I am a great advocate for bringing your kids up bilingually. I believe bilingual children have a massive advantage in later life.
In the beginning it can be hard work and you may ask yourself if it is fair on the kids that they should have to work harder than other kids of their own age.With two different languages going on in their heads there is always the danger that it initially may give them a slight disadvantage at school (every child is different, some sail through everything with ease whilst for others it is more of a challenge).
Starting Too Late
We made the mistake of not starting with the bilingual thing until we moved to the Netherlands (I was quite frustrated actually as I wanted their dad to speak Dutch with them from word go but my hubby let my daughter win, she was very stubborn and ignored him and refused to reply in Dutch so he just carried on speaking English with her).
So our eldest daughter was only spoken to in English until she was nearly four.
We really threw her in at the deep end as she started school knowing very little Dutch, we were amazed how quickly she picked it up, her ease with the language and pronunciation was ten times better than myself.
Despite only speaking English with her when we lived in the UK we did always expose her to Dutch through the use of Dutch language videos such as Bumba, K3 (well these are Flemish actually) and visits to/from family.
Due to the delay in her learning Dutch she still is slightly behind with her classmates with regard to her vocabulary which is not as rich as other kids her age. When she is playing I often hear her asking friends what certain words mean.
Refusing To Speak In Class
For the first four years she also refused to give answers to the teachers when asked direct questions and put on the spot. Luckily now she is in group 5 she has managed to overcome this with the help from her current teachers, who have managed to make her more comfortable and less self-conscious when giving answers.
Our Bilingual Kids Five Years On ..
On a day-to-day basis you would not notice this as she speaks at very fast pace, selecting words out of her own vocabulary. People who aren’t aware she wasn’t born here do not hear any difference in her spoken language to any other Dutch child.
My eldest daughter who is now 8 does very well with her English, her vocabulary and understanding is very good but her grammar can sometimes be a bit shaky with irregular verbs, she tends to either add regular verb endings on to words or add the Dutch ‘ge’ prefix to change a word into past tense.
I have never showed her how to read English as I thought it would be too confusing whilst she was still learning all the Dutch phonics but she amazingly is able to read pretty well in English just knowing the language very well and using her natural instincts.
Beginning As A Baby
Our youngest who is 5 is ‘a different kettle of fish’, her English is far from perfect, whilst understanding every word I say to her, her English grammar is not always the best and she mixes her sentences with Dutch and English. I try to correct her constantly and pretend I don’t understand the Dutch words but this gets very tiring.
At school however she does not use a word of English in her sentences and the teacher says she speaks perfect Dutch. She is now learning to read and she is finding this easier than her older sister did as her Dutch is more developed than her sister was at that age and she finds it easier to sound out the words using the Dutch phonics.
The language thing is an ongoing journey for us and I am constantly working to help my girls feel comfortable in both languages.
What are your views on raising children bilingually?
I’d love to hear from anybody else who is thinking of raising their children bilingually or anyone who would like to share their own experiences and perhaps have advice or tips on helping to raise bilingual kids.
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