Teaching your child to be bilingual/multilingual

Do you have a household where two or more languages are spoken and wonder about  how your baby/young child will learn them? We spoke to a Conscious Parent (CP), Marie from the Netherlands about her experience of teaching her 20 month old Dutch, French, English and Igbo (a native language of Nigeria).


Baby BB: What key advice would you give to parents who know multiple languages and want to ensure their children learn them all?

CP: My advice is to choose the language that will be more beneficial for your child. I was brought up with 5 languages and now as an adult I still speak 3 languages fluently. I speak Dutch, French and English. My husband speaks fluent English and his native language Igbo. As he is not fluent in Dutch he speaks English to our daughter however I do wish he would speak more of his native language to our daughter.

I started speaking Dutch to my daughter at first, but when she turned 18 months old I started speaking French to her. This was because we felt that it was necessary for her to grow up with international languages. She will eventually learn how to speak Dutch at school and she also speaks Dutch at day care. I also switch it up and speak Dutch to her but I speak French more often.

For fellow parents out there, I would say you need to be consistent and patient especially when introducing young children to new words. For example, if I ask my daughter to sit on the sofa, I will point to the sofa, help her sit on the sofa and repeat the phrase and words in French.

Baby BB: What have you struggled with most when it comes to language learning?

CP: I struggle with consistency because I have been used to speaking Dutch with my daughter from birth so the transition to French was a bit difficult for me. However once I started speaking French more often to her I got used to it.

Baby BB: How do you think young babies learn languages best?

CP: Every child is different you need to identify how your child learns best. Do this by exploring their reaction to different teaching styles as it is then easier to understand how to make them learn better.

Baby BB: What are your top three tips for parents where multiple languages are spoken in the household?


1: To be consistent and to compliment your child. It was definitely hard for me in the beginning but consistency is definitely key. Also, kids love compliments. Once they understand what you are saying, do compliment them. They tend to get very excited about that.

2: To have fun with it. I noticed I was always thinking too much about it. But sometimes you just have to let go and have fun with it. Once you have fun with it, your baby/young child is definitely going to feel that. Be creative and repeat words and phrases often. Also, be sure to explain the words and again have FUN!

3: Start Early. For me starting early was important, speaking Dutch came naturally for me but I knew I wanted my daughter to speak as many languages as possible as I know how beneficial that has been in my career. I knew that teaching my daughter at least one extra language would be something she will appreciate when she is older. It also creates a sense of belonging with the ability to communicate with extended family who do not speak Dutch.

Baby BB: What is the best part about teaching your baby languages?

CP: I get very excited when she understands a word. Words like come, good job and the one she hates the most NO. You begin to notice that your child is learning new words in your language and that is exciting. When my daughter starts saying the words that for me is the most exciting part.


Look out for more of our interviews with various CPs on a range of topics that affect modern parent. Please feel free to sign up for an account and leave a comment and share any additional tips!


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