20 Aug Ricky Magee, Founder of Next Level English
Bilingual children will struggle to get English education at public schools in Spain – Ricky Magee
Ricky Magee is an educator who built an online learning platform for children aged 3-12 after struggling to get good English education for his children in Spain.
Next Level English
He says many expat, immigrant or bilingual families in Spain can find it tough to access advanced English classes for kids through the public school system.
He says his children have been asked to keep their hands down in school, as there’s no education pathway for bilingual children.
Many families can’t afford private schools, and so there’s a ‘gap of learning and a missed opportunity’ to develop literacy, vocabulary and confidence at a young age.
Ricky, who hails from Portstewart in Northern Ireland, built Next Level English to provide affordable, live & online English classes for children aged 3-12.
Monthly course rates start from 50e a month to build your child’s confidence, proficiency and literacy in spoken & written English.
Learning is project-driven with an online Learning Management System and classes contain innovative special effects, interactive games and books from the Oxford Learning tree.
Classes are in groups of no more than 6 children.
About Ricky Magee
Ricky Magee has nearly 20 years’ experience in youth education and technology.
He has taught English online & offline in the UK, the Middle East and Spain.
A self-confessed ‘tech nerd’ Ricky built Next Level English as a fun, interactive and successful learning platform for bilingual children.
He says Next Level English’s special effects are a world first in online English education for kids.
His goal is to deliver educational value through fun, intuitive and engaging tools that will help children maintain their heritage language and thrive in their proficiency.
He is a father of 2 trilingual children and lives in Barcelona, Spain.
Find Out More
[00:00] MumAbroad: Welcome to MumAbroad’s YouTube channel, I’m joined today by Ricky Magee, a dad, a leader and facilitator. Ricky is originally from Northern Ireland. He’s been working in youth education and technology for nearly 20 years in the UK, the Middle East and now in Spain. His passion for the English language and his journey as an educator and father has been the driving force behind launching his own platform Next Level English, which facilitates the best possible experience for the child and the parents. His goal is to deliver educational value through fun, intuitive and engaging tools that will help children maintain their heritage language and thrive in their proficiency. Hi Ricky.
Ricky: Hi Jane, very nice to see you and thank you for inviting me.
[00:55] MumAbroad: No, thank you for joining me. Ricky let’s start with the Spanish education system to have a little bit of an overview. For anyone with children who are about to start in a school in Spain and are not familiar with the system can you give a brief overview of the situation for learning English in state schools?
Ricky: So, in Spain the curriculum’s taught in Spanish and we’re here in Barcelona and here the curriculum’s taught in Catalan and the second language that is offered to children is really aimed at second language learners, so you know they begin in school and they start with the basics. You know, colours, numbers, etc. In Barcelona there’s a very good selection of different types of school and we’re fortunate enough to be in an area with a higher population of English-speaking expats and we were looking for schools which have more of a focus on English than others. We were fortunate to find a school which brings in a native teacher once a week, which is not common in other public schools but that all stopped last March 2020. Since then, it’s really been a struggle to get the English education that my son needs, my children are multilingual, 4 and 6 years old, and we’ve been searching for extra opportunities for their learning at an advanced level, but there’s very little in the way to support that.
[02:40] MumAbroad: What options are there for families that want to raise their children bilingually?
Ricky: The options vary quite widely depending on where you’re situated. If you’re in an urban centre, large expat communities there are quite a lot of things we can do starting from a very young age, you have many bilingual nurseries which have native teachers and supervisors and lots of English activity groups, English playgroups, English painting groups, singing groups and things like that, so in urban centres there’s definitely more. Once you start to head out of the centres there’s really very little in the way of the English community playgroups and things like that. With regards to education, so once children start in primary school there are options of really at the very top level are the private schools which teach almost exclusively in English with Spanish as an additional language then you have the bilingual concertadas, semi-private schools, which offer English at a bilingual level to varying degrees of success, and then the public school system. I think for many people the financial burden of private education is really it’s not an option, and it seems that we have this opportunity for studying and learning English right at the top level to get the highest level of English and then there’s really not much between that and the public education system. There’s a real gap there of learning and a missed opportunity for many bilingual kids in Spain.
[04:40] MumAbroad: Next Level English came about when you realised that your own children needed regular interaction with other native English speakers. Can you tell us a little bit about your personal situation, your family situation, the languages that your children speak and so on?
