Tips from a mother of trilingual children in Australia

One of our readers of Dutch Australian has some great tips to share about raising bi/trilingual children.  Though Dutch is not one of these languages, the tips she gives are applicable as well, and her websites and facebook page (scroll to bottom) are a great resource for those raising bilingual Dutch/English speaking children.  Are you raising bi/trilingual children?  Feel free to share resources in a comment.  Renee


I am the mother of two gorgeous trilingual children. Tiago is 5 and Elisa is nearly 4. Since the day they were born I spoke French to them and my husband Spanish. We are lucky that my husband and I are fluent in each other’s language so we never need to switch to English. This is one of our golden rules: no English at home. My children learn English at the childcare and at school. So far so good. They have never been confused with the languages and both spoke early.

I wanted to share a few tips that we apply every day:

Do not compare your children with your friends’

Each child will develop his various skills at different rates. Some children will speak early, some are better with their gross/fine motor skills.

Be honest with yourself and manage your expectations.

It will save you headaches. I want my children to be fully proficient in their three languages (speaking, reading, writing). I am aware that the resources (time, books/CDs…, effort) required will depend on what my objective is. If you are happy with a passive bilingual. This is fine and it is your choice. If you want more proficiency, you have to be prepared to overcome hurdles and produce more effort.

Strategies do not last forever.

We currently use One Person One Language (OPOL). This works for us at the moment. However, we might have to change in the future as our situation changes. My children might ask me to speak English when we are outside or with their friends. You can try strategies out for a little while and if they do not work, find another one.

Minority language always used when addressing the children.

It does not matter where we are we always speak to our children in our minority languages.
I am aware that some people might find it challenging because they do not want to pass for a rude person.
I usually give the heads up if I am having a conversation and it is usually well received.

We play a lot.

Play-based activities are a wonderful way to provide exposure to children. It can be attending a language playgroup, it can be at the playground, it can be at home with all sort of games.

We read every day in our minority languages.

We read several books a day. This is part of the bedtime routine but we read throughout the day too. Books are accessible and now that my children are old enough to tell stories, we encourage them to ‘read’ to us.

We like to make up stories.

Let their imagination flow. The sillier, the more fun, the better. We have many books in Spanish and French at home but we still go to our local library to borrow books every three weeks. It also gives them more exposure to different authors and stories. Remember that there is no English at home so we always translate into our languages. Sometimes if you are too tired using bilingual books can make the task easy.

We try to give them as much exposure as possible.

I organize playdates, we regularly catch up with friends who speak either of our languages. We skype with our parents at least once a week. I am not too fond of screen time but I must admit I work from home and sometimes I need some quiet time. If they ask for it, I will play shows in French or in Spanish either on Netflix or You tube.

Finally, be persistent, consistent and disciplined but most of all make it fun!

My children were my inspiration. I could not find books that I liked in Spanish and in French in Australia, so I decided to create Le toboggan. It is an online bookshop specialised in language books for children and young adults. We carry gorgeous books and other resources in a variety of languages including Dutch.
We are always happy to look into specific requests, just let us know if you are after anything special.

We promote multiculturalism and bilingualism through our various activities, such as our language workshops (French and Spanish), visits to playgroups, community health nurses to speak about myths/truths and strategies to raise bilingual children, I run language story times at the local library, our facebook page is full of great articles and blog posts on bilingual children. I also volunteer with the NFP Bilingual Families Perth to assist parents with finding resources and language groups in Perth, I have created monthly Spanish meet ups, …

You will find more information on our activities on our website and on our page

Doei voor nu!

Dutch TV Episode: Becoming a Mother in Melbourne – Brighton

Dutch TV is a weekly television program on community TV Channel 31 in Melbourne and Geelong (Australia) and Foxtel Aurora (Australia wide). We have been broadcasting for 4 years.  The program is about Dutch people living in Australia and is presented mostly in Dutch with English subtitles so that we can connect to everyone who has a link with the Netherlands.  We cover topics such as Dutch culture in Australia, shared heritage and new topics from Holland.

16 May 2016 episode

You can find out more about Dutch TV and watch plenty of previous episodes here:


YouTube Channel:

Watching Dutch TV is an excellent opportunity to work on learning Dutch.  For the 08 May episode, Carole created a lesson plan which you can work through.


