Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews -- For those who like their news and truths frank and sharp

In honor of International Mother Language Day

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.

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to two Dutch survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork, and holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam). He taught Re-evaluation Co-counseling, became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are: his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim: Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. * Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years, he wrote hasbara for the Dutch public. His fields of attention now are varied: Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (statistics), Politics (Israel, the US and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight Truth), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), Ecology and Veganism. Sometimes he's misunderstood because he has such a wide vision that never fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what many love about him. Many of his posts relate to affairs from the news or the Torah Portion of the Week or are new insights that suddenly befell him. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, reassure the doubters but make the self-assured doubt more. He strives to bring a fresh perspective rather than bore you with the obvious. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds must be disputed. In short, his main political positions are: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, democracy, anti the fake peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, Science, Free Will, anti blaming-the-victim and for down-to-earth optimism. Read his blog how he attempts to bridge any discrepancies. He admits sometimes exaggerating to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second-generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. November 13, 2018, he published his 500th blog post with the ToI. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having a peek outside of your cultural bubble. * To find his earlier blog posts on a certain subject XXX, among his over 1200 ones, go to the right-top corner of the Times of Israel page, click on the search icon and search "zuiden, XXX". His second daily active less tame blog, to which one may subscribe, one may find here: or by clicking on the globe icon next to his picture on top. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me.
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