Blog Mamaplaats on multilingualism

One of those childhood memories that you can recall as if it were yesterday. We were on holiday and I was, together with my little sister, sitting in the back seat in the car. I estimate I must have been about five years old. My parents were having a discussion with each other, in French, because if we were not allowed to hear, French was spoken at our house.

So they were shocked when I suddenly gave my opinion from the back seat as well?they apparently had no idea that I could understand them. And I thought that was crazy, because yes, I understood everything they were saying.

Spanish mother, Limburg father

To give you the background, my mother is Spanish and my father was from Limburg. She danced with an international flamenco company and was on tour in the Netherlands. He worked in a record shop in Roermond and instantly fell in love when he saw her. They married at a fairly young age, both in their mid-20s, and a year later I was in the cradle. Since my mother did not speak Dutch and my father did not speak Spanish, my parents spoke English to each other in the beginning of their relationship. When they ran out of that, they switched to French, a language they also both mastered.

Children learn a new language so easily

My mother spoke Spanish and my father spoke Dutch to me and my sister. So they had no idea that I could largely follow all their French conversation. Only later did I realise how special that actually was?as children, you can learn a language just by hearing it.

By now, of course, I know a lot more about that fascinating brain of ours. And scientists also agree: the part in our brain responsible for language acquisition is superactive until a child is about 8 years old. After that, that piece of language acquisition already becomes less active. And from the age of 15, you have to put just as much effort into learning a new language as adults. So actually a missed opportunity that English in primary school is only compulsory from grade 7 onwards.

What few people also know is that the foundation for language development is already laid during pregnancy. The hearing organ of babies is complete by 16 weeks of pregnancy. From 24 weeks, it can thus actively listen, recognise the mother's voice, hear her heartbeat and even distinguish sounds. Children already learn in the womb to distinguish the mother's language from other sounds.

Also encourage your child's language development

So do you want to encourage children's language development as much as possible? Then talk to them a lot, even if they don't say anything back yet ?

Read aloud a lot, starting from a very young age. Not only is it good for language development, but it is also a time to pay attention to each other. If you want to raise your children multilingually, do it in the language you want to teach them. Finally, a tip for parents whose children are still on the way: talking to that big belly is always good!

If you have any questions about teaching children new languages? Let me know in the comments.

Much love from Caro

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