Bilingualism and Growing up Abroad

I just read Libby Stephens' blog  Bilingualism and Emotional Competency. I would like to encourage parents, educators and third culture kids to read her post. It is really full of information.

Libby writes that language is so often tied to identity. I really agree on this one. Many of you have probably read my story. I was born and bred in Africa. After living there for the first 19 years of my life, I left Zimbabwe and headed off to the Netherlands to study at university. All my years in Africa had not changed the colour of my blond hair and blue eyes. My passport too was Dutch. So even though I had never really lived there many people referred to me as the Dutch girl. Well let me tell you that "the Dutch girl" was so happy that her parents had made the effort to teach her to speak, read and write her own language: Nederlands (or Dutch).

During my time in Africa many hours of my holidays were spent learning Dutch. It was compulsory. My parents always ensured that we spoke Dutch in the home. You must understand that all my schooling was in English. In Malawi I attended international schools. Often it was very tempting to switch to English when I was playing with my siblings, but my parents kept their ears open.

We were encouraged to write letters in Dutch to our grandparents and extended family. My mother ensured a never-ending supply of Dutch children's books. In Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe there was a small library with Dutch children's books and so we would travel 366 km to get new library books. I am telling you this to show you the amount of effort needed to learn a language or to keep the language fluent.

I am so grateful that my parents encouraged us and made such an effort to teach us our family language. How would I have ever been able to communicate with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins etc if I had not been able to speak Dutch? Please parents make wise choices on this language issue. Seek expert advice, don't take the easy road. Remember language has everything to do with identity. Remember there is also a language of the heart.   

Every now and then I meet people who regret that their parents did not teach them to speak their home language. Well I could write another whole post on this subject but maybe I can summarize it in two main words: PAIN and REGRET.

Morgu file Vahiju
Recently I even read that bilingual brains are more healthy.  Canadian neuroscientist Ellen Bialystok finds that people who speak two languages cope significantly better with the disease. Even late-life language learning is beneficial, probably because it is way of keeping the brain active.

Some time ago I wrote a post in Dutch called taal.
I also wrote about the book Make Your Child Multilingual by Silke Rehman.This is my most recent post: Third culture kids learning their mother tongue.

Do you have advice on bilingualism or multilingualism? Do you have tips for parents? Did you grow up bilingually? What's your story? Please share it.