Irvine Welsh, etc)

What might be interesting is that recent research (Snowling, 2010) suggests that to improve reading, speaking and listening has a stronger impact on reading scores that direct reading intervention strategies. This is because of the focus on vocabulary is much more accessible and interactive through speaking and listening.

Returning to the point though: lack of formal support. Are there those who feel their children would have developed stronger English skills and thus had enhanced prospects if there had been more support? I think I shall write to the consulate themselves and ask why they don't finance this support. They spend a fortune on repatriating drunk, stranded English tourists so it makes sense to spend money in worthwhile places as well.
By Menina
I fully agree with you, Mr media. More government support should be given to families trying to teach and maintain their children's native language; however, this has not been fully understood. The French government used to be quite good at promoting their language and even the Spanish government used to send specialised teachers overseas to help migrant communities. I do not know about the British Government in Spain. In many cases, though, it is left up to the families to do everything, particularly in these times, using the crisis as an excuse.
Spelling is becoming a problem everywhere and there are many reasons forits deterioration in any language, such as poor teaching practices, messages through mobile phones, bad reading skills... we could go on and on and we would never end with the list.
On the other hand, I would maintain my opinion regarding the importance of reading, even if it is not interactive, which is the ideal element in any language learning process. The reason for that, would be the level of language command of the interlocutor, and I just leave it at that.
By mrmedia
I quite agree. The single most important thing is to have children reading in English because they enjoy it. A lifetime reading habit can have enormous impact on one's life chances.

If anyone else has had an issue with nurturing or obtaining support for their children's reading or general English I would be interested to hear. Is, for example, there a children's library where they can obtain books or advice?
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