kids jumping in pool

Raising Expat Kids in Spain

When preparing to move to Spain there are always a number of concerns to address. One of the first of course will be where are you going to live, what is the property like and what do you need to know about buying property in Spain.

Thanks to a growing number of professional estate agents websites and property blogs many of which include Property Buyers Guides and valuable advice many of these practical concerns can be laid to rest before you even leave home. Browse through extensive property listings, take advantage of all the information available online and you will gain both a clearer idea of possible costs involved you will also be better prepared to handle the buying process itself when the times comes.

Typically in families with small children the worry and stress of moving abroad centres more around the effect that such a move will have on the little ones. How will they cope, will they fit in, what are the standards of education, is the move fair on them?

Happily most research shows that there are considerable long-term benefits to moving your child abroad at an early age. More than just becoming bilingual, living abroad can increase both the intelligence and social capacity of the child.

Education in Spain

Spain has an excellent and very affordable system of education. Despite their laid back attitude, they take things seriously when it comes a child’s education. There are three options you can choose from: state schooling, private schooling and international language schools. At the moment, there are 75 universities, 56 state-run and 19 private universities run by private enterprises or by the Catholic Church.

The decision of into which school system you enter your children is an important one. If you want your child to follow your home country’s r curriculum you will have to select and enrol your child into a private international school.

The state school curriculum is taught entirely in Spanish. From pre-school which commences in the child’s third year your baby will be thrown in at the deep end and be expected to swim fairly quickly. You can soften the blow by entering your child in a Spanish-speaking ‘guarderia’ for a few hours a day prior to the start of their schooling. As dramatic as it sounds, your child will adapt and you will be astonished at how quickly they settle in.

Your Child’s Adaptation

The younger they are the easier is it for children to adapt to new environments and pick up a new language, which in some cases happens remarkably fast, especially compared to an adult’s learning curve. Some kids will adapt straight away, while for others it might take more time. The first few weeks are always the hardest. Again you can make it a little easier on your child by arriving in Spain at the sart of the long summer holidays and getting him or her involved in local activities where they will have the possibility to interact with Spanish kids and pick up some of the language. Some Spanish lessons before leaving your home country would help too. There are a number of Spanish courses designed for kids available on the internet many based on songs and games which make learning the language non-threatening and fun.

Before the age of 4 a small child’s brain is at its highest learning capacity. They soak up information like a giant sponge and will generally pick up a new language very quickly while Mum and Dad struggle to absorb the lingo.

The best age to move the kids abroad is either before the age of two or between the ages of six and eight because between the ages of three and six, they often get homesick and after the age of eight, it’s a lot harder for them to learn the new language.

In 2004, research done by University College London revealed that children who had learnt a second language had “a significantly higher proportion of grey matter (the area of the brain which processes information) than those who had not”.

Exposure to new people, lifestyles, languages, traditions, cultures, humour, music and traditions gives a child a better understanding of the world. It also makes them more compassionate towards people of different ethnic groups and overall makes them more resilient.

Your adaptation

Setting a good example is all-important. When children see you making the effort they’ll be more willing to learn, both at home and in school. It’s also great fun conversing with the kids in a strange new language. Just don’t be put off if theirs is a lot better than yours – it’s natural! Before too long you might find your little nipper translating for you in shops.

For you, learning the language (even just basic conversation) will make the whole adaptation process infinitely easier and your life in Spain that much more enjoyable. Without the few basic words, you’ll find getting things done tedious. The fact that you might still always be surrounded by English speakers is never enough of an excuse. Without Spanish, you’ll miss out on a wealth of cultural diversity and will ultimately always feel like an outsider – an expat living in a foreign land – never properly integrated.

Learning Spanish is important for practical reasons too. Government offices expect you to speak Spanish or bring an interpreter.

Also, if you have basic Spanish, you’ll still be able to have some kind of an idea what to say to the kids when they have problems with their homework. The best way to learn is to do it the way you learned English when you were a child; just keep speaking it. Lessons are of course useful, but you’ll probably learn more from “Pepe” in the local bar or from “Mari Luz”, the Spanish yoga teacher. It’s never to late to learn. And you’ll learn faster in a fun environment. It goes without saying that if you’re a single parent; the fastest way to learn is to find a Spanish girl or boyfriend. At first it can be very frustrating. But ultimately, learning a new language can be a very rewarding experience.

Quality of life

With a fantastic climate, beautiful beaches and an incredibly diverse landscape, it’s no wonder Spaniards spend so much of their leisure time outdoors. Moving  to a warmer, more relaxed, brighter, more outdoors focused environment might just be the best gift you could ever give the kids.