Why go the bilingual route?

Is it really worth it,
going the bilingual route,
in today’s day and age?

In much of the world, children now learn one or two foreign languages in school. In non-English speaking countries, English is by far the most common foreign language taught. As a result, most children speak English pretty well by the time they leave school. So, in this context, is it still worth making an additional effort to go the bilingual or trilingual route?

I think the answer is a resounding yes.

I work in a global team within a very international company, and so interact in my day to day with people from multiple countries. Most of them speak English very competently, and get along just fine in a professional setting. But, when you encounter someone who is truly bilingual, it shows. These are the people who are free to do their best work, because they are not constantly translating between one language and another in their minds. We could think of this as one of those practical advantages that come from being bilingual.

If you talk to a man in
a language he understands,
that goes to his head. If
you talk to him in his language,
that goes to his heart.”
— Nelson Mandela

But there are also less tangible (though not less important, in my mind), advantages: bilingual people are often able to empathize, or connect with others, in ways monolingual people have trouble doing. This is because you cannot really become bilingual without exposure to another culture, and that exposure allows you to see the world in new and different ways.

These are the cultural or emotional advantages of growing up bilingual, which I think are only going to grow in importance over the coming generations.


Book of the month (Jan ’18): The Pout Pout Fish


If you were to start a sentence with the words “Deep in the water where the fish hang out…” in a room full of post-2008 parents, you’ll probably hear back an excited chorus of “...lives a glum gloomy swimmer with an ever-present pout“.

The fact that The Pout Pout Fish, by Deborah Diesen, has become a New York Time’s Bestseller, is totally unsurprising. The book tells the deceptively simple story of a gloomy fish and of his adventures with his friends, to whom he tries to explain why he is so gloomy, until… I’ll stop here, I don’t want to spoil the ending, after all, for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.

This is a great book for very young children. There is a lot of repetition, and the rhythm rules the story from the very start.

You can read it one, two, ten times, and complement the reading with some fun activities for children:

 – Imagine his friends. The Pout Pout fish has a lot of friends: a clam, an octopus, a jellyfish… what other sea creatures could he be friends with? A starfish? A lobster? A dolphin? A mermaid? A whale? Start from the smallest and move to the biggest, for example. Or, if the kids are a bit older, categorize them by type of marine organism: Plankton, Algae, Marine Invertebrates, Fish, Reptiles, Marine Mammals…

Can you draw them? Fish and sea creatures are fun to draw, even for the most challenged artists out there. In the past, I’ve used the following tutorials for inspiration, and it doesn’t really bother me that my end products don’t quite end up looking the same:

Hellokids.com: How to Draw a Fish for Kids

Letsdrawkids.com: Drawing Ocean Animals

Woojr.com: 12 Ocean Animals to Draw Step by Step

Make an origami ocean backdrop, using a blue cardboard and lots of origami fish, such as:

Easy Peasy and Fun’s Easy Origami Fish (warning for origami purists, it uses googly eyes)

The Origami Resource Center’s beautiful (but more involved!) Small Sea Creatures and Large Sea Creatures

Ocean life. Oceans cover 70% of the Earth’s surface, and are home to a significant proportion of all life on Eearth. Take a few minutes to explore some of the secrets of marine environments with your charges.

  • What is salt water? Water that has 35g of salt for every kilogram of water.
  • What are the features that allow fish to live in the oceans? Gills for extracting oxygen for water, a swim bladder to rise or sink to different depths, scales for protection, fins for steering…
  • How do marine mammals differ from land-based mammals? Streamlined bodies and fins for swimming, fat, kidneys that excrete salt…

Explore the concept of happiness. The Pout Pout Fish spends a large chunk of the book explaining to his friends why he is unhappy. In today’s world, where happiness has become such a cultural obsession and characters in kids’ books and shows seem to sport huge smiles all the time, it is useful for kids to be exposed to characters who are not happy all the time, or not happy by default.

  • Is the Pout Pout Fish happy? 
  • Is it okay for him not to be happy?
  • What does it mean to be happy? Can you think of a time when you were happy?
  • What happens, and how do we feel, when we are not happy? Can you think of a time when you were not happy?
  • Do the Pout Pout Fish’s friends accept him as he is?
  • What could the Pout Pout Fish do to help his friends better understand him? 

