Home Schooling Adventures in Spain: Part 1

One of the wonderful benefits of home education is the flexibility it provides, which can include the ability to travel with our children, learning as we go. With this in mind, my family and I decided to spend a few months on the Costa Tropical in southern Spain, working on improving our Spanish. Whilst there, I thought it may be of interest to record and inform you of some of the experiences we have.

We did the same thing last winter, and despite many people reassuring us that the children would simply absorb the language by having Spanish speakers around us, in fact it really didn’t work like that. For children to pick up very significant amounts of Spanish, or any other language, they really need to be properly immersed in it, having no option but to use it to communicate. This is difficult to do unless the children are immediately around spoken Spanish for 4-6 hours a day at least, which ours weren’t. However, they can still learn plenty of very useful new language in simple day to day situations such as shopping, or by joining Spanish groups and societies. If these societies provide plenty of opportunities to mix with local kids, so much the better.

For any traveller, the first challenge after finding somewhere to stay is finding somewhere to eat, and shopping for food is a goldmine for new and hugely practical vocabulary. Sometimes things are not as obvious as they might seem, however! We saw a grocer holding some bananas labelled with the word “plátanos”, implying that the Spanish for banana is “plátano”.  On the shelf behind him were some more, but this time with a sign that read “banana” – so which was it?! In fact, both are right, Bananas are the type that we buy in the UK, whereas plátanos are a smaller, sweeter variety which is normally grown in the Canary Islands. They’re slightly more expensive, but much nicer than the regular “bananas”.

Elsewhere in the fruit and veg department, there are similar challenges; which sign relates to which item? Like a multiple choice question, we can work out the obvious ones such as “tomate cherry” and “limón”, and make a good guess at the rest. And if we’re still having trouble, nowadays we at least have Google Translate on our phones to double check – no more carrying around a dictionary!

With more travel and more exposure to different languages, educated guesses can really help. While we have to be very aware of “false friends”, we can make a reasonable guess at the fact that “ajo” means “garlic” if we know the French word “ail”. I remember travelling to Portugal as a child and learning that “bacalhau à bras” was a speciality of the country, a surprisingly delicious mix of dried, salted cod, potatoes and eggs. When I spotted “filete de bacalao” in the fish section I therefore felt that it was reasonable to assume that they were stocking frozen cod. French, Spanish and Portuguese share common roots as Latin languages, and children who learn one of them have a huge advantage when it comes to experiencing another.

Having made our food choices, we then needed to negotiate the checkout, and the word you’re likely to hear there is “bolsa?” meaning “bag?”.  It is a colloquial reply if you’ve brought your own and answer: “sin bolsa”, meaning “without bag”, but this is the phrase that is used widely and it is easy to remember.

I’ll be writing more about our stay here and the ways that we’re learning Spanish together as a family, and about the learning experiences that we have while we’re here, so keep checking back to the Oxford Home Schooling blog page for more updates!

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