Saturday, 15 June 2013

Raising Bilingual Kids in the Netherlands

Yesterday my son came home from school pulling a red suitcase on wheels behind him. The "logeerkoffer" as it's called in school. The lucky recipient of the case gets to choose a favourite book and any objects or toys related to the book and put them in the case to take back to school the next day. Then the child talks about the book, and the teacher reads a paragraph or two to the whole class.

Last time my son brought the case home he chose the Dutch version of The Gruffalo and took cuddly toys of the Gruffalo, the mouse and a snake to accompany the book.

This time he chose a book that he is constantly dipping in to and although not really a bedtime story book, asks me regularly to read it at night as he's tucked up in bed in his pyjamas. The book "My Day at the Zoo" by Terry Jennings was accompanied by a very wide assortment of stuffed toys representing animals that could perceivably be found in a zoo. His first statement whilst he filled up the case was,

"I know what "My Day at the Zoo" is in Dutch!" and when the deputy head, chatting to him in the corridor in school, asked him this morning which book he had tucked away in the case he effortlessly replied,

"Mijn Dag in de Dierentuin"

Of course, the most interesting point is that my son took an English book to his Dutch school and I was curious what the teacher would do.  When my son came home at lunchtime he said he told the class about the book and the juf had read from the page about dolphins out to the class. In English. Trying to get any further information from him has proved fruitless but he did say she didn't translate the bit she read, and some of the children in his class (group 2) can count in English. 

I realised today that raising my children to be bilingual in the Netherlands (at least with English & Dutch in any case) is a far easier job than it would be if we lived in Britain. English as a second language is very normal here - it's just that my children have a head start. 


  1. Oh yes, for that very reason I wish English was my mother tongue as the chances of succesfully raising bilingual children are much higher. If you speak English, it is accepted. I wish the acceptance was as high for other languages even if they're not so popular, or even when the teacher doesn't speak it.

  2. My son's teacher is very good in this regard - embraces second languages in the group (although there are only a couple of children who are bilingual), talks about them & has asked them to share a song in other languages even if she doesn't speak the language herself. Very sweet & the kids love it.

  3. This was very interesting to read. I have a similar experience in that I am British but I live in Brazil and we are bringing up a two-year-old to be bilingual. It seems that the wider society here is very encouraging, but I wonder whether this woud be the same if we spoke a less popular language than English.

  4. You are probably right in your comments about the second language being English. But nonetheless great that your son's teacher has such a positive approach to biligualism.