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Nearly half of all Brussels kids grow up in multilingual homes

16:00 24/09/2019

Nearly half of all kids living in Brussels grow up in a multilingual family, according to research carried out by the ULB sociology department. While 51% of children come from monolingual French-speaking homes, 49% speak more than one language at home.

The study, carried out among more than 4,200 primary school children, was done at the request of Observatoire de l’enfant, the child care unit of the French Community Commission in Brussels.

French is usually one of the languages spoken in multi-lingual families, showing up in 83% of households. Some 46% of kids hear two languages at home, while 3% hear more than two.

After French, Dutch and English are the most-used languages in Brussels’ multi-lingual families. Arabic, Spanish and Italian were also statistically significant languages.

‘Leave monolinguistic vision behind’

According to ULB sociologist Perrine Humblet, city and regional institutions, child care providers and schools must take this multi-lingual reality into consideration. Encouraging parents to speak French with their children “is poor advice,” says Humblet.

“The mother tongue is the language of emotions and the language in which both parents and children express themselves,” she says. “Little by little, we are leaving behind this monolinguistic vision, which is a big relief.”

Humblet also says that all languages should be seen as an asset and not as a problem. “If a child speaks English at home, that is seen as positive,” he notes, “but if it’s Arabic or Lingala, suddenly it’s an obstacle.”

She suggests that teachers and other caregivers use languages as an educational tool instead of treating them like stumbling blocks.

Photo: Dirk Waem

Written by Lisa Bradshaw