Ricky: So really it’s very clear to me that the amount of exposure that children have to a language is key to cementing that used and and building their confident in communicating with others. Our bilingual journey really began as soon as our children were born. I have two boys who are 4 and 6, my wife is from Alicante she speak Spanish and Valenciano, very similar to Catalan and it’s been really a very proactive effort from both of us, so Mark my eldest son, he speaks fluently in Spanish and Catalan, he’s a machine, it’s amazing when he knows a person speaks Catalan he pops into Catalan, if he’s seeing someone speaking English he pops into English. He’s mastered now that at 6 years old, which is phenomenal. My younger son speaks mostly in English, he has been in Catalan nursery and he’s had a full year in P3 and still speaks mostly in English but he’s starting to use more Spanish and Catalan obviously since his friends at school are like that but really we’re at the the point now where I can sometimes the frustration from my son with regards to his English class. He told me a few weeks ago he said ‘Daddy, why do I have to go to English class?’ It’s just not compatible with where he is in his language at the minute. Which is such a shame, it’s difficult for a teacher I can appreciate to manage, you have a class of mostly Spanish children and you have one boy who’s fluent, but when it comes to my son’s putting his hand up, and the teacher’s like ‘put your hand down’ this sort of thing it’s not going to encourage him to develop his English at an advanced level. So this is where we are now. So Mark, both my boys are in my classes with other groups of children from different parts of Spain. We actually went international a couple of weeks ago with a british family from Germanyso they are moving to the UK next year and really want to bringtheir daughter up to speed with practising English at a native level regularly.
[07:25] MumAbroad: You really have to cater for so many different types of children levels of of English ability, even if they are native English speakers they’re still going to have different levels of ability depending on how much access they have to the language outside of school let’s assume that children are in the public school system. So like in your situation one of the parents speaks English at home you have other situations were both of the parents speak English at home and then it depends on the friends that they have outside of school, sometimes you might find another foreign family and the children can speak English together, or not. It’s quite a complicated situation, isn’t it?
Ricky: It really is, we have parents from all types of backgrounds and have come from manydifferent countries and the overriding, the majority of the family who are in touch with ushave one parent who’s a native speaker and another parent who’s Spanish.We do have other families where both parents are native speakers and then we have a few families as wellwhere both of the parents are Spanish speakers but are really keen to raise their childrento be bilingual because they see the importance of having English at a native leveland not just at a spoken level but also to be literate as well. We have two families from Mexicoand they’re very keen for their children to speak in English.
[09:00] MumAbroad: It’s great, it’s a very international community. It says on your website that your greatest challenge today is to getting your boys to read and write confidently in English. How are you stepping up to that challenge?
It’s really been quite fun so I’m quite an experienced teacher I’ve been teaching English for over 12 years, so anything to do with teaching, really it’s all about having fun. With children that are young, it has to be fun, it’s the most important thing, it has to be fun and engaging. I’ve been working with a lot of educational technology tools over the last 4 or 5 years and I’ve been creating little games that are really whatever language we’re focusing on at the minute, these are what he uses to practice. At the minute he’s reading short words in English and reading simple story books. We have access, through Next Level English, to the Oxford Reading tree which is a series of graded reading story books used by about 80% of schools in the UK and really this is what we use to begin native speakers in their reading. So these resources have been great and I’ve been adapting them and adding quizzes to support them and really to get the most out of the stories we’ve been reading. There’s a huge variety, there’s over 800 books from fiction to non-fiction and Mark feels so proud when he finishes a book, a full book from start to finish without any help, it’s really a strong sense of self achievement. So that’s coming on really well, my youngest son Liam, he’s 4, he’s now mastered the alphabet he’s beginning to learn the sounds of letters, his vocabulary’s fantastic even some scientific vocabulary he comes out with. He was in a row boat in Barcelona with my mum, his grandparents the boat was losing its balance a bit and he said ‘Nana, come and sit over here as a counterweight’ and he’s 4 years’ old and he’s coming out with stuff like this. and he’s 4 years’ old and he’s coming out with stuff like this. It’s amazing, and some of the things they come out with are fantastic and I’m really pleased with their progress, specifically in their reading, I think it’s the most challenging thing. A lot of parents raising bilingual children it’s easier to speak to them and try to find other English-speaking friends but the trickiest part is to introduce them to literacy.
[12:00] MumAbroad: Ricky, you talk a bit about children need to learn in a fun environment and you specifically want to teach English in a fun and intuitive way through your platform. Do you think that’s why your platform stands out from the many others that are out there?