Anything else? The official Pout Pout Fish website features an activity kit to print out, including a memory game, a spot the differences game, and a Pout Pout Fish mask that are fun for younger children.

Note: There are other books in the series, as well, of which we’ve read two or three, though I have to admit we did not enjoy them half as much as the original.

Key English/Spanish vocabulary

Pout Pout fish – el pez Pucheros

clam – la almeja

deep – profundo

fish – el pez

gloomy – triste/ melancólico

to pout – hacer pucheros

squid – el calamar

swimmer – el nadador

Book of the month (Dec ’17): Room on the Broom

Once in a while
(and no, this doesn’t
happen every month)
a book comes along
that entertains me
as much as my kids.
Room on the Broom
is one of those.

Room on the Broom, by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, published by Macmillan Children’s Books, is a best-selling book that needs little introduction.

It’s feisty, fun, speaks of friendship and teamwork, and features a witch, a frog, a dragon and a host of other friends. It’s also got great rhythm, which makes it a fantastic tool for learning and practicing English.

Best of all, it can be used successfully with children of a wide age range.

So, as an au pair, what can you do with the book, besides reading it to your charges? (It’s not heavy enough for a paper weight, I don’t think).
– Otra vez, otra vez. Yes, you can read it again. Don’t be afraid of repetition, most children love hearing the same stories again and again, and this one is a particularly satisfying read.
Rhythm matters. Have the kids read it out loud with you or, if they are too young to do that, repeat key verses together, like “The witch had a cat and a very tall hat.” This is a fun, easy way to address or preempt pronunciation issues in the target language.
– ‎Nouns and adjectives go well together. Use a template like this one (Figure 1) to match each animal to their adjective. The dog is keen, the frog is clean…  and what if there were more animals?
Figure 1. Room on the Broom “ean” adjectives
– ‎If there were others… what would their spot on the broom look like at the end? Would the snake need a tree to wrap itself around? Would the fish need a fishbowl? What about the snail or the hippo? Bring in the child’s favorite animals here. Can you draw the broom with these new characters?
‎What would these animals look like? Perhaps a pig with a wig, a shrimp with a limp… the secret is to have some fun while trying not to compare one’s writing with Julia Donaldson’s.
What happens to the dragon? The dragon is a bit of a bully, and also the real loser in the story. Where does he fly to next? Is he still hungry? Does he settle for a bite of cake or a plate of steamed broccoli? Consider it a small exercise on creativity and empathy.
Download the app. Apparently no book can be considered successful without an app nowadays, and this one claims to be BAFTA nominated. I haven’t paid the 0.99£, and don’t actually intend to do so (the reason why is a story for a different day), but thought I’d mention it just in case.
Anything else? The official Room on the Broom website features some cool activities to print out, among them a memory game, a word search, a coloring page… great to complement the language-building activities!
Key English/Spanish vocabulary
Broom – la escoba
Cat – el gato
Cauldron – el caldero
Dog – el perro
Dragon – el dragón
Frog – la rana
Hair – el pelo
Monster – el monstruo
Moon – la luna
Witch – la bruja

Can you use your time as au pair to power your CV?

In the last few years, I’ve done a lot of interviews for entry-level strategy consultant positions. I’ve seen a lot of millennial CVs and, honestly, some of them are downright impressive. If they’re not startup owners, they’re out there running marathons, and they’re barely in their twenties.

Some things are a given to get to the interview stage. College-degree or master-degree educated. Check. Strong grades. Check. A second language. Check.

But, I’ve learned to look out for other things as well, because they usually lead to interesting conversations with interesting people – and that’s one of the best things that can happen at a job interview. These are the candidates who, by the end of the interview, leave me hoping they will want to join my team.

Independence. Energy. Perseverance. Creativity. Curiosity. Self-motivation. What do they have in common? They’re traits that are not that easy to highlight in a CV, but that au pairs often have in spades.

