Struggling over schooling options? Eowyn Crisfield helps answer the question many expat parents in the Netherlands face – whether to ‘go Dutch’ or seek other options
Although Amsterdam Mama families come in all shapes and sizes, one thing that many of us have in common is that we are not “typical Dutch” families. For those with one Dutch parent, the choice of language for schooling may be simple, but for families who are here for a limited time, it can be harder to decide what to do in terms of language options. The question then becomes whether or not to go Dutch with your kids.
In my opinion, it is almost always valuable to have your children learn Dutch , at least to some extent. How much time and effort to put into it depends on the family situation – schooling options, age of children, length of posting and other languages in the family.
Firstly, let’s consider very young children from monolingual families. Any family moving with children who are under school age should consider day care/play school/preschool options in the Dutch. There are demonstrated benefits to acquiring two languages from a young age (cognitive, linguistic, and social), so if you have this opportunity for your children, why pass it up? At most, they will go on to become fluent speakers of the language, and to have improved abilities to learn other languages later in life. At worst, they will have developed their language-learning facility and broadened their phonetic repertoire – even if they don’t maintain the language after leaving the host country. In addition, it sends a powerful message to children about the value of learning other languages – an especially important message in families where both parents speak the same language.
For school-age children, the decision is affected by different factors. I have seen school-aged children “dropped” into local schools, and have great experiences and come out “bilingual” in a few years. However, I’ve also seen school-aged children struggle with the transition to being in an environment where they are not linguistically competent. At this age and stage, much depends on the personality and motivation of the individual child. If the child is willing and able, they can absolutely benefit from a few years of school in another language, and if they become literate then they have the means to sustain it after leaving the Netherlands.
For other children, the compromise to academic achievement, confidence and social skills is too great, and the sink-or-swim method is not appropriate. A best-case scenario is sometimes a local school that has programs in place for language learners and support for the home language as well. In the (frequent) absence of such a school, an international school that teaches in the home language but emphasizes learning of the Dutch is may be the best option. For older children – secondary school age – immersion in a local school is generally very difficult. The weight of academic content at the secondary school level leaves very little time for learning language to the level children need to function in academic classes. Therefore, the best choice again is often a school that teaches in the home language, but that also has strong support for Dutch.
Overall, children of all ages can benefit from learning a language that they may not ultimately maintain throughout their lives. For younger children, the benefits may be more linguistic and cognitive in nature, while for older children the benefits may be more attitudinal, but there is almost always a case to be made for helping your children learn the local language in your travels.
Eowyn Crisfield is a Canadian-educated expert in teaching English as a second/foreign language, teacher training and bilingualism, with a BA in TESL/TEFL and an MA in Applied Linguistics from Concordia University. Over the last 19 years, she has lived and worked in France, the US and The Netherlands. Since 2003, she has specialised in the area of parent and teacher education for bilingualism. You can find more information on bi/multilingualism at OnRaisingBilingualChildren.