Friday, 20 January 2017

2017 Family Language Challenge

Just a quick one to tell you that I´ve just signed up for Bilingual Avenue´s 2017 Family Language Challenge (if you click on the link you can join up for free!) You can find out more about this challenge on Bilingual Avenue´s post, the challenge is designed to help you perfectly plan what you want to achieve this year with your children and above all with their bilingualism.I´m so excited and looking forward to participating and creating lots more opportunities for improving my children´s bilingual abilities and language learning!! I´ll also be hoping to blog about the challenge and how it has helped us.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

How Bilingual Are Bilingual Schools in Spain?

I live in a fairly small city in Castilla-La Mancha and where I live the majority of "bilingual" schools are concertados, a concertado school is neither completely a state school,nor a completely private school but  something in between, almost like a private school which receives funding from the government,and I think there are only two state schools which have a bilingual programme, a primary school and a secondary school.I was adamant that I was going to send my children to a bilingual school so that they had even more imput in their minority language and also to compensate for the fact that I work in the afternoons/evenings as a TEFL teacher so their exposure to the minority language would be more limited once they started school due to my job and when completing the form, I included almost all the schools which had a bilingual programme.In the end we were lucky enough to get into the school which was our first choice and on the whole we are very happy with it but unfortunately my recurring question is: just how bilingual are bilingual schools in Spain?

Many schools in Spain,especially the concertados, which tend to be more religious schools, often follow the BEDA, which stands for Bilingual Education and Development & Assessment, programme.In my daughter´s school this means that the amount of English is increased to 180 minutes per week with 3 30minute sessions of a Non Linguistic Discipline (Disciplina no Linguestica) and 2 weekly 45 minute sessions of English.This is implemented right from when they first start school at 3,which I think is great.The teachers, as far as I know are Spanish but I think the lessons are given completely in English but they have little or no exposure to any native English speaking teachers.However,no subjects are taught completely in English until they reach Primaría(age 6 going on 7), where they have 2 weekly sessions of music and 1 weekly session of Arts & Crafts in English. Again as far as I know there is no exposure to a native English speaking teacher(at least in my daughter´s school),which I´m a little disappointed about as I was previously under the impression that there was a bilingual native assistant who visited all the classes at least once a week. I´ll be able to tell you more about this next year when my daughter starts Primaría!!

At the moment the bilingual programme uses the Amco(click on the link for more information)methodology which has evolved in Mexico and therefore teaches American English. I have no problems with this methodology or the fact that it is teaching them American English as I think it is important for them to learn all types of English although it doesn´t seem to be in keeping with the fact that they are a Cambridge examining centre and offer the Cambridge exams,which are largely geared towards British English although you can use American English in the Cambridge exams too if you use it consistently.The books used by this method is a workbook & students book called Gear Up Levels 1-3 as shown in the photo and I think this is supported with lots of songs and games.                                                                                          
      One of my main worries when it comes to my children´s bilingualism is the literacy side of things so I was quite relieved when I flicked through last term´s English workbook and found that they have started writing words above the pictures.Here is an example in which my daughter had to draw things that she can see in school and above the drawings,she´s written the words :door,window and clock.However,I know that in other bilingual schools they do extra reading in English although maybe not when the children are still in Infantíl or the Infants and have exposure to native teachers at least once a week from 3 yrs and up.
Extracurricular English classes are also offered with the aim of obtaining the Cambridge exams from Starters up to First Certificate and in these classes students are offered exposure to native English speaking teachers but these classes are not free and parents have to pay for their children to take part in these extracurricular classes.

Nowadays the Government has toughened up and English teachers or teachers who are participating in bilingual programmes have to have an English level of at least B1/B2 but I think that they should have a C1 or even C2 if they are teaching a bilingual programme and teach English classes 100% in English in order for these bilingual programmes to work properly because there are many doubts about how effective and beneficial these bilingual programmes really are. Many students who attend "bilingual" schools often end up going to extracurricular classes in academies to further improve their English. I also believe that to be fully bilingual 50% of the classes should be given in English and 50% of the classes should be given in Spanish,starting from when they first start school at the age of 3.