  • Independence. A young person who travels to a foreign country on their own, and chooses to work as an au pair, is someone who is not afraid of the new, someone who wants to stand on his/her own two feet and who no longer wants to rely on his/her parents’ support for everything.
  • Energy. Successful au pairs have the energy to engage the children in their care, they come up with games to play and things to do, and then the next day they get up and do it again.
  • Perseverance. Children can be difficult creatures. A new person coming into a child’s life does not necessarily have an easy time. Overcoming that initial reticence takes time, effort and perseverance, but the best au pairs simply don’t give up.
  • Creativity. It takes a high degree of creativity and imagination to engage the minds of children, particularly when teaching them a foreign language through play.
  • Curiosity. Travel implies curiosity, but we’re not talking about the I-traveled-somewhere-as-a-tourist-for-a-week-and-man-did-I-see-some-cool-things kind of travel here. We’re talking about someone really interested in people, and really engaged and determined to get to know a new culture.
  • Self-motivation. Au pairs often look to learn or perfect a second language, not for the sake of a diploma, but because they really want to master said language. Sometimes, they also do other things with their spare time, they take a computer programming or photography course, they volunteer their time at a local animal shelter, they take the chance to learn a new sport… they’re self-motivated to work to the best of their abilities.

Tips to build the au pair experience into a CV or resume: Don’t just write that you were an au pair in Berlin or Singapore for X or Y months. Instead, think of what the experience really meant to you, and brainstorm also on the top personal traits that the job you’re applying for requires. Then, work to match the two together: write something in your CV to bring the experience to life, making sure your recognizable character traits (the same one your future employer will be looking for), make it into the story.

How many children did you care for? What were they like? What level did you get your language skills to? Did you use your time in the country to learn any additional skills? What was the most difficult/rewarding thing about the experience?

Then, sit back and get ready to engage on the topic during the interview.

Kicking off the holiday season with Thanksgiving

turkey-art-in-pilgrim-hats-of-thanksgivingPhoto via www.goodfreephotos.com

Here in Spain my corner Starbucks has already brought out the Christmas tree and Christmas cups (very cool-looking this year, incidentally), but they forget there is still one important holiday to think about before Christmas, for those families with links to the Anglosaxon world: Thanksgiving, or Día de Acción de Gracias.

It’s not about making our children experts on Thanksgiving, or dressing them up as seventeenth century pilgrims, but this holiday, in my opinion, offers a multitude of opportunities for celebrating with children, and for bringing English into their life. Some history, a bit of geography, a lot of adventure, and a good narrative about friendship and the power of sharing.

American and Canadian au pairs, also, will be happy that their host family is choosing to celebrate something so personal (and probably dear to them) as Thanksgiving.

Since there are tons of possible activities, I’m calling out in this small guide (below in English and Spanish), those that have been most successful for us, aiming for variety, and keeping in mind that we’re not all big fans of pumpkin cake.

The best thing is, these ideas are quick to put into practice, so you can use them for November 23rd, just a couple weeks away!

Download Ideas for Celebrating Thanksgiving (in English)

Download  Ideas para celebrar Thanksgiving (en español):



The party was a huge success…

Ingredients for a terrifying Halloween party:

Bats straws and lollipop spiders, inspired by Pinterestpajitas_aranas.png


Scary chocolate cupcakes (thanks, Erin Bakes, http://erinbakes.com/chocolate-eyeball-cupcake-tutorial/, it’s been some time since we had so much fun in the kitchen!)



Door decoration to make sure nobody walked into the neighbor’s place by mistake



The most important thing, 15 children in costumes, ready to have some fun.

Seeing so many children together reminded me, once again, of the importance of introducing the minority language into everyday life.

Although Halloween is a foreign word, our context here in Spain is what it is, and most things are translated into Spanish automatically (even trick of treat, a phrase that defies logical translation)

In this case, children in the party all had (to a greater or lesser degree), exposure to two languages, so it was interesting to see their reaction when somebody (mainly our au pair and the native parents) spoke to them in the minority language:


  • Some looked bored, their expression one of “but I’m not in school now,,,”, before going on their way,
  • Others made it clear they understood, but answered in Spanish (my eldest was firmly in this group),
  • Others (the smallest number), answered their interlocutor in his or her language, able to change instantly between one and the other language.

It wasn’t the objective of the party but seeing so many children together was a good chance to see where they are in the development of the second language, and served as a reminder that each child has his/her own rhythm.