What can you do to stimulate the language development of your multilingual child? When you live abroad, other languages are often more important. On the street, at school, and work. It may very well be that Dutch is used less and less. The lack of continuity in Dutch indeed happens in families where a parent speaks a different language. Then there are few hours a week available to work with the Dutch language. That is why I have selected seven activities that stimulate your multilingual child’s language development.
Fortunately, a well-developed mother tongue also helps in learning the Dutch language. Proficiency in the first language is related to proficiency in the second language. The acquired knowledge in the mother tongue is transferred to Dutch. Good mother tongue development also promotes general language comprehension. This enables children to learn a second language. In short, parents with a different mother tongue can also help their child to stimulate Dutch language development in various ways.
The tip to stimulate the language development of your multilingual child
“Spoiler alert”! The tip to stimulate language development doesn’t exist.
Unfortunately, there is no single effective method or trick to stimulate the language development of your multilingual child. Fortunately, many things have been researched that are very important for stimulation and help you well as a parent. The main thing is that there must be a lot of interaction: singing, talking, and reading together is effective.
What is also very important is that there is a safe and positive climate in which your child learns and develops Dutch. It helps enormously if the attitude of you as parents towards Dutch and the Netherlands is positive. Furthermore, dealing with meaning in the Dutch language promotes development naturally and effectively.
From this basis, I will name several activities that stimulate language development. Listed below are the 7 most important activities for multilingual kids.
7 activities that stimulate language development
1. Read, and read some more to stimulate language development
Research shows, among other things, that reading books (or aloud) lead to a more extensive vocabulary, more knowledge of names and sounds of letters, a better understanding of sounds in words, and more skilled readers. Reading and reading aloud stimulates the development of the Dutch language technically and promotes speaking skills and social development.
It is lovely to read to your child. At fixed times, such as before going to sleep. Create a cozy atmosphere in a corner or on your bed. Take your time and enjoy! For the children who want to read for themselves, you can also create a place where you can enjoy reading with books and magazines at hand. And you know it: seeing reads makes reading.
Below are some great sources for getting online books and stories in Dutch:
2. Word and Language Games
There are also lots of fun word and language games to do that stimulate language development. Here’s a small selection:
Making word sums
sjaal + jas = sjas.
broodje + hagelslag = bragelslag.
glaasje + ranja = glanja.
groeten + juf = gruf.
Who am I?
A sticky note with the name (or a picture) of a famous character is stuck on the backs of all children. (sports heroes, pop stars, cartoon characters, main characters from books, etc.) The children are allowed to walk around and ask each person one question. That question must be answered with ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.
Make a word snake
The first one says a word, for example,’ aap’, the next says a word that starts with the last letter of that word ‘p’. For example, ‘poes’…..’slak’……’kraai’…..etc.
Place several objects on the table that start with the same letter. (e.g., a ball-block-book)
Place one object in between with a different initial letter. (e.g., an orange) What does not belong?
You can play it on paper or online.
I spy, I spy
Decide who starts. You could choose the youngest person or the person whose name starts with the letter closest to the start of the alphabet.
The player who starts picks an object that everyone can see. The player gives the first letter of the object as a clue. For example, if the player chooses a fence, they say, ‘I spy something beginning with F’ with my little eye.
Players take turns to call out guesses until someone gets the correct answer. The first person to guess correctly gets the next turn to choose an object.
You will find online language games on this website.
3. Playing and pretending
For the youngest children pretending is a favorite way of playing. Play that you are in the supermarket, or at school. Try to play along and imitate as truthfully. This provokes speaking, and of course, you do that in Dutch. You can also actually go shopping for the game and then name everything in Dutch. Have conversations with your child about what you do, name things and ask questions.
For the older children, but also for young children: play family games in Dutch. If you have it at home, then, of course, play Dutch family games. You can also make many games yourself using handy printouts from the internet.
4. Interaction with peers
A language is maintained and learned best by using the language. Where possible, try to contact family in the Netherlands, Dutch friends, peers. For example, international chats, sports clubs with Dutch members, a Dutch association. Invite Dutch play friends. Not everything will be possible in the country where you live. Luckily much more is possible than before via video call, email, and chat.
5. Dutch (television) programs
Watch Dutch television and videos together. It’s nice to talk about it together, possibly explain new words or ask questions about what you see. Some families make it a regular time of the week. There is a lot to be found on the internet, missed the broadcast, NPO, but these 4 links are definitely worth a look:
6. Music and Poetry
Sing Dutch songs together and learn Dutch verses. You can sing along via Youtube and often there are also nice appealing videos. Just type ‘Nederlandse liedjes kinderen’ into Google and you will find countless possibilities. You can also find verses and poems online. Also, have a look here:
7. Pair Dutch with fun activities
Think of weekly activities such as activities at home, sports, or themes. For example: Making pancakes together is something we do in Dutch. On Sundays, we skate together and we do that in Dutch. During the European Championships, we decorate the living room in orange and we only talk about football in Dutch. And of course, you have a Dutch theme day on King’s Day. If you are looking for ideas in themes, Google is your best friend.
Would you like to read more about how to stimulate the language development of your child who is multilingual?
Multilingual education. How do you do that? We regularly receive questions like this at Dutch for Children. They come from expats, people who have emigrated or are still going abroad. How do we keep Dutch alive in our family? In addition to the school and living language in the new country? Do you have any tips on how best to tackle this?
Tips for multilingual parenting
Of course, we have more tips, theoretical explanations, and references to research. Dutch for Children has written more blogs on this subject that can help with this. For example about multilingualism, how learning a new language works, and what is recommended to do with the use and learning of more languages. We briefly discuss the most important issues at the beginning of this article. However, nothing beats the experience and tips from the field. We have experienced this ourselves as a family and also as a company. But: every child, every family, and every country is different.
Read now in Dutch in our article about raising multilingual children.