As an immigrant, this way, I prevented language problems for me and my kids
When I immigrated to Israel, my Hebrew was practically non-existent. Hebrew prayers I could read but barely understand and were pronounced very different from the modern Hebrew most people in Israel speak.
I shored up my new local lingo as well as I could but did not succeed very much. It took years. Meanwhile, my kids were born. What to speak to them? These are the ideas that guided me. My Dutch experiences likely much resemble what immigrants from other countries go through.
I knew a 6-year-old in Amsterdam who was fluent in six languages. He effortlessly switched from one language to the next, depending on whom he talked to. As a Jewish kid with a Swiss and a French parent living in the Netherlands, he had at his disposal Yiddish, two Swiss languages, French, Hebrew, and Dutch. So I know that kids have a tremendous language potential, normally not tapped if they are only exposed to one language.
It seems important that each parent or person speaks consistently one language with a child. It may take the child a bit longer to start talking, but when it does, it has several sets of language ready. If one speaks a mixture, the child learns none of the sets of words properly.
And the more one speaks to a young child, the better it seems at languages. I find it so tragic to see modern parents walk around with their babies busy texting instead of talking to them. They are sponges!
I also knew that every language and dialect stands for a distinct set of words, ideas, a culture, and a mindset. The more languages you speak, the richer and more diverse you can think and express yourself. And therefore, we’re better off listening to non-native speakers, hearing new viewpoints.
The Netherlands is very rich in dialects. There are hundreds and hundreds of them. I knew someone who claimed he could hear what neighborhood and sometimes street in his village people were from. But, when I grew up, only ‘General Civilized Nederlands’ could be heard on the radio. Dialects and accents were regarded as signs of stupidity. That is over. Members of the Dutch Parliament now proudly speak with audible local accents. Frisian, not a dialect but a separate language related to Scottish, is now one of the two official languages in the Northern Province of Friesland.
The language spoken at home, different from the official language, often stands for closeness, warmth, a heightened identity, a sense of belonging.
My parents taught their children the official language without the local accents they grew up with. But, among ourselves, in the Jewish desert the Holocaust left us, they enriched their speak with Barchuns. The (anti-Semitic) official normative Dutch dictionary said it was a lingo of thieves but my parents were very honest. Rather, it was a sort of a Dutch Yiddish.
I have an enormous Dutch capacity that I could never match in English, let alone in Hebrew. If I wanted to say everything I thought and felt, I should talk Dutch to my kids. In that idiom and vocabulary, I could express myself the most completely. Only in Dutch, can I convey all nuances and be me.
My experience is that I can connect in other languages, but if I don’t speak to Dutch people too, my whole existence begins to feel disconnected, fake, plastic, cold, not alive. Look how eagerly Jewish immigrants from Arab countries speak with Arab Gentiles. And the French with the French, etc.
Racism and nationalist supremacy made English and not Dutch the latest most international language. How so? The colonizing Dutch said: “Our sophisticated language is too complicated for these primitive natives” in ‘their’ colonies and for other foreigners. They didn’t even try teaching them. But, the imperialist British said: “But at least, let’s bring them some true civilization,” and taught the Peoples they subjugated their English!
I realized that my kids would learn proper Hebrew quickly in kindergarten much better than I could ever teach them. That way, they would have no language problems later, in school or society. And that’s how it was.
Many Israeli immigrants didn’t pass on their mother tongue to their children and later regretted that. They gave in to a wish to integrate, to not stand out, to not seem old-fashioned. What a loss of tools and culture!
And that could also explain the terrible English of many Hebrew-speakers. While Arab-speaking Israelis often speak a much better English. My kids too reported having an easier time learning English, speaking already several languages. But still, that real hominess is felt best in Dutch.
A little lack of shame goes a long way too. Children generally don’t like to stand out but if you think it’s cool to have an extra language at home, they won’t mind either so much. Especially, if they have friends whose parents also speak their mother tongue at home. And I know parents who speak modern Hebrew with the Mizrachic ‘Ayin, Chet, and Moroccan Chuf: cool!
Letting dialects and languages die out is cultural genocide.
My advice to all parents in Israel: speak your mother tongue with your kids. And even Arab-speakers in Israel, let your kids speak Hebrew in kindergarten and class but Arabic at home — the best of both worlds.
That way, speaking several languages is an asset, not a handicap.
Some of the above is a simplification to explain my situation more easily.