How did you feel when your mum spoke Spanish to you in front of your friends?
I found it embarrassing. The age I found Spanish embarrassing was as soon as I went to Primary School. I used to say “Stop talking to me in Spanish it sounds like Chinese and all my friends are looking, you’re embarrassing me! Don’t speak to me in Spanish!” It was a different era though. Now it is trendy to speak another language or several languages. In those days I got really badly picked on at school for having foreign parents because of my name. They just knew, even though I never had a foreign accent in English, but because of the Spanish influence I would sometimes put a word in the wrong place. I used to get called all sorts of names, making fun of my surname mostly. It was horrific at times especially in secondary school. So that’s probably why I didn’t like my mum speaking to me in Spanish.
And how did your mum react to it?
She carried on regardless because she’s so strong willed: “No, no you’ll thank me later”.
Did you feel that as you were growing older your ability in Spanish was going down and your ability in English was going up?
Oh, absolutely. And my mum even says now: “Before you started school you were fluent!” She means that there was such a significant difference speaking Spanish from birth to 4 years of age, than when I picked it up later at the age of seven. I lost a lot of vocabulary; it’s amazing how much damage a three year gap can do. I don’t think it has made any difference now though, because I have continued to practice since then to this present day. I should speak more at home with my children, but they have two hours of Spanish a week attending my after school clubs. My mum always speaks to me and the children in Spanish, but because it is more natural for me to speak English now, I revert to English with her most of the time.
And she still replies to you in Spanish?
She’s a good woman!
Yes, she is! Very patriotic, dedicated and consistent.
When you are in mixed company and some people speak Spanish and some speak English, do you find it easy to switch between languages?
I can do it and I find it natural but I feel bad doing it because my husband doesn’t really speak Spanish, even though he had a year at college before our daughter was born. We were going to start as we meant to go on and speak to her in Spanish but he didn’t pick it up very well and I couldn’t see it working and, to be honest with you, I felt that it would be history repeating itself because my dad used to feel very alienated not being able to speak Spanish. He used to hold it against my mum; he used to say that we were talking about him in Spanish. But my mum kept it up, she’s so strong willed, but it did cause arguments in the house. So maybe that’s why I didn’t keep it up with my husband. Does your husband speak Polish?
He does now but when the children were born he didn’t. He picked it up as he went along. He learnt in the same way as a child learns. He never really had any formal lessons. He reads a lot in Polish, follows Polish football on the Internet, reads magazines in Polish.
My Spanish relatives said that I actually sound like a native speaker and speak extremely well. Only one person in Spain said to me: “I knew you were English. I could tell by your accent”. And he wasn’t even Spanish. He was English living in Spain. I was upset by that comment, I feel very proud of my heritage and my pronunciation! With my mum coming from Galicia, I think I may have a Galician twang.
Which one of your languages do you know better?
As a whole English, I think.
Which language do you prefer to speak? In which language do you express yourself better?
Oh, definitely Spanish, because there is a wider vocabulary than in English, in which to express yourself.
In which language do you prefer to read and write?
Yeah, it’s got to be English I’m afraid.
What about TV?
When we are in Spain we watch Spanish TV but after a while I find it tiring and I’m craving for English television. When you watch a Spanish chat show, for example, they speak so quickly, that after a while I feel I need a break to actually digest everything that’s been said.
Do you feel that in Spanish you understand everything directly or do you translate it into English first?
No, I don’t translate it. It’s immediate.
Which language do you use with your brother?
English. It’s always been like this. My mum unfortunately didn’t keep Spanish up with him. It’s to do with the fact that boys and girls learn differenly and with the fact that he is the second child. He can understand but the vocabulary is not there to string a sentence together nor the confidence. He went to the same Spanish classes with me but didn’t become bilingual.
Which language do you dream in?
I dream in English I think, even when I’m in Spain.
How often do you visit Spain nowadays?
In the last ten years we’ve been 3 times. We still have family there with whom we can stay. We’re going again this summer. I thought that the children would really embrace the Spanish language with their cousins. But all children in Spain learn English in Primary School, it’s one of the main curriculum subjects there and they just find it easier to speak English when they’re together. So this was really dissapointing for me. My daughter actually understands more Spanish than my mother is giving me credit for though.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
I wanted to be a vet or a solicitor but it was never using my Spanish. Not until I got older and then realized the advantages of knowing another language. I actually had leverage in inteviews because I had another language. I thought it was brilliant! It felt a bit like a badge of honour. Then I got a job in export using my languages. Later after having children I realized that I’d like to use my gift and teach children my language.
What do words: “England”, “Spain” and “Hungary” mean to you?
Wow! Growing up I remember feeling quite emotional about the fact that I didn’t know where I belonged. Not with the Hungarian but with the Spanish. We used to go there for six weeks in the summer and that’s quite a long time for a child. I felt that it was a big part of my life and of who I was. I used to feel torn when we had to come back to England. I remember that feeling very well: Where do I belong? Do I belong in England or in Spain? Am I English or am I Spanish? Obviously now I know that I don’t have to choose, because I’m both. I got married in Spain in the village where my mum comes from, and all of my English family and friends came to the wedding. I remember feeling really emotional when I saw them all with us in the wedding photo with this beautiful breath taking Spanish landscape behind. It felt like my two worlds had collided into one!
Why did you decide to get married in Spain?
Because it’s my culture, a sense of belonging and it’s a part of me. I feel that it’s very equal: half of me is English and half is Spanish. It’s always been my dream to get married in Spain, where my mum was from. It meant the world to me. And the fact that our English friends and family made it there to share with us made it even more special. It’s not a very touristy or easy place to get to but people still came to fulfil my dream, we were very touched! The service was in Spanish and I translated every single word to my husband because I wanted him to know exactly what was going on and for him to feel very much part of the celebration as well. And it was so lovely when the priest tried to say some words in English to make us all feel welcome.
Thank you very much. It’s been fascinating to hear about all your experiences with bilingualism. Good luck with your teaching career!
My pleasure. Thank you.