Raising bilingual Dutch Australian children

I remember once, long before I became a mother, I went to a party at a friend’s house in Delft.  Her children greeted me in Dutch, but when they heard me speaking English, they switched.  They were completely comfortable in both languages and I remember remarking to my husband how cool it would be to have children who could do that.  Now, I am raising bilingual children myself.  This could easily become a whole series of posts, but I’ll start with a story of our family’s experiences so far.

Our eldest was born in Delft and we moved to Australia when she was 5 months old.  I have always spoken English with her and my husband has always spoken Dutch.   We did the same when our second came along two years later.  This has been called the “one person [parent], one language” approach.  We’re not incredibly strict with this, it depends on the situation and sometimes my husband will talk English and I will sometimes (less often) speak Dutch.  One example is if we have a friend or another child over who only speaks one of the languages, we often all switch to that.  Or when my husband’s parents would come to visit us in Australia, for about a month each year, they would hear mostly Dutch in our home.

When the girls were aged 3 & 5, we moved from Australia back to the Netherlands.  At that stage, after being mostly surrounded by English-speakers, they were speaking English to each other. We have lived in The Hague approaching 4 years now, and I must say that I’m thrilled their default language with each other is still English.  Considering they now go to a Dutch school and are surrounded mostly by Dutch-speakers daily, I’m very glad this English-language part of my own identity and culture has stayed such a big part of their life.

Another “trick” I’ve used is that when they ask to watch tv, sometimes I’ll allow it only if it’s in English.  We have a big DVD collection and of course there is loads on YouTube.  Perhaps due to this though, I now have one child that speaks with an American accent and one sounds more British!

What is very normal though is for them to throw the Dutch word into sentences when they don’t know the English one.  Here’s a good example I just found from two years ago, where my youngest is going through a pile of artwork she did at school.  At the time, she was 4 and a half, and had been in groep 1 at a Dutch school for about 7 months.  We’d been living in the Netherlands for about 18 months.  You’ll notice that I suggest the English word (nearly) each time she says a Dutch one.  Watching this later, I realised I got one or two wrong!  This is something we still do on a really regular basis in our daily conversations.  Sometimes they will repeat the English word after me, sometimes just listen and move on….I never force it.  If it’s a particularly difficult word, I may ask them if they can say it.

The issue that is starting to appear now though is with grammar, reading, writing and spelling.  They speak English very well and to hear them, you’d likely assume (hopefully!) they are native speakers.  However as English is not actually taught at their school, this is something I have realised I am going to have to take into my own hands.

A few years ago, I met a lovely Canadian lady in The Hague, Eowyn Crisfield.  She is an expert in the field of bilingualism and bilingual education, with a B.Ed in Teaching English as a Second/Foreign Language, and a Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics.  She works with educational institutions around the world and I learnt a lot from a presentation she gave a while ago in The Hague.   You can read more over on her website, and she has an excellent blog:


The thing I remembered most about this was that to raise children as a native speaker of a language, you really have to take it seriously, and dedicate time and energy to this.  I started realising it was really important to me to have my children not only speak my language…but speak, read, write and understand my language as native speakers.  I know that the majority of Dutch people speak English very well.  However it’s very quickly obvious it’s a second language.  Not just because it’s “my” language, but also because it’s an international language, I think one of the best gifts I can give my children is ensuring they are strong communicators in English.

I started talking to others about a year ago about this and had a lot of interesting perspectives.  Many of my English-speaking friends, whether from an English-speaking country, or using English as a second (or third or fourth!) language themselves, have chosen to send their children to a predominantly English-speaking school.  In The Hague, there are quite a few of these.  Several are expensive private schools, catering mostly for expat children who are in the Netherlands short term.  There are a couple of other Dutch or “International” schools that teach a certain percentage of classes in English or which start English lessons from a much younger age.  For a few reasons, our children go to a totally Dutch-speaking school.  In fact, so much so, that I was told recently – not by the school themselves but the after school care – that it was forbidden for my girls to speak English TO EACH OTHER!  I completely understand they need to speak Dutch to the carers and the other children.  However their default language with each other is English and them “messing” with this has caused a bit of stress in our family.  That’s a whole other post I’ll leave for another time.

My girl’s teachers have always been generally supportive of the fact the girls are bi-lingual but are not able to offer much practical support.  It’s not until groep 7 or 8 (when the girls are about 11) that they will start with basic English classes a few hours a week (if that).

