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“Ikke tout seul bridge maken nee”: Raising Multilingual Children

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My children have a South African, English speaking father, and a Belgian, Dutch speaking mother and were born in French speaking Monaco.

From the day they were born, they were raised in these 3 languages. I remember very well the first sentence my son ever said. He was fond of playing with blocks and building bridges. I was pregnant and too tired to sit with him so he was playing on his own on the floor.

Ikke tout seul bridge maken nee!” he said loudly “I am not making that bridge alone”. His first sentence, with French, Dutch and English words in it! I thought it was so funny, I still remember it 20 years later.

When he started bi-lingual English/French kindergarten, his teachers complained that we should speak more French to him. But both of us parents stuck to speaking our native language. I would recommend this approach to any parent.

A child will learn as many languages as spoken to, but the same person should always speak the same language.

So you can’t decide to speak French with your child in the morning, and English in the afternoon.

To make matters more complicated, my kids did all their primary education in French and then went to a Flemish (Belgian Dutch) secondary school. My son is a gifted child with an IQ of 130, but he always did poorly in French. It wasn’t until he was 14, in the Flemish school, that we learned he was dyslexic.


Multilingual children

Nadine’s son Vincent (11 years old) in orange and green shirt) at Sziget Festival in Budapest. Communication was no problem, as he spoke 3 languages.

My son’s diagnosis as dyslexic was such a relief. It allowed us to understand the challenges he was facing.
Without realizing it we had given him a great advantage raising him multilingualy, as it is more difficult for dyslexic children to learn a new language.

I’ve found many teachers do not have patience for a child that is raised in a different language. Click To Tweet

I’ve found many teachers do not have patience for a child that is raised in a different language than the school language. They want you to speak the school language at home. Don’t forget your native language! No matter how few people speak it, your family does! 

My 22-year old son is happy I persisted speaking to him and teaching him different languages. He sees nothing but advantages. When he has children, he wants them to be raised in at least 2 languages.


Multilingual children

Carla (blonde hair) and the author’s daughter Maxine (strawberry blonde hair). Maxine was Carla’s first friend in French speaking kindergarten (they were 5 years old), Carla only spoke German at the time. Maxine could communicate with her because she spoke English and Dutch.

My 20- year old daughter also sees advantages. The fact that she can communicate with most people, especially when she travels (they travel a lot) is a great advantage. It’s true that even when they were young children, it was great they could talk with other tourists or with the locals, allowing them to learn more about other cultures.

The only disadvantage is that she doesn’t know any of the languages at an academic level She just finished her first year Philosophy at the University of Antwerp and she struggles with the academic vocabulary. Yet language skills improve the more you use them and her Dutch is getting better each day.

I would certainly say the advantages of knowing more languages definitely outweigh the disadvantages! Embrace the opportunity for your children to learn many languages, it will allow all of you to bridge cultures and challenges across the world.

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Nadine is a Dutch speaking Belgian. Between 1988 and 2001 she lived and worked in Spain, Morocco, Egypt, Canada, France, and Monaco. In Monaco she met the South African father of her two, now young adult, children who are currently at university and college. She has always worked for international companies, using her language skills. Now she concentrates on her artistic work: https://www.facebook.com/8ArcherDesigns/ and volunteer work with refugees, in addition to traveling. After 17 years as a single mother, raising her kids to be world citizens, she finally has time for her own dream projects!


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Séverine Perronnet
Séverine Perronnet

So great! My daughter also started mixing up languages, which is something fairly new.
I just wanted to point out that you can actually speak one language in the morning and another one in the afternoon, as long as you are consistent. I actually know of a family whose mother is bilingual, she speaks language A every other week, alternatively with language B. Her husband speaks language C, the majority language. And apparently it works.

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