American in Spain

Conquering the English

April 4, 2011
Reflected Playground

Nora's English has been improving by leaps and bounds lately, which is due to many factors, but I think the fact that her American grandparents visited for a week and that her Spanish grandparents haven't visited for a while made a big difference, by enabling/forcing us to use English primarily at home. Little by little, I have been requiring more of her when she asks for things. When she wants her hands cleaned, she used to get away with just saying "sucio", but since then we've stepped through "sucia mano", "dirty", "dirty hand", and now up to "My hand is dirty." We've climbed a similar ladder for cookie requests, from "más" through "more", "más cookie", "more cookie", "cookie please", "more cookie please", "May I have more cookie?", "May I have more cookie, please?", to finally, "Daddy, may I have more cookie, please?"


One thing that amazes me is Nora's understanding of possession, specifically which objects in the house belong to which person. When she's "helping" do laundry, she can correctly identify the owner of each sock, shirt, underwear, pants, and dress in the laundry basket. Granted, the difference in sizes of the household members is pretty significant, but I'm still impressed. And it doesn't stop with clothes. Phones, electronics, umbrellas, hats, keys, and even foods that only one person eats can be identified as Mommy's or Daddy's or Nora's. When my parents visited, my mother brought some homemade candy that she makes and gave some to my sister-in-law and some to us. Nora only saw the tupperware container given to her aunt. Several days after they had left, she saw our identical tupperware container and said, "Tí­a Belén's!", identifying that object as belonging to her Aunt Belén.

Reflected Playground


This past weekend, we had the following exchange:

Me: Hello, Nora! Nora: Hello, Daddy! Me: How are you? Nora: I'm fine, thank you.

What blew my mind is that I'd never taught her the proper response to "How are you?", but out it came, with a "thank you" on the end! The best guess we have is that she picked it up, after some non-trivial parsing, from a pre-school song that Marga and Belén's English teachers taught them (and they sing to Nora) that goes something like:

Good morning, good morning, good morning, how are you? I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine, thank you.

The second surprise occurred last night when I was bathing Nora. After her bath, I dried her off and was putting on her skin lotion. I was massaging it into her back when Nora let out an "Ahhhhh!! Very nice!" What?? I don't recall ever saying that in any similar context around her, but out it came.

Today when she was climbing the ladder to the slide at the local playground, she was saying "Very nice!" after climbing each rung. I was so proud!


Watching her imagination develop might be my favorite part of parenting so far. She plays with her dolls and has them talk to each other and treats them just like we treat Nora. She says things like "Sit down in your chair," "Do you want some soup?", "Do you have pee-pee?", etc. However, she talks to her dolls almost exclusively in Spanish, which shows that she's more comfortable in Spanish and understands that it's the lingua franca in these parts. Even so, I am absolutely thrilled with her English skills lately.

Playground fun

Ahhhh, very nice!