Now the girls are getting older, I realise I need some help, particularly in helping them learn correct English grammar, and to read and write.  I’ve also been surprised at how little I actually remember about the rules of English grammar and how unequipped I am to teach these skills to my own children.

So, I’m taking some action.  A few months ago, I started a Facebook group (which now has over 100 members) to share experiences with and learn from others in a similar situation.  There are many other families I’m starting to meet that are a lot like ours, and also Dutch or International parents who would like for their children to learn English at an earlier age.   Just last week, I’ve started a new website “Kids English Club” where I plan on collecting various resources to support children and their parents in the Netherlands to practice and improve their English.  I’ll start with the website but will also plan some events.


Thankfully, my girls are really interested and excited about this as a project.  This in itself is making sure we dedicate a part of our week to the importance of developing English language skills.

I’m also realising how important my language is to me.   Before, it was just something I took for granted.  It’s really strange to me that my own children don’t speak with an Australian accent.  In fact, I’m kind of losing mine and speaking a more “neutral” English I’ve been told.  My language is part of my identity though.  In fact, yesterday was the UN International Mother Language Day.  It’s something I want to consciously make part of mine and my children’s lives.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 21.28.27

If you have any ideas or experiences to share about raising bilingual (or multilingual) children, I’d love to hear it in a comment below!



Betty and Cat: Bilingual Dutch and English books

These books are amazing.  Author Hennie Jacobs kindly sent me review copies last summer and the girls and I loved them.  We have bookshelves filled with both English and Dutch language kids books – but these are the only ones we have with BOTH languages in the one book.

Hennie was born in The Netherlands but then moved with her family to Montreal at six years old and needed to become bilingual very quickly!  So she has written these books for children from her own experiences.  She now works as an advertising copywriter and also teaches English as a second language to both business people and children.

Beautifully illustrated and interactive, these books are not a direct translation but instead a playful conversation between the main characters in Dutch and English.  They read from top to bottom instead of left to right and are fun and friendly.

Firm favourites in our house and can highly recommend taking a look at the Betty and Cat website to buy your Dutch Australian children, grandchildren or friend’s children a copy!  You can also visit their website to find a sample, more information and bookstores.  English/French version also available.

Betty and Cat Website

Betty and Cat Facebook Page

Have you read Betty and Cat?  Would love your comments below!

Dutch snow cover NL Kennel cover

Is it The Netherlands or the Netherlands?

Question of the day..should it be:

The Netherlands


the Netherlands?

Until now, I believed that you should always capitalise “The” regardless of where in the sentence you were writing “The Netherlands”.  I can’t remember exactly how and why I do this but “the Netherlands” just looked wrong and I believed it was due to “The” being part of the country’s official name.

However, recently, I noticed that the official government website uses the second so have done some more research.

Here’s a screenshot from a 2008 translator’s forum, click on the image to view the original post.

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 6.43.12 pm

Her only response to this post directed her to the Times Style guide.  The link in that forum is no longer active, but I found this entry in Wikipedia (again click on the image for the original article).

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 6.47.26 pm

Until today, I’d never heard the word “toponymy” – had you?  So I had to look that up too!  Whatever did we do before Google.

  1. Toponymy is the study of place names (toponyms), their origins, meanings, use, and typology.

So their conclusion is that it should be written as “the Netherlands” as it is “similar to names such as “the United States” and “the Federal Republic of Germany”.  There, problem solved.  So from now on, I will write the Netherlands in a middle of a sentence, but still capitalise when beginning a sentence or in a heading or title.

However then my husband raised the question – “Well, what about The Hague?”

You can also join the conversation on our Facebook page:

Or share your thoughts in a comment below.

Raising Dutch Australian children – Let it Go/Laat het los

Let it Go - Laat het Los - Dutch/Nederlands

Let it Go – Laat het Los – Dutch/Nederlands
Source: YouTube

If you have a young daughter, or have been anywhere near a young girl in the last few months, it’s highly likely you’ve heard them belting out “Let It Go” – the most popular song from the Disney movie, Frozen.

In our local playground here in The Hague, I recently heard a few young Dutch girls singing it – in English – in beautiful voices.  It amazes me that many children learn to sing in English before they speak it – actually a great trick to try if you are trying to learn a language (I wrote a post about this a few years ago you may like: Tip #1 for learning Dutch: use a song).

