Beyond Mañana

Real Expat Life in Spain

Kids Are Not Interpreters

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Hands up, I’m as guilty as anyone.  We are living in Spain as adult immigrants, they are growing up here with their astonishing sponge-like brains soaking up the nuances of several languages simultaneously – learning to truly think and move in those languages in a way my atrophied cerebrum will never achieve.  It’s not the same ball game at all.  So, from time to time when I am stumped by directions on packaging or signage and one of my offspring is more handily at reach than, say, a dictionary app, I’ll ask them for help.  They give it cheerfully, if slightly scornfully and smugly. “Duhhh!”

Too often though you see British kids in Spain being put into situations where they are translating for their parents in a completely inappropriate way, and it always makes me feel really uncomfortable.  It reminds me of working in community development in inner London nearly 20 years ago where a lot of the women I worked with spoke no English at all, and you would find their 6 year old children hauled in to speak for them in places kids simply did not belong – from advice centres to the family planning clinic.

These women were in a strange and bewildering place they had generally not chosen to come to for varying reasons, and their cultural or religious environment often stood firmly between their genuine desire to integrate and learn English and their own survival.  It could not be more different than those of us who chose to come to Spain for a better life in the sun.  Often you could see the shame in their downcast eyes at having been forced to drag their kids in to discuss their personal business but they had no other choice, at a time when the political right-on thinking was to provide cookery evening classes information in 37 languages rather than dare suggest educating a generation of immigrant wives to live effectively in their new home country.

We chose to put ourselves into an environment where much of what goes on around us will not be in our first language.  We didn’t have to come here, and whilst many of us can choose and afford to purchase many basic services in English, from time to time you have to deal with officialdom and bureaucracy and challenges. Often these interactions come in the face of crises, emergencies… accurate intelligent interpretation by an adult is vital, if you are dealing with something legal or medical or simply grown-up.

So get a grown-up, don’t take your kids into situations where children do not belong.   It’s not right for a child to be involved in discussing their parents health, or finances, or a sibling’s education.  If you cannot pay there are voluntary and support groups, or there are friends you could help reciprocally in some way perhaps?  And if you don’t appreciate the difference between interpretation and translation, try putting this article through some translation software, then back translate it into ‘English’…

Even though my 12 year old was rolling her eyes in disgust as she took the phone off me the other day to direct a helplessly lost courier to our house, and even though she knows I understand a lot more Spanish than I can effectively speak and know exactly when a 12 year old is laughing at me… Lets let our kids be kids, for as long as they can.

That’s partly why we brought ours here in the first place.


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