Is it easy to become bilingual? The case of Turkish and Moroccan children in Netherlands

03 Aug

I’ve recently learned about the research of Anna Scheele from Utrecht University on the topic of bilingualism in children, particularly the children in Netherlands. Her thesis is titled “Home language and mono-and bilingual children?s emergent academic language: A longitudinal study of Dutch, Moroccan-Dutch, and Turkish-Dutch 3-to 6-year-olds“. Below is some excerpts from an English press release at

“Despite an equivalent learning ability, young Turkish and Moroccan children suffer from a linguistic disadvantage, in their own first language is as well as in Dutch, compared to their Dutch contemporaries. Surprisingly enough, it makes no difference to academic language skills for six-year-olds whether the language most spoken at home is Turkish, Moroccan or Dutch, according to NWO researcher Anna Scheele.

Anna Scheele’s research tends to show that the more children have books read out to them, and, for instance, have conversations with their parents about family events, the better their language skill will be at school. A distinction must be drawn here between the different nationalities. Moroccan-Dutch parents cannot read to their children in their first language, Tarifit Berber, because the language has no widespread written form. But Turkish parents do not have the same problem. What is also remarkable is that more Turkish is spoken in Turkish families than Tarifit Berber is spoken in Moroccan families. Furthermore, there was no perceptible obstacle to learning Dutch as a school language among the Turkish and Moroccan families where conversations were mainly held in their original native languages.

Scheele concluded that there seemed to be two contradictory mechanisms at work when bilingual children were learning a language: on the one hand, they had to cope with less use of each language because of speaking two languages (adverse effect), while on the other hand they could use the knowledge they had acquired in the first language when learning the second language (beneficial effect).

Increasing numbers of children are growing up to be bilingual, due to the global increase in migration. This places severe demands on their linguistic development: they need to master two languages to be able to function properly both at home and at school. Schools, in particular, demand a lot from their language skills, because this is where children gain their knowledge of abstract topics, such as geography, biology and history. Anna Scheele investigated the (bilingual) development of academic language use for 58 Dutch, 46 Moroccan-Berber and 55 Turkish children in the age range between three and six. She compared the use of language within the families, linguistic development in the first and second languages and the children’s cognitive skills (memory and non-verbal intelligence).

Anna Scheele gained her doctorate from Utrecht University for her thesis entitled Home language and mono- and bilingual children’s emergent academic language: A longitudinal study of Dutch, Moroccan-Dutch, and Turkish-Dutch 3- to 6-year-olds. Her supervisors were Prof. P.P.M. Leseman and Prof. E.P.J.M. Elbers. The research was funded by the Dutch Programme Council for Educational Research, part of NWO.”

See also the following:

The home language environment of monolingual and bilingual children and their language proficiency

Turkse en Marokkaanse kinderen hebben al vroeg taalachterstand

Turks helpt bij Nederlands leren

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Posted by on August 3, 2010 in Linguistics


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