Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Bilingual Advantage

When I say I´m bilingual I don´t mean that I sort of speak two languages or that I have a good command of one but only read the other. I speak, read and write Spanish just as well as English. Not only that, but I´m bicultural and in my childhood I adopted a third culture. I´m American on my mother´s side, a Spaniard thanks to my dad and proficient in the British culture, having attended a British school for over 10 years. The bilingual advantage is huge, especially when it comes to having command of the two most widely spoken languages in the world (Chinese is a whole different story, since it´s spoken mainly in China).

Being successfully bilingual is not something I´ve achieved on my own, of course. I owe it to my dad, who also has this advantage. He owes that to himself, however, since he traveled to the U.S. when he was 16, went to college here and then was a university professor, after obtaining his PhD in Spain. When we moved from the U.S. to Spain my father, who is now a lexicographer (he compiles dictionaries single-handedly, without the help of teams or helpers), he took on the challenge of teaching my sister and me two languages and doing it well. The result is that I´ve made a good living as a language interpreter and that I´m able to translate a text in the same amount of time that it would take me to copy it in the original language. I can read the great American authors in English and the Spanish classics in Spanish.

Being bilingual and bicultural opens your mind, opens doors and even your heart. You are able to conceive of more concepts when you speak more than one language, since there are concepts that only exist in one language. You also “get” other bilingual and bicultural people. It´s a sub-culture that only the like-minded understand and builds instant rapport.

I now know how difficult it is to make your kids bilingual, because up until now I haven´t had the support, the time, energy nor the means to devote myself to teaching my kids Spanish the way they deserve to be taught. But, it´s not too late and I want them to have the same advantage that my dad gave to my brother, sisters and me.

Besides, my father, Delfín Carbonell Basset, has devoted his entire life to teaching English, with his learning system and his master classes. He is a great teacher, a rarity …

In an upcoming post I will speak about his blog On the English Language and his other successes that have nothing to do with my being bilingual.

If you speak more than one language, share that skill with your kids. It is the best gift you can give them!



  1. I enjoy reading responses to your posts when they're in Spanish. I'm not bilingual. But I want to learn how to speak and write Spanish. Writing is much easier, but I don't know how readers would perceive my message. Do you speak and write the Queen's English? Do Europeans speak and write the Queen's English? Do Peruvians speak the Queen's English?
    I want to take you a bit further. I want to be multilingual and multi-script-able.
    Such as Chinese, Japanese and Arabian script.
    Did I convey it correctly?
    Tomorrow, I'm going on a Field Trip to the San Emigdio Mtns. I'm a Geology student at Bakersfield College, Kern County CA. The class is going to look at different earthquake faults in Southern Cal., in places such as Frazier Park and Pine Mtn. Club. It's possible that I might find a gem, not probable, though. Anyway, I'll tell you about the trip on a post.
    One of these days I'm going to respond to your Father, Delfin.

  2. You`ve forgotten to mention that ever since we came to Spain we have been speaking English among ourselves and have never exchanged one word, not one, in Spanish! In English we have argued, shouted, joked, teased one another, comforted one another... and for us to use Spanish would sound false, untrue, funny, strange. Quite a feat. Of course you people helped me a lot and were always eager to learn English and so my task was easy, really. I have to thank you because for me this language business was very important. If you had not mastered English I would have considered myself a failure and I would have never lived it down... so THANK YOU! In that respect, you made my life! Delfin

  3. Thank you Matt and thank you daddy, for your comments. Let´s see if I can make it happen with the girls. No small feat.