Raising a bilingual child

November article for the Parents centre newsletter

This photo was taken at Volendam while 
we were in Holland last year

I was lucky that I was raised in a bilingual household and I would like to pass this onto my children. This can all be a bit overwhelming especially when you are trying to work out what to teach your children in one language let alone in two languages. I actually thought it would be more difficult to raise a bilingual child but I basically only speak Dutch to John during the day and when Mr Ecochick is home we speak English though Mr Ecochick does speak a few Dutch words so he’ll use these as well. I was a little worried that John would understand one language more than the other as he tends to hear Dutch more (my parent’s also speak Dutch to him when he is with them) but at 15 months there is nothing wrong with his understanding of either language. Though he does understand Dutch more than English but once he goes to school he’ll pick up English really quickly so we’re focusing more on teaching him Dutch (I didn’t speak English till I was about 5 or 6 when we moved to New Zealand). I don’t really do anything special except use one language more than the other and he appears to be picking both languages up. I have noticed that he has stopped speaking all together (which I am told is normal in bilingual children) but his communication and listening skills have vastly improved with age so I know he’ll speak when he is ready.
We’re also going to go to a Dutch playgroup so John can play with other children and hear them speak Dutch as well as sing songs and take part in traditional Dutch holidays and festivities. I’m trying to incorporate as many Dutch traditions along with the English ones so John has a good basis of both cultures and thus languages. John has a Dutch passport and so being able to speak Dutch will open a lot of doors for him when he is older. We read Dutch and English books together and sing songs in both languages; his favourite one happens to be a Dutch song. If you happen to have a bilingual household I think it’s a fantastic gift to pass your native language and culture onto your children. Speaking for myself they will thank you later in life.

2 thoughts on “Raising a bilingual child

  1. October 25, 2011 at 8:54 am

    How wonderful that you’re making it a priority for John. I recently did a Parents Inc Toolbox course with an Indian couple and they both told us how much they wished their parents had taught them their native language. They really regret not being able to converse with grandparents and other family members back in India.

    Just think, because John is learning Dutch now, he’ll be able to pass it on to his children too. If he didn’t learn it, chances are that they wouldn’t learn it either. It’s a wonderful legacy you’re protecting. Good on you.

  2. October 26, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    Yes I agree with Emma. Also languages open the door to increased abilities in mathematics and music, and knowing two languages makes it even easier to learn more – it sort of unlocks the brains ability to process new languages.

    Well done you!

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