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If you have a foreign partner, then you’re probably keen to raise bilingual children… but what exactly is the best way to go about this? In actual fact, as most children pick up a second language extremely easily, there are only really a few things you need look out for.
The best way to raise bilingual children is by always using your mother tongue from the moment that they are born. So, if your partner is Dutch and you’re English for example, then your partner should always speak to your children in Dutch, while you only converse with them in English. You’ll soon notice just how quickly your children learn to communicate with each of you in your own language and thus come into regular contact with both languages in a fun and natural way. If your child begins to talk to you in your partner’s language by mistake, try not to correct them. Instead simply respond in English, as this way you’ll gently encourage them to continue the conversation in English. It’s definitely not advisable to respond in a language that you’ve not fully mastered yourself, as this can create problems.
It’s also important to expose your children to both languages equally, and in as many different scenarios as possible. So don’t just use English when you’re getting the kids dressed and ready for school, as this will extremely limit their vocabulary. And if either you or your partner are away from home for extended periods of time, then their expertise in that language may quickly decline. To prevent this from happening, ask another family member (fluent in the desired language) to step in. Encourage your children to speak regularly with them either in person, or if they live abroad, on the telephone or via Skype.
Some children learn a second language almost effortlessly whilst others prefer to stick to the language that they are most proficient in. This is entirely normal and its best to do nothing other than remain consistent by always responding in your native language. As your children get older they are far more likely to communicate in the language they use on a daily basis at school. This is nothing to worry about and rather a positive sign that they are learning to fully integrate!
Prefer to read this article in Dutch? Then why not visit our sister blog, heimwee.info, specifically intended for Dutch emigrants abroad?