Tips for a bilingual toddler

We’re raising Henrik bilingual: Next to Dutch, he’ll learn my first language, German (actually Swiss German, but let’s keep it simple and call it German). As an expat, I don’t have any family around who could help with that. So I always look for possibilities to help him learn the language in a playful way, next to of course always talking to him in German. Here are a few tips I have found helpful so far:

  • Reading lots of books together! As the true son of two bookworms, Henrik has loved books for quite some time now. His bed routine includes reading a book every evening. As at this stage I am reading the stories to him, it doesn’t matter that many of our books are in Dutch: I translate them as I go. We also look at books with a lot of items and animals and I make him look for and name them. Like  Where’s the red bicycle? or What’s this animal called?
  • Listen to songs in German. Henrik likes to listen to music, singing and dancing along. By listening to songs in German, he learns new words and whole sentences in a playful way. Once he gets older, I’ll also get audiobooks with stories he can listen to
  • Watch cartoons in German. I download his favorite cartoons (currently Thomas the train, Peppa Pig, Miffy and the Teletubbies) from YouTube to an app on my iPad and have him watch them rather than cartoons in Dutch
  • Whenever Henrik says a word to me in Dutch, I always repeat the same word in German. I never tell him it’s not correct what he’s saying, but I make sure he hears the word in German, too. And I never ever talk Dutch to him, even though I speak it fluently. Because if I do, I fear it will at some point make him realise that he can talk Dutch to me and he’ll have no motivation to talk German anymore

So far, I’ve only noticed one thing where Henrik mixes some of the German into his Dutch: he puts an article in front of people’s names or also before ‘mom’ and ‘dad’. So he’ll for example ask my husband: “Where’s the mom?” Or tell me: “I did the groceries with the dad!” Haha! In Swiss German, we always use an article in front of people’s names or titles. In Dutch (just like in English) we don’t, so it sounds pretty funny when he does that. But I’m sure he’ll get that difference too one day. And hey, being called the mom actually sounds kind of cool 🙂

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