In The Netherlands, english-language movies for adults are generally released in the cinema as the original version with dutch subtitles, while most children’s movies are translated with voice-overs into Dutch.  Recently we took our daughters to the cinema for the first time in The Netherlands to see Rio 2 – in Dutch.  I’m incredibly proud of them that after two years of living here (and papa speaking Dutch to them since birth), our almost 5 and almost 7 year old girls can switch pretty effortlessly between languages.  It really doesn’t bother them if a movie is in either Dutch or English.  They have only seen Frozen in English though, and have been singing it in english.

Just yesterday, it dawned on me that there was probably a dutch version.  “Girls, I wonder if Let it Go” is also in Dutch?” I asked, to which my youngest replied immediately “Laat het los”.  I wasn’t sure if she’d heard it before or was simply translating, so thought I’d Google it.  And here it is!  My eldest daughter listened to it and declared “it doesn’t make sense in Dutch” and prefers the english version.  Though we established that’s probably as she’s so used to it already in english and as the Dutch version is using several words she’s not yet familiar with.

Interestingly enough, when looking for links for this post, I found this official Walt Disney Multi-Language version – in 25 languages!!

Are you raising Dutch Australian children?  Perhaps pick one of their favourite songs and see if there is an alternate version.  Have you tried this?  Love to hear about your experiences in a comment below.


Five dutch songs our Dutch Australian children love

Dutch children's songs

Our girls are now aged four and six and if you’ve followed this blog for a while you’ll know that they are little bi-lingual Dutch Australians. If you’re new – welcome, you might like to read about us.

I thought I’d share five of their favourite dutch songs.  You may be a Dutch Australian family who would like your kids to practice their “Nederlands” or you may be learning yourself….these are tried and tested by my daughters and have all been played many, many times in our house.  They are all available on YouTube and where possible, I have included the lyrics versions so you can (learn to) sing along.  What are your favourite Dutch children’s songs?

1. K3 – Alle Kleuren

2. Pulcino Pio – Het Kuikentje Piep

3. Kinderen voor Kinderen – Klaar voor de Start

4. Kinderen voor Kinderen – Bewegen is Gezond

5.  SuperKeet – Keet!

Dutch Australian is a community of those with connections to both Australian and The Netherlands.  This blog follows the adventures of our Dutch Australian family as well as highlighting information and articles of interest to dual nationals.  You might like to read more about me, get to know other Dutch Australian people and explore other articles on the blog.  Come and chat to others over in the Dutch Australian Facebook community, we’d love to meet you!  If you’ve enjoyed this post, I’d really appreciate you taking the time to comment below or share.  You can also contact me directly and sign up for our e-newsletter to keep up to date.


Ondersteuning van de Nederlandse Global Nomads!


Renee vroeg op zes januari 2014 via twitter of mensen nog tips voor haar hadden om haar Nederlands te verbeteren. Ik weet weinig van Renee of van haar niveau van Nederlands. Omdat ik het wel altijd leuk vindt om mee te denken hoe leren/ontwikkelen leuk gemaakt kan worden en de “global nomads” zeer interessant vind heb ik gereageerd.

De “duo Lingo app is best goed hoorde ik, Nederlandse films of een goede Deense series met NL ondertiteling? Leren & ontspanning!”

Naar aanleiding hiervan vroeg zij mij of ik Wereld Wijd Welkom, van waaruit ik deze reactie gaf wilde voorstellen op deze site, dus bij deze!

Over Wereld Wijd Welkom 
Kinderen van ouders die in het buitenland werken en wonen blijken specifieke uitdagingen en problemen te hebben. Daarover is niet zo veel bekend bij deze kinderen en hun ouders. Door de kinderen en jongeren (en hun ouders) te begeleiden als ze niet bij elkaar zijn of als ze in het buitenland met (specifieke) vraagstukken worden geconfronteerd, kunnen veel problemen voorkomen worden en nieuwe kansen geboden.

Wereld Wijd Welkom is opgericht door Rianne Cornelisse MSc, orthopedagoog. Ik heb een groot netwerk van Nederlanders in het buitenland en veel werkervaring met jongeren en gezinnen van verschillende culturele achtergronden. Het vele reizen en nauwe contacten met Nederlanders in het buitenland hebben mij nieuwsgierig gemaakt en inzicht gegeven in deze unieke gemeenschap en “subcultuur ”.

