HAPPY  International Mother Language Day. February 21st.

“Speaking Valencian is a waste of time.”

Just in case you hadn’t added it to your calendar, today is International Mother Language Day.

It’s promoted by UNESCO which “encourages and promotes multilingual education based on mother tongue or first language. It is a type of education that begins in the language that the learner masters most and then gradually introduces other languages.”

The education system is out of the hands of parents, and it’s unusual to find educational authorities that provide tuition in a student’s native language to bridge the gap between school and home. Despite Trumps “English only” rhetoric, California does provide a program for Spanish speaking immigrant children.

If you are a parent that speaks a language that is not spoken in your country of residence, you have to make a decision to pass on your language to your children. Rather than seeing it as a “foreign language”, it’s more useful to describe it as your “heritage language” as it carries with it your identity and culture, and that is what is so valuable about raising your children in your native language.

I remember visiting a family in Castellón (Valencia) in which both parents spoke Valencian as their mother tongue. The surprising part was that neither parent spoke the language to their children, and in fact added that they didn’t because it was “a waste of time.” Despite enjoying each other’s company up to that point, both my expression of disappointment and the consequent ‘heated discussion’ meant that we never spoke to each other ever again.

I can’t think of many situations in which knowing another language is a disadvantage, and there are so many cognitive benefits to being bilingual or multilingual that it should be a no-brainer.

In the Guardian today, the journalist Samir Mir laments, “My children don’t speak my mother tongue (Urdu) – as a second-generation migrant, it fills me with sadness.” She then goes on to give a rationalisation about how it didn’t happen. Now her 9-year-old son says he wants to learn it to speak to his grandparents. I’ve interviewed many children who feel resentment about not being bilingual.

Article: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/feb/21/children-mother-tongue-second-generation-migrant-guilt-language-parents-urdu?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Other

Many people who are not in these situations are often puzzled why the children of foreign families don’t speak their foreign parent’s or parents’ language. There are many reasons or excuses behind that, including “It’s a waste of time” (prejudice), “It’s not good to mix languages”(ignorance), “I tried but it didn’t work.”(discipline) and the one nobody admits to or says out loud, “I wanted to feel more like a local person and only speak that language at home (assimilation).”  The main reason is that parents just spend enough time speaking their heritage language to their children.

If you see your mother tongue as an educational benefit and a heritage language, the decision is much easier, and with will-power and the right strategies the chances of success are practically 100%. I’ve brought up my son to be a perfect English-speaker, and based on my experience, and extensive studies and interviews with bilingual parents, I’ve created a set of simple to follow principles and strategies that you can find in my book entitled THE 5 KEY STRATEGIES OF SUCCESSFUL BILINGUAL FAMILIES (available in Spanish. as Las 5 Estrategias Clave para Criar a un Niño Bilingüe). Both available on Amazon in ebook and paperback.

If you’re in this situation, and are not sure how to do it, I recommend reading the book that has helped so many parents like you.  

If you want to find out more, you can read more articles about language learning and bilingual families right here on my website.



There is one really frustrating experience for parents who are trying to raise their children in their native language while living in a country that doesn’t speak it;  their children answer them in the local language rather than their own one.

The first TWO KEY STRATEGIES for raising a child in your language are

1)OPOL. One Parent, One Language. That is, you only speak your language to your child, and the other parent speaks their native language. This is important and establishes one single clear channel of communication. It’s simple and effective. And simple and effective is a good thing for children.

2) IL2U. ONE LANGUGAGE TO YOU. The goal is that your children only speak your language back to you. This is the most common issue. Many parents manage the first OPOL strategy correctly, but then they ‘let’ their children answer them in the local language.

There are two main reasons why this happens.

  1. The child hasn’t received enough exposure to your language and the local language is the one that comes to mind first.
  2. The main reason though is that you have ‘let’ your child answer you or speak to you in the local language, perhaps thinking that this is ‘normal’, and your children will eventually speak to you in your language. Sadly, this hardly ever happens without some serious intervention!  See my article on how this happens and some of the ways you can nip it in the bud.

If you’re in this situation, and haven’t been able to turn it around, I have THREE QUICK TIPS that will at least make your children speak their language to you, even if they don’t want to!!! It revolves around scripted language. So, let’s dive in and see how it works.


If your child isn’t old enough to read yet, you may have started reading to them in your language. If not, START RIGHT NOW!  

