Stay updated! Subscribe to our Newsletter

Raising Bilingual Children


Few English-speaking expat parents arriving in Holland consider the benefits of bilingualism and encouraging their children to integrate into the Dutch social environment.

Many parents are afraid of the myth that bilingualism may delay speech development in the home language and cause confusion in their children’s linguistic progress. Some think that it’s not “worth it” for only 4 years. They therefore opt to put their children in English-language education / playgroups, minimizing the opportunites for their children to learn Dutch.

But experts denounce such fears. They believe there are numerous advantages to raising bilingual children and strongly advocate exposing children to the Dutch or a second language (in otherwise monolingual expat families) as young as possible. Even babies of 4 months have demonstrated the ability distinguish between two languages.

Experts emphasizes that all our babies’ brains are cross-cultural, because of their sensitivity and flexibility to sounds, grammar etc. and can therefore acquire any language to which they are adequately exposed. Experts warn that children need fixed language affinities, and therefore parents must undertake the process with forethought and planning. However, done properly, almost any child can become a successful bilingual or learn even 3 languages.

Another important consideration is the time frame in which bilingualism develops. “Simultaneous bilingualism”, occurs where two or more languages are acquired, as opposed to learned, generally before the age of five. After this critical early period, languages are more actively learned, in a process called “sequential bilingualism”.It would be great if all our kids could start learning a second language early – it’s so natural!

“Going Dutch” with your kids…

How could parents achieve this? There are numerous options, for example: have a Dutch student come and babysit your young child, speaking and reading in Dutch only. Sending your baby to a Dutch gast-ouder or crèche for a day (or more) a week is a possible way of introducing this second language. For children of 2.5yrs, there are many Dutch peuterspeelzaalen PSZ (toddler play schools) all over The Hague welcoming international children. Best of all, they come at a fraction of a cost compared with the English play schools (€115 per month for 3 x 3 hour sessions per week = €3.20 an hour for the Dutch PSZ). Children acquire (not learn) Dutch so fast when immersed – it’s exciting and fantastic. They learn spontaneously.

The benefits: When parents consider the benefits of raising bilingual children…First, it’s the social reasons. Kids can communicate with each-other at the playground or on the street as they play around or kick a ball… and make more new friends. Your kids won’t be excluded if they also speak and understand (some) Dutch. They can ask for “eenplakjekaas / worst” (a slice of cheese / sausage) at the cheese shop or butcher. Monolingual kids could miss out on these special Dutch cultural treats.

Current research shows that there are definite cognitive, or learning benefits, to bilingualism. Some of the benefits include language accommodation, sematic sensitivity and a better ability for abstract concepts.

A further benefit is that once a child acquires a second language, he / she develops competences that will be beneficial for future language learning. Therefore, bilingual children grow into adults who can more easily learn third and fourth languages.

Seminars on Child Bilingualism

Passionate Parenting has been offering regular seminars and workshops on child bilingualism for over five years. In these seminars, an expert addresses three critical areas: theory of bilingualism, practice of child bilingualism, and common concerns in child bilingualism.

Many parents leave the 2 hour child bilingualism seminar with a new commitment to their children’s bilingual journey, but still have questions about how to best facilitate it. Parents raising children with more than one language have many decisions to make regarding language input, maintenance, and literacy, and need to think out the long-term consequences of the choices available to them.

Language Planning Consultations

Passionate Parenting is now offering consultations with an expert in which parents will have the opportunity to establish a workable language plan for their families. They will receive guidance in all the steps of the process.

To register for a discounted 1.5 hour exclusive “Language Planning Consultation”, please click here. The cost is €165 (less €15 for Passionate Parenting customers = €150 per family).

This expert holds a BA in English language education, and an MA in Applied Linguistics.  She is a *ESL/EFL lecturer and consultant and has been a practising teacher and teacher trainer for 17 years, mainly in Canada and in France. She has in-depth training in bilingual education and issues related to child bilingualism, from both theoretical and practical perspectives. Her other work includes research on motivation in language learning, curriculum development and teacher training for bilingual schools.

Also active in several professional organizations, and is a regular speaker at conferences relating to English teaching and learning. Her children are growing up Trilingual. In addition, she gives regular seminars and consultations on child bilingualism for Passionate Parenting: Education in The Hague and other organizations throughout the Netherlands.

*ESL (English as a Second Language) and EFL (English as a Foreign Language)