Interview with Caroline Nelson, director of Viva Sing & Sign Spanish

When Caroline Nelson’s third child was born dangerously ill she gave up her teaching career and embarked on a new journey. Read how Viva Sing & Sign Spanish was born as a result.

What’s your career background?

I was head of Modern Languages in a large comprehensive in inner city London, and have 20 years of experience teaching Spanish French and German to A level.

How did your career change after having children?

With my first two I was able to teach part time. But the birth of my third and dangerously ill child meant that I was forced to embark on a completely new and unknown journey.

Where did the idea for Viva Sing & Sign Spanish come from?

Part of that journey took me to special education, where I experienced first hand how signing while speaking encourages the development of communication and language skills.

I was amazed at how effective this is for children of all ages and abilities, so I thought, why not apply this method to learning a foreign language?

How did you move from idea to actual business?

After 10 more years of working part time in various places and dividing my time between that and hospital I finally resigned as a teacher and took the appropriate training in Makaton.

I then wrote the lyrics found a musician, recording studio and set about creating Viva Sing and Sign Spanish.

What’s your USP?

Our USP is that we are the only language school which offers an opportunity for children and their parents to begin learning one of the world’s most important languages through simple but brilliant combination of singing and Makaton Signing.

Most parents have now heard of or seen the “Something Special” series on BBC, and many nurseries now offer Makaton as an integrated part of their daily programme. The beauty of this approach is that it is fully inclusive, and we offer this to all, not just those in Special Educational Needs

An example is The Name Song. We teach the sign for “what is your name?”, we sing the Name Song. We combine the two, and further on down the line, if we ask a child their name in Spanish, using the sign as a prompt, they will reply in Spanish.

Without having to intellectualise, they simply know what to say. The same goes for single words, like dog or cat. The potential is huge.

Who’s your target audience?

Children aged six months to eight years.

Viva Sing Spanish has been going from strength to strength for the past 10 years, and we now have three- phase programme in primary schools and venues throughout North West London:

  • Stage 1: “los peques” (babies/toddlers)
  • Stage 2: “los niños” (4-6 years)
  • Stage 3: “los grandes” (6-8 years)

How do you spread the word about what you do?

Mostly through word of mouth. The parents in the schools have their own fantastic network so we don’t need to advertise there.

We appear in various parent apps like Hoop, Angels and Urchins, and we are using more social media now too.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

So far word of mouth but we are now looking to expand, and will be training teachers to take the progamme further afield. So we will be using more social media/advertising/press coverage

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

My family and friends not taking this seriously – I gave up a salary and a secure pension!

There are so many language clubs out there but I believe passionately this is THE best way to learn a language quickly and easily.

Many people think of language clubs for little ones as nothing but nursery rhymes and bubbles, but I am constantly adding to the song base, which means I can ensure that the children progress with real meaning and can eventually contextualise what they have learnt.

And your proudest moment so far?

There are so many wonderful moments when everything just flows and the energy is so high, but I remember with great pride our first end of term show.

The kids were fantastic, and their accents and accuracy were just outstanding, It was after this that I realised just what a fantastic product this is.

Why is work so important to you?

Having a sick child could have meant that I could so easily become a “hospital mum”. But I need to have something else to focus on; the child eventually becomes an adult, and if you give yourself so completely and entirely to one thing, then what happens when they no longer need you?

I am also completely passionate about youngsters being given the opportunity to learn a language at a really early age.

How do you balance Viva Sing & Sign Spanish with your family?

I work term time only, and refuse to take on holiday work. my admin is done in the mornings after dropping the kids to school, and I now have an assistant, which has made huge difference.

What are your three top pieces of advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs?

  1. Don’t try and do it all yourself – play to your strengths. Stick to what you are good at and find other people to tackle the things you can’t do so well.
  2. Start small – it is better to grow organically, and preferably don’t borrow large sums of money. Have faith in your product. You started it for a reason and remember that passion.
  3. Talk to people about it all the time – it keeps the excitement new.

You can find out more about Viva Sing Spanish on their website.