With nursery rhymes, children love them and they’re easy to learn and repeat. Once you’ve repeated one of them a million times (at the child’s request), they will know them by heart anyway. The trick now is to get them to ‘sing’ them with you. So, say, “OK, together! Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon…”

Once they are repeating it with you, you can say, “So, what did the cow do?” and use questions and answers using the songs and rhymes. This may spark a moment which triggers your language. You can even coax them gently: “Hey, let’s speak in OUR language when we’re doing this. Can you do that for mummy? Don’t push it, but be perseverant.


Something that never occurred to me was that parents weren’t teaching their children to read in their language. In fact, not teaching your child to read is the norm! Despite what you might believe, learning to read in your language, won’t tire them out or confuse them. They are much more resilient and intelligent than you think. For some easy tips on how I taught my son to read in English, see Marc’s Blog on this website.

By getting them to start reading out loud, they are speaking the language. If your language is a phonetic one, you can use the ‘phonic method’ of pronouncing the syllables and saying the words. In English I combined the phonic with the ‘whole word’ approach for irregular words. Read up on it and get some books in your language appropriate for their age and start reading together.


Once the child is reading in your language, a whole world of possibilities opens up for you. This means reading stories, poems, plays, prayers (where relevant) and rhymes, as well as learning and singing songs. Children love singing until they are told be adults that they can’t sing properly. 99% of people have the potential to sing in tune, so encourage it.

This can lead on to Karaoke. In most major languages, you’ll find karaoke versions of all major songs. Take advantage of it. Music adds an extra dimension to your language.


Even if your children never speak back to you in your language, ALWAYS speak to them in your language. The worst case scenario is that they will be passive bilinguals, and the language will be there to revive later in life.

The most important thing is to nurture a love for reading and if possible, for music and especially singing in your language. I won’t deal with writing here, but that is also great.

These techniques are great whether your child speaks to you in your language or not but is especially important if you don’t. If you haven’t done so, try it out, and let me know how it goes.

If you have very young babies, immerse them in the language, speak to them all the time and only let them speak to you in your language. This is how it works. Make it a daily habit.

I look forward to hearing your comments.



Last weekend I had the pleasure to attend the annual Polyglot Gathering conference and enjoyed both practising languages and helping other attendees improve their Catalan and English.

Between a session on the Klingon language (more and more popular in this part of the Galaxy), and finding out more about the memorising techniques of a national Belgian memory contest champion, I gave a talk on Artificial Bilingualism (In Spanish with slides in English), that is, raising your children in a language that isn’t your native one. I’ve interviewed many families in Spain who have managed to bring up their children speaking English even though Spanish or Catalan is their native language. If you have a high enough level in English, you could do it too.


What can be a little disconcerting is giving a talk when you can’t see the audience! In the usual format at this conference, the speaker gives a talk and then answers questions at the end that are written on the screen. It’s the second time I’ve done this, so it wasn’t as bizarre as last year, but you can get the feeling that you are speaking to yourself! I was relieved to find out that I wasn’t alone as I got plenty of questions at the end and found popele in other chatrooms later on who had seen my speech .

The Polygot Gathering is at a live venue in Poland from the 1st-6th June, which I’m unable to attend. Hopefully, from now on, more talks will be held in a face to face format to provide that human feeling again. However, we’ve seen that an online format opens up a talk or workshop to people all over the world.

Contact me for the courses and talks that I give.


What have England and Catalonia got in common?

Well, apart from the great weather, the cuisine and a love of sports, both nations celebrate their national day on the same day. Both have the same patron saint who it would appear was a knight who saved a lady from a dragon.

In England the day isn’t celebrated widely, which seems a shame, whereas in Catalunya, sí que és una festa que és celebra amb llibres i roses.

The 23rd of April is International Book Day, a date chosen as it coincides with the myth that both Cervantes and Shakespeare died on this date in 1616. A quick search on Google shows that it is more wishful thinking than actual truth, although evidence suggests that they died within 10 days of each other that year. That’s close enough, isn’t it?!  

Personally, I love Sant Jordi’s day in Barcelona. Not only is it a colourful day in a city bedecked with roses, but also it promotes literature and books in a sector that is undergoing great change due to large online sites such as Amazon and the Android and Apple book stores.

Have you bought or received a book this year?

I’d like to do a bit of advertising here and suggest my book if you or a family you know are raising children in a language that is not the local one:  The 5 Key Strategies of Successful Bilingual Families also available in Spanish under the title Las 5 Estrategias Clave para criar a un Niño Bilingüe.

Available on Amazon or from Come In book shop in Barcelona.  



Welcome to this second part, where we’re going to be highlighting the cognitive benefits of having a bilingual brain and being bilingual or trilingual.

