Skip to ContentSkip to Navigation
Society/business Science Shops Language, Culture and Communication Kennisdossiers Kennisdossier: Meertaligheid

The most important misunderstandings

Harmful effect on Dutch language

It’s a widely popular misunderstanding that a new mother tonque has a harmful effect on the first mother tongue. On the contrary both languages reinforce each other. A mother who speaks a language poorly is more harmful for the development of her child’s language than a mother who communicates fluently with her child in her own language or dialect. Firstly it doesn’t give the right example. In the second place and even more important parents speaking in the language they are most familiar with have the largest vocabulary, express their feelings best and know songs and rhymes in that language. All this results into a good contact between parent and child and a rich language environment. Talking a lot with children about diverse subjects, reading and being read to, reinforces the development of the mother tongue. This once more results in a positive effect on the Dutch language.

It’s difficult for a child to learn two languages at the same time.

Adults compare a child’s learning of several languages with the way they learned another language when they were teenagers or adults. They found this very difficult and that’s why they reason that it’s impossible for their tiny tot. However these two things are actually not comparable. Young children are on the contrary directed at learning a language, at that age it’s their talent. Whether it’s one language or several at once.
Besides most societies in the world are multilingual, therefore it is certainly not an exception. But it is true that parents have to take care that a child can separate those languages. Most parents choose a strategy that best fits into their situation. OPOL that means one parent one language is the most well-known strategy. Every parent talks to the child consequentially in the same language. The father speaks for example always in Papiamento and the mother speaks consequentionally in the Dutch dialect Twents. Apart from that it’s very normal that children mix the diverse languages during a period. If parent do not join this, this will dissapear.
Most often the levels in both (or more) languages are not the same because the supply in the languagesdiffers often. The child hears more Dutch in it’s environment, or the mother talks more with the child than the father. If the parents wish that their child will really be multilingual, they have to invest in the non-dominant language..

A child that doesn’t say anything, is behind in the development of the language.

Multilingual children go sometimes through a ‘silent period’. That means that the child will not speak during a period in one language. This has often to do with incertainty. The child realises that it doesn’t master the language yet perfectly and decides to be silent temporarily. Some parents and teachers are very worried about this. “Milan still doesn’t say anything, it doesn’t go well with his Dutch. “ They forget that passive language skills (listening, understanding) always comes earlier than active language skills (talking). The reactions of the children make it clear. Milan won’t say anything but will not remain immovable when the teacher tells him: “Could you fetch a pair of scissors.”  

Dutch book about this subject for parents
Dutch book about this subject for parents

When there are problems, it’s better to stop multilingualism.

When a child does well at school, everyone is positive about multilingualism. Hoewever as a child experiences problems at school, such as speaking or reading in Dutch the mother tongue at home suddenly will come up. Couldn’t it be the cause? It seems better to some teachers and parents to make the child (temporarily) concentrate on Dutch both at school and at home. Feeling safe however is an important circumstance to acquire language skilles effectively. The language at home and the communication with parents gives children a feeling of safety. That’s why it’s unwise to tamper with the secure home base. Moreover that would deprive the child of using the language at home to come to grips with Dutch. Parents and teachers should in this situation get into conversation about this.

Last modified:30 May 2022 12.58 p.m.
View this page in: Nederlands