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Talking to the Consultatiebureau…

This one is for my Dutch readers – you will all recognize that from the title! The consultatiebureau is the “well-baby clinic”, loosely translated. Any baby/child in the Netherlands between birth and four years old visits these clinics on a regular basis, for everything from vaccines to developmental milestones, eye tests and so on. 

The great thing about these clinics is that all the staff are specialized in baby/child health. It’s a one-stop health shop for your children, until school age. The drawback is that the training in many clinics has not yet caught up with the multilingual populations in many areas of the Netherlands. One of the areas of development the consultatiebureaus track is language development. At every visit after one year, parents are asked about language development, in terms of number of words, combinations, sounds etc. They enter this information into a computer, and recommend evaluations/therapy as needed. 

When my kids were in their consultatiebureau phases of life, we had very different experiences. The clinic my oldest went to had a doctor who knew quite a lot about bilingualism, and was happy to have my daughter respond in whichever language was more comfortable for her (on her 3-year eye test, she used English, French and Dutch words). We had a great experience, and never felt any pressure to do things differently with her. 

With my twins, we had a slightly different experience. For whatever reason, the doctor we saw regularly was not a fan of bilingualism. The conversations about language development would always include questions like “Are you sure three isn’t too much for them?” and “Do they have the same number of words in all three languages – they should, you know.”. Luckily for me, I was confident in our language decisions and language plan for our children, and her comments never made me worry. However, I’ve known many parents who ended up questioning themselves and their family language goals when faced with skepticism from medical professionals. I’ve even known a couple of families who went monolingual, after being scared by advice from doctors. 

It’s important to keep in mind that doctors do not study child language development as a part of their medical training, and neither do nurses. Any opinions they offer you (unless they have had outside training) are based on their personal opinions and experiences. Even the consultatiebureau employees are just filling in check lists – they are not speech and language professionals. As parents choosing bilingualism for your children, you should be prepared to question any advice you get (Why do you believe that? What training have you had in this area?) and make your own decisions, based on your family situation and your research. So, if needed, don’t be afraid to talk to a medical professional about bilingualism. 

5 thoughts on “Talking to the Consultatiebureau…

  1. Excellent blog about the consultatiebureaus. Children actually do not possess the same vocabulary in all of their languages. Genesee suggests that usually bilingual children know half of the words in other language and half of them in other, so together combined as many words as a monolingual. In Genesee’s view language mixing is also completely normal with small children. Very encouraging for parents who feel nervous about their children’s development.

    1. I completely agree Christina. I’ve certainly noticed with my own kids that there is an overlap of vocabulary in some areas (French and English especially) but also do adhere to the “domains of use” theory and have French vocabulary that is specialized to school and so on. Good luck on beginning your own bilingual family journey soon!

  2. I can’t say how grateful I am for this post and I agree with it! I was lucky to have a doctor at Consultatiebureau who saw that my child’s speech development was just fine and didn’t care about what languages she used as long as she could answer the questions. But not everybody is just as lucky. Situations like this inspired me to write this post on my (trilingual, no less) blog: http://europeanmama.blogspot.com/2012/02/are-multilingual-kids-special-needs.html. Thanks for recommending the Colin Baker book. It was extremely useful!

  3. I do like what you say about health people not trained to face different situations or to encourage parents personnal choice. I experienced it many time

  4. Ah the Consultatiebureau! We go next week and one of the mandatory questions to answer will be are you happy with your child’s language? We live in quite a multilingual area in some ways, so hopefully there won’t be too many eyebrows raised at the 3 languages Funky Monkey either speaks or understands. I am sure there main concern will be Dutch anyhow as she is nearing school age

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