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Bilingual schools in Andalucía
Wednesday, May 2, 2012 @ 12:04 AM

This is from our friends at Speekee - Spanish for kids

Speekee Screenshot

A new sign has gone up in my kids' school. It says: Centro Bilingüe. Bilingual Centre.

Here in Andalucía there is a campaign to convert monolingual schools into bilingual schools, and that second language is, as we might expect, English. Well, it wasn't going to be Swaheli was it?!

A question for you: what is your definition of 'bilingual'? I ask because it looks like the government here is using the word loosely; you do not walk into this particular school to hear English and Spanish being spoken in equal measure. Indeed, you would be hard pushed to hear any English being spoken at all.

But whatever definition we choose to give it, the bilingual schools campaign looks here to stay. So if the teachers don't yet have the high level of our language they need to be able to teach Science in English - and they are trying to do just that at the moment! - it is only a matter of time, evidenced by the fact that students enrolled on a new 'bilingual' teacher training course in Granada are already being sought after by schools.

The Andalucian bilingual schools campaign may not be perfect but it's a big step in the right direction because, as I am sure you are well aware, children retain new language very easily. And they can only benefit from knowing two languages rather than one.

I moved to Spain in 2005 when my daughter was eight months of age and my son three. They sure had some adapting to do, especially Joe who was thrown in 'at the deep end' - straight into school. What a joy it has been to witness them soak up Spanish like proverbial sponges.

Based on experience, I would say it takes young children around two years to become bilingual if immersed in this way. On the other hand, for we adults it may take many many years before the word bilingual can apply. More likely, bilingualism will escape us completely. Speaking Spanish for me is an automatic process now, after years of stopping to think, 'Am I saying this right?' But I wouldn't describe myself as bilingual. No, for me, to speak two languages perfectly, as my kids do, is to be truly bilingual.

Immersion is the key which unlocks the door to a bilingual world. And the sooner children get started, the better. So why wait?

By Jim Porter


Jim is one of the co founders of Speekee, a Spanish immersion course for young children. Visit

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LindsayinSpain said:
Saturday, May 5, 2012 @ 10:39 AM

From experience of the campaign at our school to become a Centro Bilingüe, it was made clear that the teaching in two languages would not extend to Bachiller level, which begs the question, if the do not have the level of English to teach to that level, then what standard will the other classes "in English" have? My concern as a mother is that they first sort out the standard of basic academia in Spanish, before trying to be something that requires such specialist teachers - needless to say our school was not awarded the new status! - and good on those teachers who are truly able to deliver bi-lingual education, they are worth their weight in gold!

Chopera said:
Saturday, May 5, 2012 @ 1:44 PM

Bilingual schools were introduced in Madrid nearly 10 years ago. They started with the primary level early years, and incremented as they got older. Now those first primary children are attending seconday school they have started introducing bilingual secondary schools so they can continue. There was/is little point in them starting off bilingual education at secondary (ESO) level if the children have no previous experience of that system, and don't have sufficient English. So if they are introducing it in Andalucian schools you won't hear much English around the school to begin with. I suspect the reason they don't do it at Bachiller level is those exams are still in Spanish. Also by the age of 16 the child should already be bilingual and the value of teaching in English is diminished. At that age the subject being taught takes prededence over the language it is taught in.

Yes there is an issue that the teachers (who have to be Spanish civil servants) don't have a very high level of English, at least to begin with, but it is usually the softer subjects that are taught in English while subjects like maths are taught in Spanish. The main thing is the child becomes used to speaking English in a natural "biligual" way from the age of 3. Even if they don't get exposed to native English, it is still a form of English that they can perfect themselves as they get older. English will be natural to them and they will have a many more opportunities open to them in life.

Lucy said:
Sunday, May 6, 2012 @ 12:20 PM

I teach local children English and I have so many parents nearly begging me to help teach their children. They want their children to get into the bilingual classes so badly. Partly this is because the more problematic groups of people don't take up this subject so in a large college it's understandable that parents want what is best for their child to be safe. How long this will be allowed i'm not sure because it'll mean a two tier public system?

What I then find with the older children is that they understand the text and can write in english but if I read (with a standard southern english accent) they don't understand me. When I ask them to read I can't understand them either. They seem to be focusing so much on reading and writing. Is this because the teachers can't speak english? They may spend a month in Dublin or Edinburgh but they can't speak fluently in english. This is the problem as they are speaking 'spanglish' where they pronounce things as though they would in Spanish.

What will happen to english children who are then taught incorrect english at school here in Spain? They'll either correct the teacher and get in trouble by an insecure teacher or learn incorrectly themselves. My friend is the local english teacher and she often wants to meet up to 'chat' in english I believe less as a friend but more to practice speaking in english.

Would it not be better for native Brits to go on courses and get in there and teach?? When the children have a basic grounding in correct english then it would allow them to learn other subtects such as science in english as well. I think that it was a case of all too much too soon. How could they expect a teacher to learn english sufficiently to teach their subject to such a high level? It would take years of english lessons for them to be truly 'bilingual' themselves to then be 'bilingual teachers'.

The idea is great but in reality I think they are way off. I have had some people asking me to go to the school to help teach english but when I arrived the look of fear in the eyes of the english teachers and their 'we'll take your details and call you back' meant that they were worried for their jobs.

I believe that to be the best for the children a teacher should be truly bilingual (english/spanish parents or having spent say 10 years in the UK).

Maybe retired native teachers should be allowed in to schools to help out without the other teachers being fearful of their jobs (and thinking more about their salary rather than doing what is best for the children).

A good opportunity for those British people here who are trustworthy, patient and good with children is to do a TEFL course and get posters up offering english lessons by a native.

I charge 6 euros per hour as I don't pay national insurance (sorry Gov but i don't earn enough as it is!). Others I know charge 10 or 12 euros per hour. If you are professional you should be able to earn enough to maybe survive this terrible crisis which is destroying so many families here. I teach because I enjoy it but also because I have two young children, a husband out of work and a mortgage to pay.

What would be very successful i'm sure is if Native English Summer Schools were set up. A few people should get together and offer the local schools the use of their time in return for use of the school during the holidays for a real 'english' summer school. Most schools have summer schools where they play games, paint, read etc. so why not offer an english option. A real 'bilingual' summer school. Learn the words to a Rhianna song, paint with the colours said in english etc. The parents would pay for that and it would really help the children. The Spanish english teachers will be too busy sunning themselves on the beach to worry about the risk to their jobs!!

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