27 Mar Raising bilingual children: how did it go so far (year 4)
Many of our readers ask us if our children speak Spanish by now since we have spend so much time with them in Spanish speaking countries. In this blogpost we’d like to share our learnings and how we approached raising bilingual children. We have written before on this blog about how raising bilingual children was a big wish of ours. As Dutch native speakers we did not have a clear idea how to raise a bilingual child in a monolingual household like ours.
We learned that three things are important to implement as a fundamental in our way of living. We spend the past years making those fundamentals part of our lives:
1. introduce the second language as soon as possible: talk, read stories and sing;
2. pick a child care center with native speakers in the second language;
3. spend (a lot of) time in a region where the second language is spoken.
Reading stories to them in Spanish, speaking Spanish to them, choose Spanish speaking child centers and spend as much time as possible in a Spanish speaking country every year. It has brought us what we hoped for: a child and a toddler who speak Spanish ánd Dutch. I must say, our son Vesper speaks Spanish better than his sister did her age. Both of the kids have been doing very well in Spanish and started speaking the language themselves at different ages. Isa started speaking it shortly after she turned three. Vesper has been speaking himself shortly after turning two. It is interesting to see the influence of having an older sibling towards the development of language. Although Vesper, relatively speaking, spend more time of his life in Spanish speaking countries compared to his older sister. I’d like to share some of the things we did besides the three fundamentals I mentioned above.
4. Return to the same place
Although we have traveled several years from place to place as digital nomads, with kids it is virtually impossible. At least, we got stressed out to pack up our bags every two days. We thought of the most beautiful place we could imagine on Earth to raise children and we ended up in Costa Rica. We return here every year for about 6 to 8 months, to the same village on the Caribbean coast, to the same school, to the same house if we could. This has helped our kids enormously in adapting to a different environment, climate ánd the language. It really helps if you already know people where you are going. If you’d like to raise bilingual children, we would suggest to return to the same place in the years the children are really young. Once they have built the foundation of their identity (and languages), travel will be more rewarding and easier to handle for them.
5. Let children spend time with Spanish speaking friends (outside of school)
There is a factor in play that we don’t yet understand, but it seems that children learn a language better and faster if they play with other children of same age who speaks the second language as a mother tongue. Making friends to play with at home takes some time. That is another reason to return to the same place often. Here in Puerto Viejo we regularly go play at the house of a friend or friends come and play in our home. Both children immediately switch to Spanish and also speak Spanish to us continuously while the friends are around. As soon as the friends leave, they switch back to Dutch.
6. Find a 1-on-1 extracurricular teacher
It really helps to give the kids an opportunity to interact 1-on-1 with a native speaker and teacher. In Puerto Viejo we mix going to preschool with at least two mornings a week play with Angie, a good teacher from the area. We bring the kids to her house and they play for about three hours. The kids eat local food like ‘gallo pinto’ with Angie and go walk around in the jungle around the house. It is great to also give them this context of what it means to live in Costa Rica.
7. Not a problem to add a third language when the child shows interest
Isa started showing interest in the English language around her fourth birthday. She started to sing songs in English which she learnt in school in Costa Rica, the started counting in English. We decided to let her play with an app to learn English, called LingoKids. Ever since she plays with this app for about 30 minutes a day. LingoKids offers their app like a software as a service model and a subscription does not come cheap (about 20 euros per month), but it seems like a good addition for her to learn English.
Our daughter turns five in november and our son three in the same month. Soon the time will come to think about the role of an elementary school in the development and education of our daughter, as going to school is obligatory in The Netherlands and a right for every child to be able to go to school. Isa loves going to school and we are thinking of several solutions to keep Spanish (or English) part of her (and his) life until they are at least 7. We are keen to hear stories of other families who raise bilingual children and their approach: elementary school, homeschooling, private teachers, there are many options and we’d love to hear your experiences. Leave a message below this blog, or email us if you like to share your story.