Spain, The Right Choice For Your Children?

Published on 27/02/2007 in Kids in Spain

Schools and Education in Spain Guide

Spain, it might be the right choice for you but is it the right choice for your children? We all know the advantages of bringing your children to live in Spain. The most obvious one being the weather as it allows a more outdoor lifestyle so children can enjoy the parks, do more sports and generally get a lot more fresh air than they would in the UK. However, although you might have the best intentions, before long little Tommy is rooting around your  taped up boxes, looking for his XBox. Old habits die hard.

British Children Stick Together

Another push factor is the desire for your children to be fluent in a second language. But at what price comes the ability to speak Spanish? It always surprises me that the people who are the most enthusiastic and aware of the benefits of knowing a second language usually aren’t prepared to put the effort in themselves. No, instead they expect to be able to dump their ten year old without any knowledge of the language, into a Spanish classroom and, as if by magic, be undistinguishable from a native in two weeks. The very thought of being immersed into a room full of an unknown language makes my own stomach churn. So what do these children do? Naturally they congregate with other British children and ultimately, British children stick together.

Is Your Child As Fluent As You Think?

Nevertheless, little ‘bilingual’ Tommy doesn’t cease to amaze Grandma, Gramps, Uncle Phil, Aunt Carol and all the other rellies as he continuously orders drinks and food whilst they sit in mute admiration. The parents of little Tommy are thrilled with his ‘fluency’ and overall impressive command of the Spanish language. However, not being able to get your head around the concept of masculine and feminine nouns hardly qualifies you to categorise people with linguistic labels.

British Children Struggle

The truth is many British children are struggling their way through the Spanish system and many are held back a year or two until they catch up. And, don’t think for a second that if your children start school at a young age, it will all be okay and they will be at the same level as their Spanish peers. Unless, one of the parents is Spanish or has a near native command of the Spanish language and uses it at home, they are not getting the round the clock input that the Spanish children get.

Our twins aged 5 go to a Spanish school but they are far more articulate in English than in Spanish, in fact their level of Spanish does not reflect their age. I am convinced that from an academic progression point of view, had we stayed in the UK, they would be further ahead. That is not a criticism of their teacher, they have a fantastic teacher. It is a criticism of us parents that can’t give our children the language input that they would be receiving if we were Spanish. I don’t regret sending them to a Spanish school, as they are still very young and the Spanish system has so many wonderful positives that outweigh the language issue, at this stage. However, it pains me to think that that unless I really improve my Spanish to the point that it really does become a language used at home, they are going to continue to be at a disadvantage compared to the Spanish children.

You Can Speak English, But Can You Write In English?

British children will return home in the afternoon to watch Cbeebies and CBBC as Japanese cartoons dubbed in Spanish are hardly enticing when you are aware that much better quality television exists albeit in English. This further decreases their exposure to the Spanish language as their English vocabulary continues to expand. Their spoken English is constantly being developed, whilst their written English often pales into insignificance as parents become so preoccupied with getting their Spanish up to scratch. Unlike English, Spanish is a largely phonetic language but a child that applies these rules to English will end up writing nonsense.

The International Option

The other option is to send your child to a fee paying international school where most lessons will be taught in English. This is a good idea if you aren’t sure if you are going to settle permanently in Spain or if you have older children because they can pick up where they left off in the UK. However, the mere consideration of this can open an entire can of worms because it means having to make carefully considered choices between schools. Once you go down this route, you are faced with waiting lists and endless discussions with desperate parents at birthday parties, especially the mothers who seem to become obsessed with getting their child into the school of their choice.

Beware Of The Gatekeepers!

The ‘gatekeepers’ who can be found behind the reception desks of such schools are all too aware of the competition to get into ‘their’ school and so use it as an opportunity for a power trip. From what I hear, they are often rude and unwelcoming whilst they relish in the parents’ pain as they scrape their knees across the entrance hall begging for a place. Rumour has it that some schools take financial bribes and have been at the centre of all kinds of corruption scandal. Not an environment conducive to education, I would have thought

Returning To The UK

I hear of more and more cases of parents returning to the UK for an education system that they can relate to and know where they are at. Unfortunately, when people are planning their move to Spain, the education issue often becomes something that they push to the back of their mind, focusing on the benefits of their child learning Spanish and hoping for the best. Your child’s education is something that requires a lot of consideration and not just education in the formal sense. Are the beach and the aqua parks enough? When you leave the UK, you are leaving behind its museums, theatres and all kinds of sources of cultural education. Of course, in Spain there are fantastic educational opportunities in the cities, the zoos and wildlife parks, as well as Science parks and museums but I can’t help feeling that the good weather overshadows all this and encourages us to hang around the pool and the beach.

  • So what can those parents determined to move to Spain or stay in Spain do to ensure that their children don’t miss out?
  • Parents are the group of expats with the highest necessity of learning Spanish for the sake of their children so start learning before you move out.
  • Once you have moved out, keep at it by enrolling on courses, doing language exchanges and teaching yourself as much as possible.
  • Get to grips with Spanish grammar.
  • Play the Spanish nursery rhymes on CD at home that your children learn at school.
  • Make an effort to find out what is going on at school.
  • Enrol your children in after school activities to increase their exposure to Spanish.
  • Watch DVDs with your children in Spanish.
  • Talk to your Spanish neighbours.
  • Read to your children in Spanish.
  • Consider a Spanish speaking au pair.
  • Learn about the history of Spain as it will come up in your child’s education.
  • Read Spanish classics, even if you read them in the English translation.


Written by: Susan Pedalino

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Women In Spain

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kazzie said:
17 April 2007 @ 13:11

wow that article has really opened my eyes thank you we are thinking off moving to spain we have two young children and many people have said to us how easy it would be for them to fit in and pick up the language but maybe thats not case you have giving me lots to think about

kiradon said:
01 March 2007 @ 09:29

While I agree with all of the above, I think it makes it sound more gloomy than it needs be. And the role of the parents is CRUCIAL. I speak spanish fluently but my children refused to speak spanish at home for the first year and a half.

A key point I think is mentioned in the article - the kids go home and watch UK tv. While of course sometimes you want to watch something in English to give your brain a rest, if you really want your children to learn faster, and if the parents want to learn - donĀ“t watch UK tv.

bazzio0701 said:
28 February 2007 @ 01:54

A really great article with a wealth of sound advice fortunately my children are all adult now so some of the issues dont apply to me,but you have hit the nail square on its head
thank you I have passed the article on to friends.

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