Rolling your ‘R’s

Having exhausted the delights of ‘I spy’ and ‘I went to market’, we were passing the time on a long car journey with some ‘trabalenguas'; Spanish tongue twisters. A game certain to challenge and amuse in equal proportions in a car carrying one native speaker (our seven year old son) and two adult learners of Spanish as a second language.

The kilometres flew past as mum and dad laboriously stumbled over the unfamiliar and deliberately tricksome constructions of consonants and vowels. From his car-seat in the back the mini-maestro dictated our challenges and then dissolved into hysterical giggles at our clumsy attempts to repeat the rhymes.

It did lead to one of the high points of my Spanish learning career however. When his little voice piped up ‘Mum, that’s the best ‘erre’ (Spanish ‘r’) you’ve ever said’, I totally welled up. Never mind that it was obviously accidental and probably never to be repeated.

As immigrant parents of a native speaker we are gifted many opportunities to learn and improve our Spanish. We get to listen to his clear and delightful Spanish speaking. We get to hang out with him and his friends. Bedtime stories are an opportunity to extend our vocabulary and have our pronunciation corrected. Even helping with primary school homework often prompts us to reach for the dictionary and becomes our own language-learning study time.

It can be demoralising, knowing that you’ll never achieve the same heights of bilingualism as your young child. I have come to accept (self-limit?) that I will always have a strong accent and there will always be some situations in which I will feel lost at sea – noisy bars with friends shouting colloquial terms, strong accented folk, conversations peppered with deep-seated cultural references.  So I take my wins where I can and when they come gracefully bestowed by my own exacting mini-maestro they taste all the sweeter.





  1. You are so lucky… my grandchild is French and bilingual. It amazes me how she switches between languages. I will never be fluent in Portuguese or French. Not even close. The wiring in my brain is old and too much info these days blows a fuse.

    • It’s such a joy to be watch my son grow up bilingual PiP. I think it’s the greatest gift I’ve given him. And I totally know what you mean about old wiring in the brain – it certainly makes things a whole lot harder!

  2. El perro de San Roque no tiene rabo…., tranquila mujer, tu español mejorará, además al vivir en Asturias, hay significados de palabras que en el resto de España no existen, por ejemplo, prestar (En Asturias también significa gustar). Peor somos los españoles con el inglés
    The dog of San Roque has no tail …., quiet woman, your Spanish will improve, besides living in Asturias, there are meanings of words that in the rest of Spain do not exist, for example, for example, to lend (In Asturias also means to like). The Spanish are worse with English

    I apologize by my English (I don’t speak English).

  3. Being a bilingual person means lots of efforts. Learning some other language is not that easy. I’ve seen many students throughout my teaching career. Almost all people keep certain fear inside when they try to speak in another language. Great post.

  4. bavariansojourn says:

    Another language has to be the best gift you can give a child. My two speak really good German thanks to living there for so long, and it’s so interesting to see how quickly they are now picking up other languages at school! :) x

  5. My girlfriend and I have just moved to Asturias and I can relate a lot to what you’re saying here and you are a lot further along than I. She is from Latin America but has a strong background in proper Spanish too. We uprooted and moved here and I didn’t really know the language. I know a lot of words so I can understand conversations and can carry on weak ones, but I am having to go head first in a crash course to learn Spanish. But, I (as you were saying) have already come to terms I will likely never speak fluently and will probably be lost in fast moving conversations for a very long time. I so wish I had learned more as a child because it would be so much easier. What you are giving him is such a fantastic gift!

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