Bilingualism has positive effects at both ends of the age spectrum: Bilingual children as young as seven months can better adjust to environmental changes, while bilingual seniors can experience less cognitive decline. And the benefits can been in students who’ve studied with Idiomas Advantage!

It’s interesting to note that up to 1970s, bilingualism in children was often seen as being a disadvantage and to be the cause of a variety of learning difficulties from dyslexia to slowing down learning in general.

In the 21st century, neuropsychology and neurolinguistics as well as more recent studies using brain imaging technology have uncovered many cognitive benefits of being multilingual.

Firstly, It would appear that having at least two sets of languages strengthens the 4 main cognitive processes: memory, attention, perception and emotional skills, including being able to take another person’s perspective and be better at solving mental puzzles and sorting games.  Other research points to benefits in the development of other executive functions, such as planning and maintaining attention, inhibitory control, task switching and resolving conflict.

Studies have also shown that bilingual children achieve higher scores than monolinguals on a number of tests of cognitive ability, including mental flexibility, working memory, non-verbal problem-solving tasks, understanding the conventional origin of names, distinguishing between semantic similarity and phonetic similarity.

Happy family having fun, playing board game at home, happiness concept. People pet love concept.

A third area that bilinguals seem to benefit from is a delay and lessening in the deterioration of cognitive competencies by improving the cognitive reserve, that is, the protective effect of mental and physical activity carried out throughout life in the face of healthy aging. The onset of symptoms in people suffering from dementia may be delayed by just over four years.

A further surprising benefit of bilingualism that speaking several languages  you are twice as likely to recover your normal cognitive functions after a stroke. In one study, 40.5% of bilinguals recovered normal cognition, compared to 19.6% of monolinguals.

So, even if you weren’t raised as a bilingual in a bilingual community or family, the benefits of speaking another language regularly at a high level can bring a multitude of cognitive and social benefits right through to old age.

This is why you should sign up for a language course with idiomas advantage right now!! 



I’ve always found it strange that some people are not convinced of the advantages of having a bilingual brain and being bilingual. When you think about it there are some many positive reasons for being or becoming one.

When we talk about benefits, we have to divide them into two broad areas, the social and cognitive ones. As we’ll see, bilingualism has positive effects at both ends of the age spectrum: Bilingual children as young as seven months can better adjust to environmental changes, while bilingual seniors can experience less cognitive decline.

In this first part we’ll look at the social benefits of being bilingual or even multilingual, whether you’ve reached that level as a child or an adult.

It should be obvious that knowing more than one language has certain advantages, especially if you speak major world languages. Or isn’t it?

Firstly, it makes it easier for you to travel, meet and understand better more people in those countries that speak that language as well as gain access to twice as much literature. And you can delve deeper into the culture of a language without having to rely on translations.

It should also be said that if you have raised your child in your language and you live in a country that doesn’t speak that language, it will mean that your offspring will be able to learn about their parent’s country more easily. Moreover, if you have family in the heritage language country, your children will be able to get to know their cousins and relatives there. This last reason is a justification in itself even if your language isn’t a major one.  For more about bringing up your child in your language, check out The 5 Key Strategies of Successful Bilingual Families:The Step-by-Step Guide for parents. On Amazon now.

Another very important benefit these days is in the business world. With an ever-expanding global market, knowing two or more languages will open more doors in the job market. It has also been reported that you are likely to earn a higher salary on average. I’ve been involved in carrying out professional language level interviews for candidates in selection processes. Sometimes, a competent level is the difference between getting the job or not.

And last but definitely not least, many people find bilinguals and multilinguals more interesting and attractive! What do you think? If none of those social advantages has convinced you, in the second part of this series, we’ll look at the cognitive ones.


¿Sabias que los no nativos también pueden criar a sus niños en inglés u otro idioma?


Evidentemente, necesitarás un nivel alto del inglés. Pero ¿Qué nivel? Pues, ¡cuanto más alto mejor! Piensa en la relación que quieres con tu hijo. Si no puedes expresar todo los que quieres transmitir y comunicar, pues, podrías frustrarte, e incluso, podrías acabar por perjudicar la relación. Son los matices que realmente llevan el sentido de la comunicación en muchos casos. 

¿Mis hijos acabarán por hablar inglés como nativos si los llevo a una escuela británica?

Dependará si es una escuela 100% en inglés, enfocada en un target expatriado, o las llamadas “International Schools” que suelen hacer el 50% o el 33% de las clases en inglés con niños de aquí principalmente. En el primer caso, hay una alta probabilidad que sí, sobre todo si realizan toda su escolarización allí. Sin embargo, en las International Schools tendrán un nivel por encima de la media, pero salvo los niños con un don de idiomas, distarán mucho de ser nativos bilingües.

