Wij gebruiken cookies om onze website zo goed mogelijk te laten functioneren.

Episode 6 (season 2) Sophia Honggokoesoemo and Eva Marécal on embracing multilingualism and free play

"Children from language-rich backgrounds hear around 2,150 words per hour, compared to only 615 words per hour in language-poor environments. This disparity significantly impacts vocabulary development and overall language skills, irrespective of whether the words are in the home language or Dutch."

In the sixth episode of the second season of the "Let’s Talk About Work" podcast, host Bart Wuyts engages in a profound conversation with two remarkable guests: Eva Maréchal, the innovator behind Hop Up, and Sophia Honggokoesoemo, an author of multilingual children's books. This episode delves into the essential roles of multilingualism and free play in fostering inclusivity and preparing children for the future.

Sophia Honggokoesoemo introduces herself as a staff member at LEVL, focusing on employment, particularly for people of foreign origin, including youth and women. Besides her professional role, Sophia is deeply involved in gender and diversity initiatives and is an author of children’s books that spotlight multilingualism and migration backgrounds. Her books aim to preserve and celebrate home languages alongside Dutch, reinforcing the notion that both are crucial for a child's development.

The Importance of Multilingualism

Sophia highlights the significant gap in educational outcomes between children with migration backgrounds and their native peers, often attributed to language barriers. Referencing PISA results, she notes that Belgium performs well in general education, but there is a persistent ethnic gap. This gap is not only due to socio-economic factors but also the lack of support for home languages. Research shows that maintaining a home language is crucial for cognitive development and learning additional languages, including Dutch. Sophia argues for a balanced approach where both Dutch and home languages are valued, citing studies that demonstrate how multilingualism can be as stimulating as learning a musical instrument.

Sophia also emphasizes the importance of language-rich environments. She explains that children from language-rich backgrounds hear around 2,150 words per hour, compared to only 615 words per hour in language-poor environments. This disparity significantly impacts vocabulary development and overall language skills, irrespective of whether the words are in the home language or Dutch. She advocates for parents to speak frequently and richly with their children in whichever language they are most proficient, to support their linguistic and cognitive development.

Highlighting Sophia's Latest Book

Sophia also shares her latest book, "Het Geheim van Konijn," which has been published in five different languages: Dutch combined with Arabic, Chinese, French, Ukrainian and Russian. This book is a testament to the importance of multilingualism, offering a resource that children and parents can read together in both Dutch and their home language. It aims to foster a love for reading and respect for linguistic diversity, helping children from different backgrounds see themselves reflected in literature.

The Role of Free Play

Eva Maréchal, a project manager at Blenders and an anthropologist, shares her journey of founding Hop Up, a play and learning environment that empowers children through free play. She references the work of Mark Mieras, a Dutch researcher who describes play as the "outboard motor of brain development." Hop Up provides a versatile, transformable space that allows children to become architects of their play, fostering creativity, autonomy, and essential 21st-century skills such as problem-solving, collaboration, and emotional regulation.

Eva underscores the decline in free play opportunities for children in recent decades, highlighting the need for environments that allow unstructured, imaginative play. She points out that current educational and parental practices often prescribe specific activities and interests, limiting children's natural creativity and exploration. Free play, she argues, is essential for developing executive functions and other skills necessary for future success.

Bridging the Gap to the Labour Market

Both guests link their work to future employment opportunities. Sophia stresses that language is a critical factor but not the sole determinant of success on the labour market. Socio-economic background, parental education, and other factors also play significant roles. She mentions NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) statistics, showing that youths with migration backgrounds are overrepresented in this group. Sophia argues for policies that address these broader socio-economic issues, rather than focusing solely on language proficiency.

Eva adds that free play equips children with skills that are highly valued in the modern workforce, such as collaboration, innovation, and adaptability. She highlights how Hop Up's open-ended play materials allow children to create their own play environments, fostering a sense of agency and creativity.

Representing Diversity

Sophia also discusses the importance of representation in children's books. She explains the concept of "mirrors and windows" in literature, where mirrors allow children to see themselves in stories, and windows offer insights into others' experiences. She emphasizes the need for more diverse characters in children’s books to help all children feel seen and valued. Sophia mentions working with publishers like NikNak vzw and Studio Sesam to create bilingual books that serve this purpose, addressing both home language and Dutch.

Concluding Thoughts

The podcast concludes with a reflection on the need for inclusive policies that support multilingualism and free play. These elements are foundational for creating a society where every child has the opportunity to thrive and contribute meaningfully to the workforce and community. Both Sophia and Eva stress that while language and play are crucial, broader socio-economic policies are necessary to support inclusive development.

Sophia also critically addresses the contradictory nature of some policy measures, such as reducing child benefits based on language proficiency assessments. She argues that such measures fail to address the root socio-economic causes that impact educational and employment outcomes for children with migration backgrounds​.

Listeners are encouraged to explore the full episode for an in-depth discussion on these vital topics. To stay updated on future episodes, follow the podcast on LinkedIn and Instagram, or subscribe to the Blenders newsletter.

For more information, visit www.blenders.be/podcast. If you’re interested in being a guest on the podcast, contact the team at info@blenders.be.