On roots and language tell-tales

A couple of months ago Una started accompanying me on my weekend runs. She cycles next to me, trying really hard to maintain her balance while keeping up with my lightning fast pace. This is wonderful for many reasons: I have company, she cheers on me when I feel like I am going to fall dead and to be honest makes me go when I really want to stop, I want to show her that mama is not a quitter. But above all I cherish the opportunity for her to open up to me and have an uninterrupted hour to talk to each other without anyone or anything disturbing it. And given that I am normally too busy trying to regulate my breath so that I don’t fall dead  as I mentioned before, Una is the one who does most of the talking. And she is the kind of child who, or if I consciously apply the non-labeling principle of mindful parenting, is in the phase when she needs time and attention to really talk.

So this past Saturday we were chatting about her school mates, the upcoming four-day walk (avondvierdaagse) and all kinds of things and somehow stumbled upon multilingualism, foreign roots and such. Now the concept of speaking more than one language is natural to her, there are a couple of other kids in her class who are bilingual, we have friends with bilingual or trilingual kids so this doesn’t phase her. But I was surprised when she said: “You know that Timo is half Dutch, half German?” I replied that I knew because I spoke to his mum and she told me that she was German and spoke German to her kids. And then I added: “The same way you are half South African, half Serbian”. She looked puzzled: “And half Dutch?” I told her that her origins are not Dutch but that she was born here, is growing up here and that this is her home. And that it is most important how she feels. I then asked her how she feels and she replied: “I am not sure. Is that OK?” I told her that it is more than OK and that how she feels will most likely change over time, sometimes she will feel “more Dutch”, sometimes more South African or Serbian, especially if she spends more time there or meets other people with the same background. She told me that it made sense and seemed perfectly satisfied with the explanation. I was happy that I managed to address an important issue in a way that she understands but also that we believe in. Religion and origin of babies next, wish me luck (of course we talked about both before but she keeps coming up with more complex questions like:””What happens if when you grow up you don’t want children and still get them?” She is only six, I am not prepared!!)


A perk of not speaking the community language at home is that by carefully listening to what your children say in that language you can tell so much on what kind of environment they are exposed to at school. Lately, Nestor has been saying things like: “Kom lieverd” (Let’s go my dear), “Perfect gedaan!” (Well done!), “Kusje erop?” (a kiss on it? – when someone is hurting), “mag als je wilt” (if you want) etc.  At his first evaluation in this preschool, his teacher showed me the indicators on his development and everything was on track or ahead, while his language was on the level of a 3.5 year old (he is 2.5). She admitted that they are all so amazed as they were openly quite skeptical about his trilingual upbringing. This is the first preschool/daycare that we’ve come across both with Una and Nestor that expressed such opinion which made us a bit uneasy at the beginning. And while they do work with a program for preschool education through play, they strike me as much more structured and old-fashioned compared to Nestor’s previous creche which worked on the Reggio Emilia principles, had their own atelier, a yoga teacher and a super-relaxed atmosphere. We loved it. Nestor wasn’t as enthusiastic. So when the teacher asked me at the evaluation of the new pre-school if we have any concerns/issues to be raised I was totally honest – I told her that as long as he is so happy to go there there is little else relevant to us. The language tell-tales and his excitement when we get on the bicycle to go to school and disappointment when he realises that today is not a school day tells us without a doubt that he is well cared for, loved and encouraged there. And that is all that, at his age, he needs from school.


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Filed under Raising multilingual children

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