Wereld Wijd Welkom biedt:

* Ondersteuning bij opvoedvragen 
Iedereen heeft wel eens een vraag over de opvoeding van zijn of haar kind(eren). Wereld Wijd Welkom biedt telefonische of online opvoedondersteuning aan Nederlandse ouders in het buitenland. Zodat ouders (weer) een gevoel van regie hebben over hun handelen en het gedrag van hun kinderen. Daarnaast is WWW een klankbord bij belangrijke keuzes van en voor uw kinderen.

* Begeleiding van jongeren die naar Nederland terugkeren
Veel mensen vinden hun studententijd de mooiste tijd van hun leven. Je gaat op jezelf wonen en je neemt geleidelijk meer afstand van het gezin waarin je bent opgegroeid. Bij jongeren die in het buitenland zijn opgegroeid en alleen terugkeren naar Nederland verloopt dit proces anders dan bij jongeren die in Nederland zijn opgegroeid. De afstand tot hun ouderlijk gezin is fysiek groter en het proces van losmaken verloopt minder geleidelijk. Er is geen mogelijkheid om even naar huis te gaan als je daar behoefte aan hebt. Wereld Wijd Welkom biedt professionele begeleiding voor jongeren en hun ouders bij deze nieuwe, spannende fase.

* Begeleiding van thuisblijvende jongeren 
Volwassen worden betekent grenzen verleggen, vallen en opstaan. De meeste kinderen kunnen na een val even naar huis om in een veilige en vertrouwde omgeving te evalueren, tot rust te komen en op te laden; om “weer op te staan”. Als ouders ver weg zijn houdt Wereld Wijd Welkom een oogje in het zeil en biedt een ondersteunende omgeving.

Verken wat wereld wijd welkom voor u kan betekenen via;

Wereld Wijd Welkom

This is a guest post for Dutch Australian by Wereld Wijd Welkom.

Dutch Australian is a community of those with connections to both Australian and The Netherlands.  This blog follows the adventures of our Dutch Australian family as well as highlighting information and articles of interest to dual nationals.  You might like to read more about me, get to know other Dutch Australian people and explore other articles on the blog.  Come and chat to others over in the Dutch Australian Facebook community, we’d love to meet you!  If you’ve enjoyed this post, I’d really appreciate you taking the time to comment below or share.  You can also contact me directly and sign up for our e-newsletter to keep up to date. – Website with free exercises for those learning Dutch


I recently received an email from Burak Bilgin who let me know about his website for the Dutch Australian links page.

After trying it out myself, I thought it was worth a blog post to highlight this great tool for those learning Dutch.

It’s quick and easy to sign up for a free account and this then gives you access to over 800 free online exercises. You can choose from a variety of quiz categories as this screenshot shows:

Screen Shot 2013-10-23 at 12.18.37 PM

What I liked most was the instant feedback.  When I’m learning, I like to know immediately what I’ve done wrong, or what I have right.   When you have a correct answer, you go straight through to the next question, with “That was right” on the top of the screen (referring to the previous question).

Screen Shot 2013-10-23 at 12.22.21 PM

In the image below you can see, when I had an incorrect answer, it gives me the chance to be able to see where I went wrong and correct myself.  (In this case, I had an extra “a” in kwart)

Screen Shot 2013-10-23 at 12.23.04 PM

At the end of a quiz, it will summarise your score.  I also like that this was based on questions I had right the first time – not including the ones I corrected myself on with assistance.  It also shows a summary of my incorrect answers, giving me a good base to revise.

Screen Shot 2013-10-23 at 12.24.11 PMAs I write this, I’ve only taken one quiz but I can see this is a handy tool I’m likely to return to regularly and wanted to share it with those who are learning Dutch.

Good luck!  I’d love a comment below if you have tried out this website to hear how you went.

Renée 🙂

Dutch Australian is a community of those with connections to both Australian and The Netherlands.  This blog follows the adventures of our Dutch Australian family as well as highlighting information and articles of interest to dual nationals.  You might like to read more about me, get to know other Dutch Australian people and explore other articles on the blog.  Come and chat to others over in the Dutch Australian Facebook community, we’d love to meet you!  If you’ve enjoyed this post, I’d really appreciate you taking the time to comment below or share.  You can also contact me directly and sign up for our e-newsletter to keep up to date.