Thanks to Carole from DutchTV for sharing this video on Facebook yesterday.  This interview is actually from 2013.  American actress Christina Applegate has a Dutch husband.  They live in the US and have a child together.

Less than a minute in to the video below, there is this exchange:

Conan: Your husband is Dutch, is that right?

Christina: Yes, he’s Dutch, he’s from the Netherlands, from Amsterdam

Conan: (….) Is your plan then….Is he teaching your daughter how to speak…

Christina: He hasn’t been teaching her how to speak Dutch but he’s been teaching her songs and things like that, and she has little Dutch books, but it’s harder for him to speak to her in Dutch and then with me and then I feel isolated.  It’s more about me feeling isolated, and them being able to talk about me, and me not knowing what they say (laughter).  So I said “Absolutely no Dutch in the house”.  Except for, she does know a lot of Dutch songs

Conan: It must be adorable to hear a little girl sing a Dutch song

Christina: It is so sweet……

The rest you can watch here:

 

This brings up two interesting issues for me, which I’ve lived through:

1. Reasons for not raising children bilingually

Personally, I feel that raising children bilingually is one of the greatest gifts you can give, you can read a recent post I wrote about that here:

Raising bilingual Dutch Australian children

Now I realise, there is a tone of joking in her interview, and the audience also laughs.  However I really don’t find this a valid reason for not allowing your partner, who has given up much of their identity and culture to be in another country, to not share their own language with their own child.  Now I don’t know his take on this, and there may be other reasons.

However, I’ve been in this position and I have to say, I am not a huge fan of the Dutch language itself.  I actually went through a stage where I didn’t want to hear it at all – mostly when my husband wanted to move back to NL and I wanted to stay in Australia.  At the time, wanted to try and distance myself from anything Dutch!  But that was temporary, and I felt, in the best interest of my family to find a way to get over it.  Now we are back in NL, there is no choice of course, and I’m fighting to keep English in the girls’ life.

To make a (very public!) statement “Absolutely no Dutch in the house” and admitting this is mostly about her is a really sad loss of a language and all the potential benefits this brings – to their child and also to their relationship.   Marrying someone from another country brings a whole lot of challenges.  Celebrating their culture as much as possible though, of which a big part is the language, is something I can say from personal experience is very important. Please reconsider Christina Applegate!

Perhaps this is hitting so hard as my children were recently “banned” speaking English to each other at their after school care.  The reason given was “the other children may worry that they are being talked about”.  I asked my 8 year old daughter’s opinion of this.  Her wisdom?  “Mama, we’re not talking about them.  But if they are worried, they can just ask us what we’re talking about and we’ll translate for them.  We can also teach them English”. 

Christina, please just ask your daughter and husband to translate – or teach you some Dutch!  Sure, it’s hard work, and not always the prettiest language ever, however I promise you – if you think it’s sweet to hear her sing a song in Dutch, you’ll have a whole new level of pride when you hear her switch back and forth between languages, and develop amazing perspectives that only the talent of speaking more than one language can bring.

2.  Perceptions of the Dutch by the rest of the world (or America at least)

The guttural “g”.  They’re so tall.  They’ve got all this chocolate and dams.   I find it really interesting to hear how others see the Dutch.  There is of course all the talk of drugs and windmills too, and I know that often others refer to the Dutch directness as being rude and arrogant.  I’m trying to remember how I thought of the Dutch before I married one!   Now I have lived here for a significant amount of time and am officially Dutch myself, the things I am most proud of are their innovation, practicality, openness and honesty.  I wonder what made Christina fall in love with her Dutch husband?  For me, part of the package is the language.

I do agree the song is a little weird though.  I understand Dutch pretty well but have trouble with most of this one.  There are luckily lots of other Dutch songs!  Share your favourites in a comment…and any thoughts on raising children bi-lingually.

Renee