Friday, 25 November 2011

Mummy & Papá

I'm really proud of my mum and dad for bringing us up bilingual. It must have been pretty hard work.

My brother and I were born in London, my dad's Spanish but my grandparents moved to London in 1960 so he's bilingual too. My mum started learning Spanish when she met my dad and she has afforded us a great many laughs over the years as she's continued to perfect her grasp on the language.

When we lived in London, they always tried to talk to us in Spanish at home and then reversed their policy when we moved to Madrid. We spent every summer in Spain with my grandparents and I sometimes came on my own for Reyes (double the pressies, double the fun!!). When we moved to Madrid we'd visit my family in the UK once or twice a year (HMV, Virgin, Waterstones, Boots, Topshop!!), although we never did holidays... I mean, Christmas in York is nothing like summer in Alicante!!

My voice is distinctly different when I speak Spanish and English. I once spent a month in Spain as a kid when my mum was too pregnant to travel for the summer. I didn't speak a word of English over that time as I spent the days playing with my Spanish grandparents and my Spanish friends. I would not speak English when I got back. My playschool teacher called my mum to tell her I could understand everything that was going on but kept talking to all the other kids in Spanish. Years later I spent a month in Paris at the Sorbonne speaking only French or English, I came home and realised I hated the sound of my voice in Spanish. I think that was also what happened to me as a child, although I probably didn't know it at the time.

When it comes to names, there's also a clear difference. My parents decided on names that would work in both languages. Hence 'Laura'. My brother was going to be 'Daniel' for a whole 9 months of planning and baby names. The day he was born my dad decided to scrap all that and insisted on having my brother continue his name. Enter 'Javier'. My entire UK family (mum included) let out a groan. My mother was always 'mummy' when we were kids, she's now 'mamá'. My brother has always been 'Javs' (pronounced /habs/). My father is 'papá', he has never been and will never be 'dad' or 'daddy'. He hates it.

I speak to my mum in English. Always. I text her in English. I email her in English. I find it very weird when she talks to me in Spanish when we're on our own. As for my dad, we usually communicate in Spanish when we're on our own and will use English when my mum's also around.

Things are different with my brother, we're terrible. We use a horrible combination of Spanglish, not so much in that we pepper English sentences with Spanish words or the other way round, it's more a case of chopping and changing from one language to another in each sentence. E.g. "Vas a ver el partido en casapadres? Yo sí. BTW, I checked out that bluray you said they wanted for Xmas" and so on and so forth. Truly terrible, and a very bad example for everyone. Although it gives our friends loads of comic material when it comes to taking the mick.

Do you come from a bilingual background? How do things work in your house?


  1. L:

    Really enjoyed reading this post. What you mention about sounding different when speaking a foreign language is so true! In my case, I have a monolingual family. "Castúo" is the only rare thing we speak. We also have family anecdotes related to languages: my cousin asking for a kebab in Holland ("I am a kebab, sir") and my father asking for "two birds" at an English pub :) So be proud of your parents. It is such an advantage to be able to communicate and understand two cultures so easily. Keep on blogging!

  2. My mum famously asked a bus driver in Spain where the "Misterio del Aire" was. She also thought it was Ramónica Jal. And that was WAY before Chiquito brought in the "jaaaaaarl" trend. Endless stories in that department.

  3. I love it!! I always wanted to be bilingual, even if it was only Catalan+Spanish. Don't worry, you aren't the only one. My voice is way sexier when I speak in Spanish. For some reason, when I speak in English, I have a higher pitch and more nasal voice, which I hate (not that I hate speaking in English, just the voice). When I speak in Spanish, my voice is "calmer", deeper and smoother. My boyfriend (a Londoner, like you) also realises that my voice in Spanish sounds better :)

    Being proud of what you are is fantastic. Think that you have the best of both cultures (Santa, Boxing day and Reyes!! You lucky girl! ;)).

    I am adding your blog to my blogroll, as I don't want to miss your next chronicle ;)

  4. My voice is deeper (read that as sexier!! :P) in English and when I haven't spoken Spanish for a while I think I sound really girly when I use my Spanish voice.
    Thanks for adding me, I've added you too. Must find the time to sort out this blog, to make it look a bit nicer and to actually write a few posts now and then!!

  5. In order of preference, I prefer:

    1. My English voice
    2. My Spanish voice
    3. My French voice

    ....all of which have turned out differently, and from 1 to 3 increasingly nasal. I think it depends a lot on who teaches you to start with, and which you feel most comfortable with. I'm not bilingual, but have several friends who are, and one who is trilingual, and they have similar divisons between parts of their lives where they speak one language or another. Nice post, liked it a lot! :)

  6. I loved your post! I would like to raise my future kids bilingual so it's nice to read that it turned out great for you! Even though English is not my mother tongue I still feel that some things are easier to express in English than in Spanish... Does it happen to you too?