En los 2 casos hay una serie de pros y contras que trato en el libro además de otras opciones, como las estancias en un país de habla inglesa o si vale la pena contratar a una Au-Pair nativa para cuidar a tus hijos.

También descubrirás porque los niños de algunos padres extranjeros no hablan con sus padres en su idioma. Y, como no ¡el secreto de conseguir que lo hagan!

A partir de hoy, encontrarás las 5 Key Strategies of Successful Bilingual Families en Amazon /Kindle en ebook y tapa blanda

Key Strategy 3. INPUT. You as a Language Model

This blog post is all about the language you speak; your accent, accuracy, and your idiosyncrasies.


I deal with bringing up a child in a language that is not your native one in another post and devote a whole chapter to it in the book. 

With enough exposure, your children will speak with your accent and all your idiosyncratic forms of the language, or idiolect, especially if you are the sole language source.So, remember that they are a mirror of the way you speak. You may hear words and phrases that you did not know you used, and they can always blame you for the way they speak!

To show you how important your parents are in your language and pronunciation acquisition, my mother passed on to me a particular (and wrong!) pronunciation of ‘very’; I pronounced it ‘thery’ /‘ð ɛri/ instead of  ‘very’/vɛri/. Amazingly, this went undetected until a Spanish girlfriend pointed it out when I was twenty-six! Embarrassed, I quickly corrected it.

You may also need to think about grammar and dialect. Languages have standard forms and dialect variations. It is generally best to teach your child the standard forms if possible, so they can communicate with a bigger number of heritage language speakers.

Your idiolect may include dialect words from different countries where you have lived (Irish ones in my case) and others that are passed down like heirlooms through the generations. In my case, we use a few Welsh words, passed down from my great-grandmother (who was a bilingual Welsh-English speaker), and I have now passed these on to my son, so he also says, “Iechyd da” /Yaki da:/  “Cheers!”

The Accuracy of your language

When you have lived in a foreign country for a long time and speak the local language well, it is easy to fall into the habit of using certain local language words in your own heritage language. In some cases, this is probably quite useful, especially if the word is a concept that does not exist in your country of origin. In the UK, for instance, lawyers are divided into solicitors and barristers. It would be fine to say el solicitor if you are speaking Spanish in the UK, as this refers to a type of lawyer only found in the UK. 

A lazy form of language mixing called Spanglish in Spain or Franglais in France is often used by ex-pats.

Typical examples: saying ‘the parking’ instead of ‘car-park’/‘parking lot’, or ‘the camping’ instead of ‘the campsite’, or talking about activities during ‘patio’ instead of ‘break time’/‘recess’. 

You may be the only language model for your child, so whatever you say, the mistakes, slang words and idiosyncrasies of your idiolect will be passed on to them. Try to give them a foundation in standard vocabulary and grammar first.

For more detailed information and advice, check out the book on Amazon: The 5 Key Strategies of Successful Bilingual Families.

Is there a critical age for learning a language? Sequential bilingualism – and the million dollar question.


If you move to another country where your language is not spoken, the age of your child when they start learning the language has an effect on their proficiency.

When a child learns one language first and another one later, this is called Sequential or Successive Acquisition. Parents want to know if children arriving in a new country, where a new foreign language is spoken, will end up speaking the language proficiently or even attain a native speaker level.

The consensus among researchers is that the younger the child is when they arrive, the better. The ‘Critical Period’ Hypothesis says that moving to the country before puberty (so a maximum of eleven or twelve years old) is optimal if you want the child to acquire a native speaker grammar level, but not necessarily the accent. 

Other research suggests that from the age of eight, our ability to learn languages becomes “slower and more academic.” After that age, even with high exposure, living in the target country and going to school there, the child will never gain that native intuition that a sentence is right or wrong.

However, this does not mean that children arriving as teens cannot acquire a native grammar level and speak with a native accent. There are other factors, such as aptitude and natural ability, which are hard to predict and study; but these factors have a strong influence in determining a child’s final language proficiency.

So, the general consensus is that the younger children are when they begin to learn a language, and the more exposure they get, the better they will become.  Lightbown and Spada (see bibliography), for instance, state that the basics of the language have been acquired by around the ages of five or six years old and are developed as the child becomes older.

So bilingual families, according to this view, should aim for high linguistic interaction and exposure in those earliest years. This also means that strengthening the heritage language at home first is not a problem, as children will learn the local language to a native level when they go to preschool.

