Our children are in an enviable position: they are bilingral. I’m a native speaker of English who also speaks Dutch and Hubby is a Dutch native speaker who also speaks English.
We both speak other lanuages as well, but we made a decision that we wanted our children to be able to function equally in both a Dutch (or Dutch speaking) environment and a New Zealand (or English speaking) one.
With that in mind, from the first day that my daughter was born, I have spoken English to her, and my husband Dutch.
Crèche (day care) was only Dutch speaking environment, and since we live in the Netherlands, they naturally also speak dutch with our neighbours, family and friends, but English has been quietly soaking away into them like a daily drip feed.
Bedtime stories are either language depending on the title picked up on the spur of the moment, and whilst they didn’t mind word books and children’s dictionaries with pictures or photos of the item of the word, the practicing of the words never really got transformed into English whole sentences or phrases.
I speak to the children in English but usually get replies back in Dutch, but amazingly when we travel, an amazing little miracle takes place… our kids sprout English!
During our recent trip to Maine, USA, Mister Four announced (in Dutch) the he was a bit scared to speak English.
For the first week he spoke maybe five or six words a day, preferring to use us and his sister as interpreters but the presence of other children soon wore him down, and he quickly spoke more and more until all of a sudden after four and a half weeks we realised that he really has sprouted English.
Miss Eight is ahead of the game, in that she made this transition also around age Four or Five, and now she swaps from Dutch to English effortlessly. True, some words come more naturally in one language than another, and that they both often ask what a words means, often asking ” How does Mama say?” or the ” how does Papa say”… and sometimes we have some fun with made up words that they “think” might be a good equivalent, or they guess wildly and are very wrong.
It’s also very practical, because Dutch children usually start English lessons quite late, at 10 years old or so, so when we have overseas English speaking visitors to stay, and they have kids, our kids simply switch into English Mode and play commences without any awkwardness.
That has been a very welcome item for several of our friends who travelled Europe with their kids and found that since the kids are all relatively young, that the kid “conversations” in most of the countries they visited consisted of a lot of smiling, rudimentary sign language of sorts.
Of course it helps that Hubby and I are native speakers of two different languages, and that we both speak each other’s language too, but if you have the opportunity to pass on an extra language to a child, especially if that child is very very young, then I think it is a very valuable thing indeed for a child to learn.
You never know when these extra skills might come in handy in the future, and it helps so much with true effortless integration into both the cultures to which they belong… .. and for me bilingralism is also a wonderful demonstration of having a Local Heart, Global Soul.