Sunday, 5 February 2012

Bilingualism in Kids, Government Clinics and Codswallop

Bilingualism in the Netherlands: A good or bad thing?
A recent article about bringing bilingual children up on Radio Netherlands Worldwide intrigued me. well actually, it maddened me a little. It reported something, in my eyes at least, that seems like nonsense - that a child should be brought up with only one language. This is according to 'scientists' and relayed through 'government clinics'.

First of all, the concept of government clinics baffled me. What the hell is a Dutch government clinic? This turned out to be the consultatiebureau, which sounds a lot less sinister than government clinic.

For parents out there living in the Netherlands, you will already be familiar with the consultatiebureau. It's a kind of local health centre for children aged 0 to 4. The nurses and doctors there check a child's development, administer vaccinations and refer children to specialists when necessary. It's funded by the government, hence the title of government clinic in this article I assume.

Secondly, and more importantly, the idea that it is better to bring your child up speaking and learning one language and not more is rubbish. In my humble opinion that is. My eldest son speaks Dutch as his mother tongue but speaks English too. It has gone through waves over the year which language he prefers to talk in and which excels. Since he started school his Dutch is stronger and his preferred language and we work at English together. My 21 month old understands instructions in both English and Dutch.

The article states that linguists also disagree that children should focus on one language only. Research has proven bilingualism is good for the brain!

The thing that I really don't understand from this article is that the staff at the consultatiebureau I visit here in Zoetermeer has done nothing but encourage, give advice and praise bringing up my children so they can speak both Dutch and English. It gives them an advantage, so they have said. And I agree. In fact, to go a step further, the advice is for me to speak English (and therefore not pass on my mistakes in Dutch to my children) and my husband to speak Dutch to them (and hence not pass on the notorious mistakes the Dutch make with English such as "A teacher learns you things.")

So, is it just certain areas where a second or third language is discouraged? Or are there particular languages which the consulatiebureaus would rather parents didn't pass on to their children? Is the standard of Dutch spoken by bilingual children here in the Netherlands low?

I found some information on which outlines what a consultatiebureau is and does - and one of the tasks is to ensure that children can speak Dutch. If your child is being raised here and living here for the long haul, will go to school here, then of course a child should be able to communicate in the native language. But the idea that the consultatiebureau insists that its better to bring up with just one language (and presumably then just Dutch) seems not to tally with my personal experience.

What is your experience? Have you been encouraged to speak your mother tongue with your children by the consultatiebureau? What do you think about bilingualism: good for children or not?

Incidentally, if you are thinking about raising your children to be bilingual check out tips here.


  1. I've also found the consultatiebureau to be extremely supportive of our decision to raise Kleine Munchkin bilingually. They're already giving us tips and advice and telling us the advantages, and Kleine Munchin's only 8 weeks old! I, personally think bilingualism is excellent for children (and adults too!) and wish I'd had that same opportunity. Great blog! And perfect timing for me as a new mother :)

    Tiffany, The Migrating Yankee

    1. Tiffany, congrats again and glad to hear how much you are loving your new role! I learnt French and German (and a tiny bit of Italian) in school but it's all very rusty now - so the chance to bring my kids up so that speaking at least two languages is as natural to them as brushing their teeth is a fabulous opportunity. Totally agree that bilingualism or even multilingualism is excellent for everyone! Thanks for your comment and hope this blog provides some help along the way - if there are topics on your mind let me know!

  2. Thank you Amanda for writing about your positive experiences with the consultatiebureau here in the Netherlands. I really wonder where the article of Radio Netherlands Worldwide based their information on.
    Personally I believe raising your kids bilingually is a great gift you can give your children. I am an adult third culture kid and I was raised bilingually in Africa (English and Dutch). In this "global age" I would say parents go for it!
    Have you ever visited this website: Lots of information on this topic there.

  3. Amanda congrats on your blog. It is really helpful. I am not a mother yet, but I am planning to live in the Netherlands beginning September 2012. So, as far as it concerns bilingualism, I would like my kids to speak both Dutch and Greek and I intend to raise them (when the time comes) that way!

    1. Great that you already have big plans for bilingual kids!! Good for you and good luck with the preparation for a move to the Netherlands - if you want any tips or info just give me a shout!

  4. Hey Amanda, I enjoy reading your blog and strongly identify with you! We are an Australian/Dutch family and migrated here three years ago. Our kids were then 9,7 and 4 and none of them spoke a word of Dutch upon landing. We have never visited the consultatiebureau but all our children are immersed in school and have of course visited the school huisarts. The school was/is very supportive of helping our children learn Dutch and extra help was very necessary for dutch spelling! Our eldest is now 12 and is fluent in both reading and writing in both languages but continues to have problems with dutch spelling, I would say his moedertaal remains English. Our middle child is now 10 and she is fluent in Dutch reading and writing but her 'woordenschat'is below average for her age, she can read Enlish and she speaks English but if she has to write English it is very average. I would say her 'moedertaal'is now Dutch. Our baby is now 7, she has struggled the most and continues to mix the two languages together eg: Mama,can I logere bij Oma tonight? She has learnt to read Dutch at school and I am teaching her to read English at home but worry for her it is confusing. As for what her 'moedertaal'is I have no idea! The kids speak English with me and Dutch with practically everybody else. This is how it will remain in our house, I am happy to speak Dutch outside of my home and manage very well in our community. However, in the privacy of my own home English will always be my language of choice!!

  5. I really identified with this post. Our kids were born in the UK to a Dutch father and Scottish mother. Since birth papa has spoken Dutch with the boys but it was only when we moved here, when they were 2 and 3 that they started to actually speak Dutch. They now show a strong preference for speaking Dutch and usually even speak Dutch to me although I continue to answer back in English. It is always a relief when we have visitors from the UK or have been home for a holiday to hear them switching back to English! DS1 is trying his hardest to remember to speak English with me, so I hope as they get older switching between the languages will become easier! I think raising kids with 2 languages is a great gift to give your children and comes with many laughs along the way. My sons were playing at a friends the other day and DS2 said 'wauw, wat is het hier toch een mes' the mother was panicking thinking he had found a knife but of course he had finished the sentence with the English meaning of 'mess' ;-)