Deborah Nicholls-Lee met with Gerlinde de Haas to find out how children’s language school MiniLinguals is helping to meet the needs of bilingual families.
What motivated you to set up MiniLinguals?
My husband is Irish and I’m Dutch, and when our kids were born we had great intentions to raise them bilingually and internationally. But when they went to school, they started to only speak in Dutch, so it was very difficult to keep up their English because they weren’t particularly motivated to speak it any more. They didn’t see the point as the only one who spoke English was their father, and his family abroad. This caused a bit of frustration in the house.
So I thought, there must be more families that have this kind of thing - the kind of frustration that we have - where the schools don’t offer enough languages, and at home they speak a bit of English, but they don’t speak it enough.
What distinguishes my business from another language school, is it’s very much driven from a parent’s point of view.
What is special about the services you offer?
What distinguishes my business from another language school is it’s very much driven from a parent’s point of view. I understand the families and I try to build my business around what parents are looking for. What is different about us from other language courses is our curriculum is aimed at bilingual children. The children have to have a passive knowledge of the language already, so we don’t focus so much on learning new words - it’s more about promoting an active use of the language and trying to teach them to read and write in English. Children that join us know that they are with others of a similar level.
We also have a lot of Dutch children who have lived abroad for a long time and then return to Holland and want to keep up with their English. It’s a way for those children to connect with the wider world and to maintain whatever they’ve learnt in the past.
A language is much more than a language: it’s really a way of connecting with your contacts abroad, with your whole culture. If you cannot understand the language of your culture, you cannot understand your culture. Language is not the aim for me; the aim is to make them [the children] more open, to connect better with families, to expand their opportunities. So, language is just a means to me, not the main aim.
A language is much more than a language: it’s really a way of connecting with your contacts abroad, with your whole culture.
Tell us a bit about your team.
I have a business background and I’ve worked in finance and marketing. I’ve worked with children as well in the past, so it’s basically all these things that come together in this business. This is combined with my personal drive to help international families to connect better with their second culture.
I don’t actually teach because I only want native teachers as these kids sometimes have such a high level of English already. I also want to focus on the accent. My main teacher, Deborah, has over 10 years’ experience of teaching children. She gives really fun lessons and she has really good results. She has lived abroad in different cultures so she’s used to dealing with children from different backgrounds.
How old are the children that you teach?
Between four and ten. In Haarlem we have three classes (4-6, 6-8 and 8+). There are between four and eight children in each class. By putting them in an environment with kids of the same age and same background, they see the point of using the language and they suddenly start speaking in English.
How do you cater to the needs of such young learners?
For the youngest group, we have short, five-minute activities and we move a lot. Once you make it practical, kids can relate to it. We do a lot of Simon Says and those kinds of games. Once you make it practical, kids can relate to it.
We use a course book from Oxford University Press, which is specifically for young learners. The activity book uses short exercises where you have to draw things,make things and write things; so there is a lot of changing of activities in the lesson.
We follow structures. The children know what’s happening. Sometimes they have to sit down for five minutes and then, after that, they know they can jump up again. They’re allowed to run around a lot. There’s a lot of role-play, so they get stimulated by using their imagination as well.
If you have some of the language already, it doesn’t take that much effort to do it now. I really believe that it gets much more difficult later on in life. It’s not confusing for children if they’re taught clearly.
Running a business can be very time-consuming. Do you have any advice about managing your family and work commitments?
What works for me is trying to find somewhere where you can get things done – sitting in a different space, away from your house, like the library. But balance is always an issue. Once your children get older, it gets better. My children are five and seven and it’s getting easier now. I work during the day and during evenings; it’s juggled around school times.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Helping families. I like organising things as well and setting up something that I think is really needed, where there’s a gap in the market between Dutch education and international families.
Give an example of the positive impact MiniLinguals has had on its students’ lives.
In one of our classes, we had children who had just started Group 3 in Dutch school and could not read or write in Dutch or English. When they finished the school year, they were able to read in English. That was exactly what I wanted.
Where do you see the future of the business?
Offering classes at more locations and for different age groups. We’re trying to do something for smaller children, from three years old. We’re also looking into teaching different languages, such as Spanish, and starting workshops in the holidays.
MiniLinguals will open in Amsterdam in 2016. Please check their website for pricing and times.
Note: This company has paid to be featured on Amsterdam Mamas because they believe that their services would be of interest and benefit to our readers, and we think so too. For more information on sponsored posts and advertising on Amsterdam Mamas, please see our Advertising and Disclosure policy.
Deborah Nicholls-Lee is a British national who moved to the Netherlands in 2009. A former French and English teacher, she now works as a freelance writer and editor while raising her two children. See her website to find out more about her work.