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 KiesBeter.nl 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.