I am an English speaker living in Spain with my Spanish husband. We are raising our son in OPOL (one-parent-one-language) and I am his only English influence. My concern is when he starts school. The Spanish government has begun a huge push to promote English as the current level is very low. Most English teachers in fact hardly speak the language themselves, especially at the primary level. How do I deal with my fluent child being stuck in several hours a week of memorizing lists of vocabulary in his native language? — Rea
First of all, I quite like your description of the methods that are used to teach language subjects in school. To my mind, these methods are also the reason why school learners of languages have acquired the reputation of being “bad” language learners.
What we need to realise is that such learners are in fact not learning languages at all, they are learning about those languages, which is a very different thing altogether: vocabulary lists, lists of grammar rules, all presented through printed forms of language, memorizing in order to regurgitate and in order to pass school tests, none of this is what learning languages is all about.
Now to your question.
You may have two alternative ways of dealing with this. If the school authorities are compliant and have the resources for it, you could ask them to provide your son with a certificate of English proficiency, equivalent to a certain level of school English. This could mean having him tested in his knowledge of English, not about English, and having him excused from attending English school lessons.
I nevertheless doubt it that the school will want to do this, for the reason that “language subjects” in school are aiming at teaching grammar which, again, is not the same thing as teaching a language.
Your son may know English, and Spanish, but he most likely does not know what adjectives, or direct objects, or passive constructions are. Teaching what these are is the purpose of school language subjects: you learn to talk about languages. This is why Latin was taught as a compulsory subject in school not so long ago and this is, I should add, as important to learn as it is to learn to talk about numbers, the human body or the laws of motion. A chemical compound is a chemical compound regardless of where you find it, just like a noun is a noun regardless of language. He and his classmates will probably learn the same things in their Spanish lessons.
So the alternative is to explain to your son that this is what he’ll be doing in his “English” lessons. He will have the advantage of being able to draw on his intuitions about English to get at its grammar and its vocabulary sets, and he may even find that he can be of help to his non-English-speaking classmates here. He might well enjoy doing so.
Whether he’ll enjoy the memorising bit involved in all this, whether grammar rules or vocabulary lists, is another matter. But then again, memorising is still a very strong component of much school learning, whatever the subject.
Do feel free to contact me privately, if you wish to discuss these matters in greater detail.