These are just my experiences and opinions of bilingual schools in Spain and I can´t really compare it to all bilingual schools in Spain.I am neither completely satisfied with the bilingual education nor am I completely dissatisfied but rather sit somewhere in the middle.I often think that my daughter must find it boring in English class as she knows a lot of the vocabulary that they are learning...for example the colours, the numbers 1-10, clothes etc but she says she isn´t bored. I´ll just have to see how her bilingual education pans out and I´ll be updating you on the changes. Next year should be exciting with the introduction of classes in English! I´d love to hear about your experiences and opinions of bilingual schools and education in Spain or other countries.


Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The 2 R´s-teaching reading & writing in the minority language

As a self-confessed bookworm myself,I have always been keen to install a love of reading in my children and looked forward to teaching my daughter to read in the minority language, English. One of my aims in our bilingual journey is that my children end up as near to "balanced bilingualism" as possible,which means also teaching them to read and write in their minority language. However, this has been more of a struggle than I first anticipated!

In the Spanish education system most children don´t start learning to read until they reach 5 years old whereas my daughter´s peers back in the UK start learning to read when they start school at 4 yrs old. In an attempt to try and start teaching my daughter on a par with the UK I bought the Jolly Phonics workbooks and also the Oxford Reading Tree(Level 1&2), which are used in the majority of primary schools in the UK but with a newborn baby to look after and a tired and not so enthusiastic daughter, didn´t get very far!

Now she has started learning to read & write in Spanish so I´ve renewed my efforts but still finding it a bit of an uphill struggle, finding the time to sit down and practice reading and writing and also motivating her. I   don´t know whether it´s because she has to process both languages so it is taking her longer to grasp reading  and that this is normal in bilingual children or whether it´s because she doesn´t appear to be very interested in learning to read, despite all my hard efforts.We have started again with the Oxford Reading Tree and are working our way through Level 1 and have almost started Level Two plus I have copied the words from the stories in Level 1 onto card to make flashcards,which we try to go through every other day.My husband is working with her on her Spanish reading & writing and she is working through her first"cartilla". I find the Spanish way of learning to read more boring and not as motivating as the Oxford Reading Tree.

I have both letter magnets and the National Literacy Strategy Magnetic Words for Reception on the fridge and  I form words such as the days of the week, the months or other words and also sentences on the fridge so my daughter can read them or make her own words or sentences or even just play with them. I have also looked at the website, which has many free resources including games and tips about how to encourage literacy and if you subscribe to it, you can access many ebooks. I´ve found a couple of fantastic pages on Facebook of blogs/websites about encouraging reading including Growing Book By Book and Reading Is Fundamental, both of which give good advice and have free resources.The Reading is Fundamental site has activity calenders for each month and for different ages, which you can print out in Spanish or English and do the activities each only problem is that I don´t have access to some of the books that are reccommended but we try to do what activities we can.

For now we are not doing much writing either as anything that looks like a worksheet or schoolwork is a distinct I´m trying to come up with fun ways for us to practice both reading & writing. I´m hoping the Junior Scrabble boardgame will help with writing/spelling and also with reading. So all in all it´s a slow process but we are getting there gradually. I have more ideas of how to help her with her 2 R´s but my main big hurdle is finding out how to motivate her.I also printed out a reading chart and after each book she finishes, she gets a sticker and when the chart is full she can get a treat,which seems to help a little with motivation.  At least she enjoys being read to and I´m going to try to do it every night as some nights we just don´t get round to it for one reason or another. Another thing I want to try is audiobooks as at least they will help her vocabulary and listening skills...while hopefully encouraging her to learn to read too(I hope!)She also watches SuperWhy occasionally, an American cartoon which focuses on literacy and reading skills,shown on Canal Panda in Spain, which she enjoys and I want to buy the set of Alphablocks, which has very good reviews on Amazon and is all about phonics. I´d love to hear your ideas and thoughts or experiences about teaching the two R´s in the minority language.