Posted in Content

Changing the language about language

I was reading some online information about the recent local elections, to see what the different parties were campaigning about this time. I was reading it in English, because I am lazy that way… I came across a couple of references to special preschools for children with a “language deficiency”. Hm, I thought. I wonder what they actually mean by this? So I went back to the original sources, in Dutch, to see if it was more clear. And unfortunately, it was definitely more clear. The Dutch word used was “taalachterstand”, which does translate to “language delay”. And it was being used to classify children with “one or more non-Dutch speaking parents”. Wow. What a negative way to refer to the language development process of *bilingual* children. What message does it give to children, to be thrust into early preschool, to help them with their “deficiency”? What impact on their self-confidence, and their attitudes towards the other language(s) spoken in their home? And what message does it send to the parents of these children? That having another language is not a benefit, or a gift, but makes you “deficient”? Seriously, it’s like being back in the 1950s. These children are not delayed. They are language learners who are in the process of learning a new language, in addition to the one they are already proficient in!

We know that being raised bilingual is overall a positive thing for children’s development. We know that a key element of the “positive” comes from the development of both languages. We know that successful bilingualism is far, far better than forced monolingualism. We know that positive attitudes and maintenance of the home language are the best route to successful acquisition of a new community or school language.

Why is it that there is so much information available about bilingualism – research-based, solid information, available from many academic and non-academic sources, and yet the “people making the decisions” seem to have read none of it. Not one word. Do the people running these preschools know this research? I don’t know. I hope so, but given the mandate of these schools, it’s seems that they are unlikely to be havens of positive bilingualism. And if this is true, what attitudes are being espoused, and what advice given, by the teachers and administrators in these preschools, if they are coming from the angle of trying to fix deficient children?

There is no excuse for this kind of dialogue about bilingualism anymore. None. So if you have a child that has an “indicatie” for one of these preschools, please, please talk to them about the importance of the language we use about language for, and with, our children. Or just point them in the direction of this post….