I think that the fact that the children… although they did not normally speak Dutch, but that they learned Dutch… that cognitively it was very good for them. All four have… do their university studies at A, A+ level. Very well… and they were good at school… and I believe that is thanks to being bilingual. My father used to say that learning languages was “good gymnastics for the brain” And I am sure that because the children went from Dutch to English and back again… read a book in one language, and in the other language… that that was very good for their cognition.
I fear a lot of people still think: “Oh now we are in a new country and now we have to speak English.” And I have seen that even with people my age and I see it with parents of other language communities who come to me as ESOL tutor: “Shouldn’t we speak English with our children at home?” And it is not always easy to convince them: “No, continue to speak Korean or Dutch or whatever at home. That English will come at school.” Many parents appear to think: “Now we are here we have to speak exclusively English.” I fear this is still the case although things are much better now than 20 years ago.
But I have also seen that some teachers, primary school teachers at school, see those children who come from elsewhere as a problem. Then they come to an ESOL tutor like me and say: “No wonder the child cannot keep up, they speak Chinese at home.” And I think “Those teachers have not quite kept up with new developments. It isn’t because the child speaks Mandarin or Korean at home… It is not bad for them”. But when some parents get feedback like this from the class teacher… they no longer know what to do. They will believe the teacher and try to [speak English at home]… so then you get broken English as a home language. So the children lose their heritage language, but don’t get English either. Very sad.
We have three sons. The eldest spoke most Dutch as I spoke Dutch to him. Then it became a problem. When he went to childcare centre he already spoke Dutch as we had been back to the Netherlands. He spoke in full sentences. He went to childcare centre and the teachers there did not understand him. And he wet his pants because he had to go to the toilet and they did not understand. He cried and he cried. Look, then you think… and I was in the play centre and the supervisor said it was impolite of me to speak Dutch.