Help Me, Bubby!

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Friday, March 26, 2004
   
Hi Bubby,

My partner and I both want to be parents soon, but our problem is over what language the children will speak. I am American and he is Dutch. We live in his country, the Netherlands. I speak fluent Dutch but his English is poor.

I was a linguistics major in college so I've always wanted to raise my children bilingual. I'd like them to speak Dutch and English, but my partner thinks Dutch is enough. He says he's afraid their English would become better than their Dutch, and then they would have problems living here. In my opinion that won't be an issue because they'll be attending Dutch school. I think he is secretly afraid he will feel left out if his children and partner can speak a language that he has not mastered.

While I can understand his feelings, I don't think it's fair that they grow up not knowing their mother's language. English is the most useful world language (and spoken very often in the Netherlands!). Also, when they reach 10-years-old, their school will start teaching English, and they will be ahead.

I know that being raised bilingual strengthens certain areas of the brain which normally aren't used. I absolutely hate the idea that they couldn't communicate with their grandparents back in the States. And simply, I want to be able to communicate with my kids in my first language.

I feel certain that I am 'in the right' in this situation, if such a position exists - but how do I convince my partner of that?

Between Two Worlds


Dear Between Two Worlds,

Your partner should take a course and learn to speak English as well as Dutch. The world is fast becoming a bilingual world. Why should he be left out? English is the universal language of most of the world. Every educated person in this world does speak English or is learning to speak it. The children will become bilingual whether he likes it or not because they will speak in the streets and in the schools and they will speak Dutch at home.

I can tell you that many years ago when my husband was growing up in Turkey, he became multilingual because his math teacher was German and he learned math in German -- his language teacher was French and he learned the arts in French and since his family was planning to migrate to the US he studied English with an English teacher. Later as an adult all those languages came in handy. It was what I liked most about him. So go ahead -- learn English -- that is the easiest and used all over the world.

Your children will love you for it.
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Bubby is our 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93 94 year old grandmother.
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So, are you looking for advice on food, work, a broken heart, or the perfect bat mitzvah present?

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