Why we are raising bilingual kids.

17 May 2017

Dear friend,

I have been living in Holland for over 10 years and I still find speaking Dutch a challenge in certain situations but according to Carder's definition (2007) I am bilingual.  I have...

The ability to use two (or more) languages in certain contexts and for certain purposes.
My children are more equal bilinguals, speaking Dutch and English well and reading well in both languages too. I feel proud when I hear them flipping between languages and speaking just as fluently with Dutch or English friends and family. But last weekend someone challenged my thinking... He questioned why I was raising my kids to be bilingual and even went as far to tell me they would have problems in the future. Was he right? I don't think so!

1) We get to share our language. 

When my kids were born I did not have a choice of language I only spoke English. I read lots of books about bilingualism and Hubby and I discussed how we wanted to raise our kids and we opted for the one parent one language approach.

2) We get to share our culture. 

I do this through my language: the rhymes, poems, songs and stories from my own childhood. These things help to form our cultural identity and make us who we are.

I think that to feel at home in your host country you should learn the language (7 reasons to speak dutch) but I never really anticipated how strongly I would want to "hang onto" my own language and culture, to remain true to myself. It is difficult to find a balance between fitting in and remaining you!

3) Our kids can speak with everyone in their family.

I believe it is very important that children have a strong bond with their family and I must admit that I did not want to be their translator every trip home.

4) English is a high value language.

Learning and speaking English in Holland will be of benefit to my kids in the future. I am lucky that my language is highly valued (they will learn English at school) some migrants are still being encouraged to drop their home language in favour of the host country language (especially if their children have any kind of special need).

5) It is easier to learn language at a younger age, preferable from birth.

Note that I didn't say easy, kids are not little sponges, they need to work hard at learning any language. But learning from a young age is certainly easier and being bilingual is just part of who we are.

6) The research tells us that bilingualism is good.

In all honesty, as a professional (I read the books on bilingualism) I knew it had benefits and I never agonised over or doubted any of our choices. We did think about our long term future and we made choices based on what mattered to us, not based on data. But if being bilingual can make my kids smarter, fight off Alzheimer's or improve memory then fantastic!

7) Being bilingual can improve communication and widen social circles.

We ignored the "experts" advice to raise our son as a monolingual, we knew he could learn 'despite' his autism. In fact, I believe being bilingual has improved his communication as he has two vocabulary banks so two frames of reference to help him understand his world. It has also exposed him to more people and different experiences.

You can never understand one language until you understand at least two. - Geoffrey Willans

I am immensely proud of my bilingual family. We can borrow from two amazing cultures and have lots of fun with our languages. My boys are open to new experiences and different ideas therefore they have a wide view of the world. But essentially we are just being us...

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Photography @My_Dutch_Angle

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