Ricky: 100%, from the start, especially as it’s an online platform keeping the children’s attention is key. So, number one, I go back to the days of when Sesame Street was started. Sesame Street began in 1969 it was aimed at improving literacy for inner city kids. As part of their research and their studies, the most important thing for them that they identified was to keep the children’s attention. You could have the best teacher in the world the best resources in the world, but if you can’t hold their attention it’s very difficult. So we have quite a few techniques that we use in order to keep children’s attention and to enable their learning. First of all we have our special effects. We’re the first company to use special effects. We have our interactive games which we make, we make them in-house, they’re all tailor made. We have a safe, secure, learning management system which parents and children connect to, where they can access further games and further interactive activities and also have direct contact with their teacher in case of any problems and regular feedback on how they’re performing. We have our huge selection of e-books from the Oxford Reading Tree which will enable us to specifically allocate certain levels of books which are appropriate for the child’s current ability, and then lastly we work in small groups of children, up to 6. So starting with the special effects, you can see a little example over here what we do with our special effects, it allows us to really transport the students to different environments. As part of the softwares we use we have a lot of pop-up images. In my class just before now we were looking at the alphabet so you can pop up images and manipulate them on the screen very quickly and it’s incredibly visual for the children. The first thing is that really holds their attention, having these bright visual colours really works, so there’s never just you know the teacher talking and the children listening it’s very interactive and also lots of get-up-and-go activities, the kids are never sat in the chair for the entire class so that works really well. We’ve had really positive feedback from the interactive games and it really enables us to get the most out of the materials and themes that we’re exploring in order to reinforce and solidify that learning. The learning management system is a safe, secure and it’s very child-friendly, it’s designed for young kids where they can manage the application themselves, so they go in they see the latest projects that they have and it can be anything from a photography challenge where they take a picture through the app and then do a little audio recording explaining what they’re taking a picture of they can make a short video of a craft that they’re doing, we have interactive exercises where they can draw and paint and practise letters or colour in and then going as well to the customised educational interactive activities that we create for them. It really takes the learning outside of the classroom and allows them to have the asynchronous learning where they’re reinforcing what they’re learning and having extra practice outside of the time they’re meeting up with me. The Oxford Reading Tree we’ve been hugely successful with, it’s a really popular reading series in the UK with very colourful designs and very well written stories with an aim to introducing language and phonetics and teaching kids how to form their own words in English, which is tricky because it’s a difficult language especially growing up in Spain they’re learning the Spanish pronunciation which is very easy, every letter is pronounced as it looks so a lot of success with that so far.
[16:35] MumAbroad: Ricky, I know that you’ve developed a community for families who want to increase their children’s exposure to English where you are in Barcelona. How important do you think it is for parents to have this kind of support?
Ricky: I think it’s hugely important, I have my own names for my children’s language learning but a lot of the parents that have contacted us have given all sorts of reasons for wanting to increase their exposure. So just to give an example of a few families so a few families living in satellite towns outside of Barcelona where they really don’t have any kind ofEnglish community to interact with them forthe child have any other exposure than just from one parent, and it’s difficultwhen you only have it coming from one person for that language come out and we’ve seenand we’ve seen one specific parent, he’s an English teacher yet his child isreally not speaking a lot of English because he just doesn’t have that exposure.Other reasons have been that really they just don’t have the local resources.In Barcelona we have bilingual nurseriesbut in many other parts of the country there’s very limited access to extra resources like this.As well, a lot of parents, and it’s an overriding message from parentsthey want their kids to be as native as possible and in their current educationtheir current school, whatever their situation is, they’re not getting that level that they’re trying to achieve.
[18:15] MumAbroad: Ricky how do you see the platform developing in the next few months and the next few years?
It’s a great question, and it’s something I’m really excited about so we’ve applied for some EU funding. There’s some help available at the moment for specifically companies and start-ups focusing on bilingual education so we’re really hopeful for that and that will really help us drive and and offer the service to more parents, but also I can see us as well evolving into other foreign languages so for example we’ve been contacted by Spanish families living in the UK who would like to maintain their children’s exposure to Spanish as a native language, there’s also a Russian family who’s been in contact so they like the platform and they said ‘could we have this in our own language as well?’ We’re definitely, our vision is to really support bilingual education for all families. We are getting a lot of contacts as well for second language learners. So this is definitely another avenue to explore. It’s really the platform is very versatile and it’s really engaging for young children so we would like to offer it every child. Really our passion is in teaching language and being able to do it in a fun, enjoyable way that the kids can really relate to and want to come back to again and again. So we do have visions for the future to offer more languages.
[19:50] And just to finish Ricky, how can parents join your community and start taking advantage of the services that you offer?
Ricky: They’re welcome to follow us on Facebook and Instagram we have regular updates and tips for parents raising bilingual children in Spain, and if they’d like to join one of our courses just visit our website you can either have a free trial if you’re not sure about online or if you’ve had bad experiences before please do try us out because we are totally different from anything else that you’ve ever tried. It’s very easy, we will schedule you with a group of a similar level. Next Level English is all about the level of the child’s English, rather than the age. So we find the best group for you and at the minute we’re offering extracurricular courses which run from after school or this lunch time slot if you take a break during that time. We’d be very happy to talk with any parents even if you want to discuss your current situatio any tips and advice we’re always happy to share, and working on making it known that this service exists for parents and that there is another option between private education and public education.
[21:05] MumAbroad: I think it’s really needed here in Spain. So I’m going to put along the bottom your website address. That’s www.nextlevelenglish.es and people can take a look at the services that you offer there and there they will also find your contact details.
MumAbroad: So thank you very much for joining me today Ricky.
Ricky: Thank you so much, it’s been a pleasure and enjoy the rest of your summer holidays.
MumAbroad: Thank you.