Category Archives: Raising multilingual children

Everything I need to know about life I learn from my 5 year old

Nestor {from the back of my bike, where he is always the most inspired to talk}: “Mama, leven is leuk.”

I {Instead of the only life motto you need, I hear a grammar mistake. Adults are funny like that.}: “Yes, darling, life is good. Het leven is leuk.

Nestor: “Nee, dat bedoel ik niet. Ik bedoel” (No, I didn’t mean it like that. I meant: It is good to live.)


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Filed under Daily gratitude, Out of the mouths of babes, Raising multilingual children

Latest Nestorisms



Nestor: “Mama, M (the new kid in his class) does not speak Dutch, only German and English. I think he is really sweet so I am helping him learn Dutch. Today I thought him to say “In a galaxy far far away”.

I: “Very sweet of you, Nestor. And very useful, indeed.”


I: “Nestor, what would you like to do today?”

Nestor: “Build technology!”

There is no hope for this one either. {The photo below is Una’s first technical design of a boat made from milk carton. At the age of 6. }



Nestor: “Mama, I am so happy you were born.”

I: {sometimes there just are no words}.

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Una’s latest

Una: “Mama, do you think I could be a strip tekenaar (comic book artist)?

I: “I think you could, what do you think?”

Una: “I kind of think so too. I am quite good at both drawing and creating stories, so I thought this could be a good choice for me”.



Una: “Daddy, could you help me find a good app, I would like to start learning Chinese”

Mark: “?X$$%%#%#%#”

{And there we wondered whether she could handle being trilingual}

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Filed under Growing up too fast, Out of the mouths of babes, Raising multilingual children

Nestor says

{Nestor and I are doing grocery shopping. Freshly baked chocolate croissants are calling from the bread isle.}

I: “Nestor, would you like a chocolate croissant?”

Nestor : “Neee! Dat is helemaal ongezond! (That is totally unhealthy!) {giving me a look of disgust, as though I suggested that we have McDonalds hamburgers with a side of sugar candy for dinner}

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Filed under Out of the mouths of babes, Raising multilingual children

Day 81

Today I am grateful for dinner time laughter our happy, silly boy is making sure we get plenty of, every day. Like most parents, we try to each our children table manners, which sometimes involves marching orders: sit on your chair/elbows off the table/leave your sister(brother) alone/you’ll choke if you laugh and eat at the same time/stop popping cherry tomatoes so that they splash everyone around, you know the usual. I hope we succeed in teaching them manners without shutting off the laughter.

Oh yes, I am also grateful for Nestor’s daily additions to the dutch/english/serbian dictionary (we aren’t quite sure where he intends to place it). Word of the day – lofelijk (according to Nestor, this means: “Not being in the mood to eat the food that is on the table”). At least for this one he graced us with explaining the meaning, we are still baffled by what bohonder means and he.just.won’t.tell.

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Latest Nestorisms (mostly from the back bicycle seat)

{we made a mistake of telling the kids three months too early that we will probably visit the Playmobil park in Germany during the summer holidays}

Nestor: “Mama, Playmobil is the best thing ever. Playmobil and Riley (Nestor’s best friend).

I: “Playmobil and Riley? Nice.”

Nestor: “Mama, Riley is 4 and I am only 3. Do you think that 3 is good enough? I think that 3 is good enough.

I {while trying not to fall off the bicycle laughing}: “Yes, Nestor, I think that 3 is enough.”


Nestor: “Mama, I am SO old”.


{after dinner conversation}

Nestor: “Mama, Daddy, do you know what my plan now is?

Mark and I: “No, what is your plan?”

Nestor: “My plan is to talk to my sister. THAT is my plan.”


Nestor: “Mama, ik vind je ZO lief!” {I think that you are so sweet}

Mama: {instant melting}


Note: I write what Nestor says  in English, for the most part. The language that he mostly uses at the moment is Dutch though. The conversation about his plans to talk to his sister was in English, with a fake British accent, no idea where that came from. I also write my answers in English, while in reality I only speak Serbian to him.

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Filed under Cherished moments, Out of the mouths of babes, Raising multilingual children

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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