What to Expect From Daycare in a Non-Native Language


Three years ago we moved to the Netherlands from the U.S. with our two-month-old daughter. Neither my Italian husband nor I spoke any Dutch. Fast forward to present and we now have a very talkative three-year-old who regularly insists that she speaks only “Nederlands.” This is what we have learned about what you can expect when you send your child to daycare in a non-native language.

Children are resilient

One of the biggest worries parents have about sending their child to a daycare or preschool where they don’t speak the language is that the child will suffer. Parents of babies worry that the child will suffer delays in talking. Parents of toddlers worry that their child will be frustrated because they can’t communicate with others. The reality is that kids hardly notice it. My older daughter said her first word at eight months and was soon running circles around us. It took us longer to figure out that they were speaking Dutch to us than it did for them to talk. The toddlers I know, by and large, have jumped right into the groups without hesitation. They pick up on the critical words right away (yes, no, mine) and find ways to understand one another. If only we adults could learn to do the same!

Children assign languages

Watching your toddler learn a new language at school is amazing. You know exactly what activities they are doing at school based on what words they know. You can see how they assign languages to people. One funny aspect that we have seen is that Dutch has become the “kid language.” Even when we go to the expat English-language playgroup, all of the kids still speak Dutch to one another. My daughters often speak Dutch to one another, despite it not being our family language.

Regular daycare staff are not prepared for bilingual children

I hate to say this, but it is true. Unless you go to a daycare that caters to bilingual children, the staff will not know how to handle them. If you are lucky, the staff will speak both languages and understand the mixed words that come from your child. If you are unlucky, the staff may tell you that your child is “behind” when compared to monolingual children. They can sometimes have a blind spot for the 50% of the vocabulary that they cannot understand. Just be cognizant of this and don’t let an uneducated daycare worker make you feel bad about your choices or your child’s capabilities.

Is it worth it?

We haven’t faced any challenges that outweigh the joy of watching our daughters grow up as native Dutch speakers. For our children, the benefits of bilingualism are well known and documented. There have also been benefits for us.  Our own vocabularies and knowledge of Dutch culture have grown and we have a stronger tie to the community. Would we do it over again? Absolutely!


  1. Thank you for this positive article! I’ve also sent my three children to Dutch daycare, now to a British School: neither Dutch nor English is my or my husbands mothertongue. But as I’m multilingual myself I really enjoy and appreciate this multilingual life of our children. They have never considered a language an “obstacle”. And I learned Dutch along with my – then – 2.5 year old son and we’re both fluent. Now that they are 6 and almost 10, I can say: I would do it again and again and again. All three of them are very different and did pick up the languages in three different ways. If it’s worth it? Always! But I think the main thing is: the parents have to be convinced and have to learn the languages their children are taught at school, at daycare!

  2. Parents should have a close look on how kids ” cope ” with the language bath they are in. My son grows up with two different maternal languages at home and two different external languages at school . Its important to explain the cultural background to pedagogical stuff to see your child’s unique cognitive development as a whole situation in context.

  3. hi..so happy to see your article..my family will move to delft in a couple of months..i have a 3 years old daughter who speaks both english and bahasa..we dont use OPOL methods exclusively but i tried to use only one language in every sentence..she went to preschool with english native speaker as her teacher..and at home she exposed with english and bahasa..as i know, in netherlands most of the school especially the public school use dutch as their language, i cant speak dutch neither my husband…when does your child start talking in dutch? does she talk in dutch to you too? or she can easily change into english when talking to you? my husband and i have anxiety in learning new language, what should we do to support our daughter when she start going to school there? hope that u have solution based on your experience..thanks..

  4. Hi Mya,
    I moved away from Delft last year, but there are still lots of expats that can help you along the way. I would highly recommend that you connect up with the DelftMaMa group so that you can hear lots of different perspectives on starting Dutch with your kids. My girls both started dutch daycare at around 6 months old, so they naturally began speaking Dutch and English at the same time. I do know many other kids, however, who started dutch school at 2-3 years old and picked up the language in school. I’d suggest that you look into Peuterspeelzaal (toddler playgroup) and get your child into a Dutch environment right away. There are a couple of bilingual schools (if you want to go that route) and the DelftMaMa team can tell you more about them. Good luck! – http://www.delftmama.nl

  5. that even if daycare gets to see the actaul firsts (and sometimes they did, which would crush me, but they always were careful to document everything for us) that we’d still get to see the firsts on our time, and so they were still special. It helped a little.I know I wished at first that I could be a full time SAHM, permanently. But now, two years down the road, I actaully don’t wish for that. I like what my job does for me, and it’s okay that I like that. Do I miss her? Yes. Every day. But has she learned so much and developed so well because of daycare and all the socialization? In large part, yes. Neither position is easy…whether at home or working. But it doesn’t diminish the love we have for our kids, and we can only do the best that we can do.Your little man will NEVER prefer anyone over you. You are the mama. You are the one who fixes everything, the one who gives the best snuggles, and the one who loves him more than anyone ever could. The love he’s experiencing outside the home will only enrich his life, and at the center of it all will ALWAYS be mama and daddy.Hugs, mama. It’s a tough spot, and you’re doing great.


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