“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”
– Ludwig Wittgenstein
Language fuels our brains, frames our thoughts and makes complex communication possible. The words, expressions and quirks unique to our language largely define how we see and understand the world. If you’re monolingual, that world has clearer limits. But in an age of borderless communications and global travel, it seems almost archaic to be limited to one language only – even if you’re lucky enough to speak a global language like English or Spanish as your mother tongue.
But is being bilingual – speaking two languages – or even multilingual all it’s cut out to be? Does it really open up the world to us when Google Translate can do so in one easy click? Can it make economies more successful, help us earn higher salaries, maybe even lead to a happier, more connected life? And is it, as popular culture likes to claim, the secret to bringing up super smart children?
The brain is a remarkably malleable organ. From birth to old age, it develops, adapts, learns and re-learns, even after being injured. Language is an essential component of how the brain functions throughout life, but just like the brain itself, science still doesn’t have a full picture of how language works its magic on those neural pathways.
The Direct Dutch Institute recommends speaking Dutch as often as possible – even if all your Dutch colleagues speak English, and even if you only know a few words of Dutch. Ruud Hisgen gives you some food for thought and conversation.
The way to an international’s heart is through the stomach, is a truth universally acknowledged. For our recent contest, a free Dutch intensive course, we begged the question: “Which Dutch food item will you miss most if you move back to your home country?”
Over 350 contestants told us what Dutch food item they’d miss most. Drop (liquorice) appears to be the least favourite of over 36 food items, which included: kibbeling (deep-fried cod bits), oliebol (doughnut ball), speculaas (spiced biscuit), appeltaart (apple pie), gevuldekoek (almond filling cake), patat (French fries), kroket (croquette), pannenkoek (pancake), and hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles).
Breaking news voor taalpessimisten: de Nederlandse taal wordt nauwelijks bedreigd door de invloed van het Engels. Dat blijkt uit een rapport (‘De staat van het Nederlands’) van het Meertens Instituut, de Taalunie en de Universiteit Gent, dat vandaag verschenen is.
De heuglijke conclusie van het rapport: “Nederlands is een zeer vitale taal met uitstekende overlevingskansen voor de toekomst”.
Mooie aanleiding om een een trits geinige, oud-Hollandse woorden op te poetsen. Omdat ze gewoonweg te leuk zijn om te laten verstoffen. Ook een lans breken voor een leuk, bijna vergeten woord? Be our guest -eh, we bedoelen: schroom niet.
Iemand in het ootje nemen. Net wat gezelliger dan iemand in de zeik nemen.
Deugniet, baldadig kind. Stukken minder vervelend dan een rotkind, toch?
Desalniettemin voor gevorderen.
By train, bike, and boat, we visit the top Dutch sights outside of Amsterdam: from Haarlem to Rotterdam, and from Delft to the Zuiderzee. Along the way, we enjoy charming towns with fragrant cheese markets, soggy polderland, mighty dikes, and windmills both new and old. Rolling through the Netherlands and connecting with its people, you can’t help but think, “Everything’s so…Dutch!”
Four-year-old Henry sometimes speaks English like a Dane. But Robert Lane Greene, his father, is convinced that there are cognitive benefits to raising bilingual children.
“Her is a bad guy!” This is a nerve-racking moment, not the first and not to be the last. My son Henry is describing the squid-witch Ursula, from Disney’s “Little Mermaid”, to his brother Jack. “She” is one of the most common words in the English language, but Henry has botched it and come up with “her”. He has just turned four. He should be able to use “she” properly at his age. Is his bilingual upbringing holding him back?
My wife is Danish; we met and married in New York. I sweated to learn Danish partly because she emigrated to be with me; I wanted to make the deal fair and be part of her world too. If you don’t speak a person’s native language, there’s always a corner of their mind you can’t quite reach. But everyone who has learned a language in adulthood knows how hard it is, with the grammar books and the flash cards, the pronunciation problems and the awkward rhythm, never quite getting to fluency. How much better to raise a genuine bilingual.
Plenty of parents have come to that conclusion. The new German-English state school near us in London is full to capacity. The French-English bilingual programme in our old neighbourhood in Brooklyn is crammed to the rafters.
Parents normally use one of two strategies to make sure the minority language sticks: either “one parent, one language”, or “one language at home, the other outside”. Neither would work for us, as Jack is the offspring of a previous relationship, and speaks only English. But while my wife speaks English to Jack, she has stuck to speaking only Danish to Henry.