So, how much exposure to the heritage language do they need per week to become bilingual?

This is the million-dollar question! Remember we are talking about learning the heritage language at the same time as the local language.  Let us take the first five years, as they seem to be crucial.

It has been estimated that by the age of five, monolingual children, living in the dominant language environment, who are awake ten to twelve hours a day, may have been exposed to around 20,000 hours of language from parents, siblings, friends and media input (so, it’s not all interactive). This may not be a totally accurate, but it shows that high exposure in the early years is essential.

Looking back at what I did with my son in the first five years, I aimed for two or three hours interactive contact from Monday to Friday and a minimum of six hours interactive input on holidays and weekend days, playing games, sports, taking walks, going on outings, etc., which included additional hours watching television or films with him (and not just in silence).

He also received passive TV and video input in English when I was not there, sometimes four or five hours.  So, he probably had a total of between six and eight hours’ exposure a day, including the (mostly passive) input at the trilingual school of about two hours or more between the ages of three and five. We only spent two or three weeks per year in the UK at that stage.

If five hours seems a lot of media time, remember that just three sessions of two hours per day makes six hours; and you know how quickly time goes when you are binging on Netflix! This was enough for Marc to reach a bilingual native level in English and speak with an English accent.

If you do the maths, and calculate six hours a day from both interactive and passive contact from a bilingual parent, that makes nearly 11,000 hours of input in five years, which is quite a lot less than a monolingual child would get (in theory). However, this seems to more than enough for many children to reach a bilingual native level in the heritage language.

You occasionally meet children who have received fewer hours input and have a higher level of language proficiency than others with a much richer language environment. I’ve heard non-native English speakers with near perfect accents through but massive input from YouTube videos; so this is some evidence that comprehensible and appropriate content through media can be very beneficial.

The main point is that it is best to provide as much language input as you possibly can, especially in those first five to six years.

For more detailed information and advice, check out the book on Amazon: The 5 Key Strategies of Successful Bilingual Families.

Key Strategy 3: Provide enough exposure to your language (Input)

In previous blog posts I explained the Key Strategies 1 and 2 which are about what language you speak to each other.

Do you spend enough time speaking your language with your children?

Even if you always speak your language (OPOL) and get your child to speak to you in your language (1L2U), if they do not hear and speak enough, they will not pick up the basic structures of the language or native pronunciation. Typically, they will sound ‘foreign’ and make more mistakes than they need to.

What level of proficiency are you aiming for?

Some parents want their children to reach native level in both languages, while others might be happy with a much lower level. Up to a certain point, this is a personal choice, but I believe that a native or very near native level of proficiency in the heritage language is a viable goal.

Bilingual speakers of all ages will occasionally transfer words or phrases between languages and will be stronger or dominant in one of them, but this is only a problem if a child is well below native level.

I fully understand why children do not always get enough exposure. As parents, we can feel too stressed, too tired, or simply unmotivated to spend hours every day playing children’s games and doing activities with them! Many times, I had to make a very big effort after a long day at work.

Variations in the dominance of each language

Your main aim is to encourage your child to be a balanced bilingual – a person who speaks and expresses themselves fluently in two languages. However, almost always you will notice that one language is dominant; this is normally the language that your child hears and speaks more of the time.

Changes in your child’s language environment, such as living and studying abroad, making friends with children who speak one of the languages or less contact from a parent, will affect this balance. Sometimes the effect is only temporary. If you spend the summer in your home country, your children may tell you that they were thinking in the home language rather than the previously dominant (perhaps the local) language.

Bilingual speakers also tend to be more proficient and confident in a language depending on what they are talking about, who they speak to and where. If the heritage language is only spoken at home, your child may not have the vocabulary and language skills in subjects they have learned in the dominant language at school (see Chapters 2 and 3 in Part II about strategies to address this situation).

The third Key Strategy increases your child’s abilities in the heritage language, and also nurtures the heritage language identity.

There is research that suggests that the most important time for children when they are learning a language is from birth to around puberty. And of course, it is usually easier to get children to follow your ideas and instructions before they become more rebellious and independent teenagers! You still need to work on language skills at this period, but the teenage years can be unpredictable, as we all know. The more work you have done previously, the easier it will be when they are older. 

Think about the number of both passive and active hours of exposure your child needs to reach a truly native level; and remember that you are a mirror for the way your child is going to speak.

For more detailed information and advice, check out the book on Amazon: The 5 Key Strategies of Successful Bilingual Families.