Expat parents often worry about their children’s Dutch (local) language development and it is right to do so. Being able to speak Dutch well and fluently is important for many reasons, particularly school achievement.
We know that competence in a language does influence our performance and success when tasks are conducted in that language. Studies comparing reading comprehension and success of children show that native speaker children perform significantly better than children who speak the same language as second language learners (1,2). So, expat children might experience challenges at school due to their language skills. The underlying mechanism for the difference in performance between native speaker and expat children seems to be in vocabulary knowledge. Expat children who learn Dutch at school have less vocabulary which likely subjects them to problems in the areas such as understanding what is being told/read, participation in class, expressing their ideas in a well-articulated way etc.
There is so much for teachers indeed to do in the classroom to make sure students from different language backgrounds are on the same page when it comes to classroom activities. My next article will be for teachers to give them ideas about how to manage multicultural, multilingual classrooms and for parents what to look for at multicultural schools.
First, let’s see what expat parents can do to help their children’s Dutch language and indirectly their school achievement.
- Have realistic expectations. If you moved only a few months ago, you cannot expect your child to already be fluent in Dutch language or to feel comfortable enough to initiate conversations with the locals. Give time and space for your children to adjust, adapt and improve.
- Have positive attitudes towards the Dutch language yourself. Show your children that you are also making efforts to learn the language, ask them to teach you a few words and phrases. Do NOT complain about how hard it is to learn a new language, how “rude” some Dutch words sound, how “weird” people sound here, how you do not like the Dutch classes you are attending etc.
- Children imitate their parents. Use this for their benefit and practice Dutch outside of the home. Practice your Dutch when you are shopping, ask your children to communicate on your behalf in the market, swimming pool, or try to carry any other simple daily conversations in Dutch.
- Create a fun learning environment. Make sure it is fun for your child to learn Dutch. Do not create tension at home and turn learning Dutch into a rather academic and stressful task.
- Get outside help. Children who have spent some time in the Netherlands are eligible to get free speech therapy (logopedie in Dutch) if the school teacher sees a need for it. Consult your child’s teacher to see if it is a good idea to see a speech therapist.
- Likewise, you can hire tutors or ‘playmates’ from your local community to spend a few hours a week with your child to read Dutch books and play with your child.
- Follow the current happenings in NL and bring them home. For example, we are now in Sinterklaas season. Watch Sinterklaas Journaal together with your child every day and discuss what is happening in the videos. Ask your neighbors or colleagues at work about such local habits.
- Participate in social activities in Dutch. Follow the Dutch book reading events regularly being held at your local library.
- Use digital tools. Encourage and let your child watch lots of videos (of course…monitor screen time) and books online in Dutch. If you search Digitale Prentenboeken on internet, you will find many books being read in Dutch. Library also has a free audiobook application for your child to listen to books before going to bed or in a car.
- Provide complex and rich vocabulary in your own language. Talk and read a lot with your child in your own language. Teach them rich vocabulary and complex sentence structures. Do not simplify your own language when you talk with your child. It will be easier for them to learn a Dutch word if they are familiar with the concept in their own language.
1- Burgoyne, K., Kelly, J.M., Whiteley, H. E., & Spooner, A. (2009). The comprehension skills of children learning English as an additional language. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 79, 735–747.
2- Lervag, A. & Aukrust, V. G. (2010). Vocabulary knowledge is a critical determinant of the difference in reading comprehension growth between first and second language learners. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51, 612–620.
For Eindhoven News: Elif Durgel
*Elif Durgel is a psychologist and parenting coach who specializes in expat parenting and child development in multicultural contexts. She is running Roots and Wings Academy . If there is any topic or question you would like to see covered in the coming articles, please get in touch with her.