by Lianne Bergeron
My kids speak “D’English”, a twist on the word “Franglais” that we used to describe speaking French and English at the same time, when I grew up. D’English is our word for Dutch and English bilingualism.
I was raised in French and English. My mother is the English Canadian, my father the French one. We went to school in French, spoke to my dad in French, TV was English, Mom was English, friends were both. It happened without effort. We lived in a bilingual city. Every one we knew was bilingual.
Now I live in Holland. I’ve mastered the Dutch language (yes, congratulations are in order…) but I am and will always be Canadian, which means we are raising our kids in English and in Dutch. But it’s a bit trickier than it was where I grew up – here, everyone only speaks Dutch; schools are Dutch, friends are Dutch, daily life is Dutch.
My kids speak English very well, despite the fact that we are in Canada only once a year. Their accents are pretty good, vocabulary right up there. People (the Dutch) are amazed at how easily the kids switch from one language to the other.
So how do we do it?
1. I speak English 100% of the time to the kids; my husband speaks Dutch with them. I am anal about it, he isn’t, meaning that he also speaks and reads in English on occasion.
2. TV time is almost 100% in English. We get English channels and I ensure that we have enough English videos.
3. We have English listening CD’s and music in the car, which not only entertains them, it adds to their English vocabulary.
4. I read in English at night which has meant that they start off on the wrong foot at school with Dutch reading but my 8 year old son has caught up and now reads in 2 languages.
5. Yearly trips to Canada solidify the languages.
6. At the diner table, the language is a mix of English and Dutch though the kids are always consistent with the language they are speaking in. They always address me in English and their father in Dutch.
7. When the kids “Dutch” friends are here – I still address my kids in English then repeat for the others in Dutch.
This may sound like a lot, but it’s condensed into small pockets of time every day, especially now that they all bring friends home to play and therefore spend less time with me.
They say that raising bilingual kids means a delay in speech in the first years. I didn’t experience this though I don’t question the experts. Kids are able learn languages almost by osmosis during their young years. They are like sponges. Take advantages of that!
I also believe that if you grow up bilingual that you can learn additional languages much more easily.
Now, I’m testing out my theory in practice. I’m teaching English for Lunch – a program I’ve set up at school to teach Dutch 4-7 year-olds.
Here are some great resources on how to raise a bilingual child.
I read a number of books before our son was born, I read articles and follow blogs on this subject as well. What I’ve learned is that being consistent is key and that at the end of the day, whatever you do has to work for you and has to feel right. Otherwise it will be unnatural and hard to keep up.
But that piece of advice is really about everything we do isn’t it?
Lianne Bergeron is an author and entrepreneur who lives and works near Amsterdam with her Dutch husband and four kids. She’ll share her life abroad without family support, kids that speak Denglish and traditions that aren’t hers. Life with four kids and 10 bikes and her on-going quest to balance it all on her bicycle built for six. Follow her on Twitter and read more about her books at LiannesQuickGuide.com.