Multilingual parenting

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A child is multilingually raised when their parents or guardians support the child consciously towards acquiring two or more languages. Preferably, the first steps are made during pregnancy.

Various forms of multilingual parenting

There are several ways to raise children multilingually. If two languages are offered simultaneously, preferably one language by one parent and another language by the other parent, then it is called simultaneous multilingual parenting. In successive multilingual parenting, the child learns a first language before learning another language.

Multilingual parenting is common in families where parents speak different native languages or live in an environment where another language is spoken than at home.

Discussion and research

Research has shown that raising children multilingually has both advantages and disadvantages.

Babies who are immersed in more than one language have early learning advantage, i.e. even before they speak their first words. Research shows that babies of seven months old who have bilingual parents are faster in picking up language clues than peers whose parents only speak one language at home. Bilingual children need less brain activity for the same task than their monolingual peers. There is also a greater ability observed for problems that require attention and control. So there is a cognitive gain. Their working memory is more developed. The child also learns to cope with different opinions and this would also result in fewer prejudices and they’ll gain a greater tolerance towards other people.

A disadvantage of the multilingual parenting is called that bilingual children's vocabulary in both languages sometimes lags compared to their peers, especially when the alphabet or the spelling of the language is very different. It is also determined that the absolute vocabulary per language sometimes lags. Usually this will be overtaken again later in life. To facilitate language development, it is important that both languages are well offered to the child. If a language is not the native language of the parent, he or she must master it well. It is therefore recommended to offer both languages equally, if possible.

Important instructions for multilingual parenting

It is recommended that parents with different mother tongues speak to their child in their own language as much as possible. If they both speak different languages than the country where they live in and they do not speak the environment language very well, it is desirable to ensure that - before the age of three - the child is in regular contact with others who speak the language. It is important that it is clear to the child who speaks that language and/or at what time.

If a child is growing up multilingually, their parents are recommended to read about this subject prior to and during parenting. Thus, the language development of the child can be as good as possible and to overcome problems in time.

A good book for parents to use is of M. Verrips (in Dutch) and C. Baker (in English) (see full titles below).

Literature references and recommended reading


Baker, C. (2007) A Parents' and Teachers' Guide to Bilingualism.

Barron-Houwaert (2004) Language strategies for bilingual families: the one-parent-one language approach.

Byers-Heinlein, K., Burns, T. C., Werker, J. F. (2010) The roots of bilingualism in newborns. In: Psychological Science 21: 343-348.

Byalistok, E. (2006) Second-language acquisition and bilingualism at an early age and the impact on early cognitive development; in:”Trembley et al, Encyclopedia on early childhood development (online) 2006-1-4”.

Brooks, R. & A.N. Meltzhoff (2005) The development of gaze following and its relation to language in: Development Science, 8. pg. 535-543.

Gervain, J. & J.F. Werker (2012) Prosody cues word order in 7-month-old bilingual infants in: Nature communications 4, article nr. 1490, Feb. 2013.

Harding, E. & P.Riley (1986) The Bilingual Family, A Handbook for Parents.

Kuhl, P.K. (2010) Brain Mechanisms In Early Language Acquisition in: “Neuron 2010.08.038”.


Cornips, L. (2012) Eigen en vreemd, meertaligheid in Nederland.

Gerrits, E. & Internationaal Expert Panel (2012) Handreiking logopedie meertalige kinderen.

Gorhuis-Brouwer, S. (2007) Taalontwikkeling en taalstimulering bij baby’s, peuters en kleuters.

Kuiken, F. & E.v.d. Linden (2012) het succes-van-tweetalig-opvoeden.

Verrips, M. (1999) De taal van je kind (geschreven voor ouders).

Verrips, M. & R. Dekkers (2002) Kinderen in beeld.

External links

English - an English blog about bilingual parenting

Dutch - information and tips about multilingual parenting


Bilingual, bilingualism, bilingual parenting, multilingual, multilingualism, language development, language stimulation.

Flag of the Netherlands.svg Read this article in Dutch: Meertalig opvoeden.

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