Just a little bit more

A day later than normal, but this is the last of my Nininand Triptych. First I looked at the influence of Dutch culture visible in my children’s lives and then there was basically some pic spam of stuff we’d done. Now it is time for a language update.

Just as much as the photographs in my last post, the new words and phrases the Toddler has picked up during our visit tell the story of what we have done and what we have seen.

Meal times

Mag je van tafel, oma? [May you get down from the table, Oma?]

The Toddler has been practising being polite in Dutch, and prefacing his requests for things with “Can I have-” instead of “Want a-“. Unfortunately, his version has become victim to a little hypercorrection. He knows that I refer to myself as “I” and that if he wants to refer to me he should say “you”. So when I model the right phrase: “May I have some juice, please?”, the Toddler will dutifully morph it into “May you have some juice, please?” All his questions at the table have now become “May you” instead of “May I”.

He has learned new words for things-to-put-on-bread, as this is the Dutch staple for both breakfast and lunch. He can ask for leverworst [liverwurst] and hagelslag [chocolate sprinkles, yes we eat those on bread at ordinary mealtimes], in addition to ham and kaas [cheese], which he already knew about. He will also gleefully trot ahead of opa delivering me a kopje thee, mama! [cup of tea, Mummy!]. He knows little snacks come in a bakje [bowl] and that what he needs to do with his chair is schuiven [shunt/move] to get it closer to the table.

Daily life with Opa and Oma

Opa and Oma’s house is very tall and has three floors, so we are keeping quite fit climbing up and down many flights of stairs many times a day. The stairs are quite steep, so each trip involves a lot of Toddler-managing, persuading him to hold on to the handrail. Self-regulating chap that he is, he now does the pep talk himself and descends while keeping up a constant commentary: “Leuning, vasthouden leuning, dit leuning, dit balustrade” [Handrail, hold on to handrail, this hand rail, that bannister].

He loves having Opa and Oma around, and keeps constant tabs on them. Wat ben je aan het doen? [What are you doing?] is what he wants to know all the time. If one or the other disappears, he wants to know where they are. Telling him they are at work will produce a sage nod: Opa werk. Oma werk. However, five minutes later he will want to know where they are again, as he thinks that was quite enough work.

A bit more milk

A bit more milk

The Toddler’s English is full of little phrases he has borrowed from his Gran, such as “goodness me!” and “That’s a clever trick!” and “not again!”. It has been lovely to see the things my parents say creep into his Dutch over the past week or so. My parents made up a little song about my Dad (Opa, to the Toddler), which we have sung a lot while we were here, my Dad improvising new verses as the mood took him. This has led to the Toddler randomly coming out with “gekke vent!” [silly guy!], a phrase Opa uses to refer to himself in the song. The Toddler also seems to have noticed how Oma frequently nudging Opa for a little refill of tea or wine (depending on the time of day) and has started to do the same. He now holds out his milk beaker to me and asks me with a charming smile: “Beetje meer, mama?” [little bit more]

Little sisters are fun

The Toddler has been having great fun playing with his sister of late. We’ve been rolling a ball back and forth with the Baby. When she catches the ball, she lifts it up and starts gnawing on it, causing great hilarity and “Nee, niet om op te eten!” [No, not for eating!] Her brother has also been recreating her kinderstoel (high chair) for her out of cushions (one behind her back and one on her lap).

He loves the fact that she is trying to crawl, and he will merrily demonstrate for her (or just for me) giggling: “probeert te kruipen” [trying to crawl]. When her efforts fail he lets me know: “viel om!” [fell over] and usually also “baby huilt” [baby is crying]. In general, he acts as her advocate and protector, warning me when she is crying, telling me when she is lying on her front “aaaaaah baby beetje moe, baby slapen” [baby bit tired, baby sleep] and insisting that she must also wear her hood (capuchon) when it is raining, just like him, even if they’re actually sitting safe and dry in the car.

When he is feeling a bit fragile, though, he will command Oma vasthouden Baby [Oma hold baby], so that I have my arms free to hug him and carry him down the stairs.

Little

Feeding the 'little ducks' - who are half his size.

Feeding the ‘little ducks’ – who are half his size.

Most importantly, while we have been here, the Toddler has picked up a key feature of the Dutch language: the diminutive. It is mostly formed by adding the suffix -je to the end of a noun, pronounced ‘yuh’. It basically makes something ‘little’. You may have noticed some examples earlier on. The Toddler brings me a kopje thee [little cup of tea], goes to feed the eendjes [little ducks], looks for his sokjes [little socks] and tells me we have to wait for zes minuutjes [six little minutes] until it’s dinner time. Why do the Dutch make everything ‘little’? Mainly, it is our way of softening the things we say and making them sound less harsh, less threatening. Asking someone for a cup of tea might be a bit forward. Asking them for just a little cup is more acceptable. A six minute wait till dinner is a long time for a toddler. Six little minutes, however, can be done.

The Toddler seems to have instinctively grasped this while he has been here. I can see it in his face, holding out the milk beaker. A ‘bit more’ got Oliver Twist into a lot of trouble. But a little bit more, that he might just get away with.

10 responses

  1. What a joy, wat een vreugde, your columns, such trips! Petje af hoe je het allemaal doet. Ik beleef veel plezier aan het lezen van je columns, ze zijn oms heel en soms helemaal niet herkenbaar. Misschien dat ik je bij een volgend bezoek aan Nininand met kinderen kan bewonderen.

    • Ha Petra! Bedankt voor je lieve berichtje, fijn dat je het leuk vindt om mee te lezen. Helaas is het deze keer niet gelukt om bij een dienst te zijn met de kinderen, maar volgende keer zal ik er voor zorgen dat we er zondagochtend bij zijn – het is alweer veel te lang geweest sinds we jullie gezien hebben. xJ

    • That is lovely though, that you can visit Spain with him. How is your parents’ Spanish? Could they speak it with him?

      • They went to college in their Sixties to learn Spanish from scratch and only speak Spanish where they live as they are the only English people there. They do very well – my Dad is more confident than Mum but she copes. They’ve been there for nearly 9 years now.

        Yes, I must get them to talk to him in Spanish – hadn’t thought of that!🙂

  2. Wonderful when children learn languages. My husband is Italian, and my little man tries to speak Italian with his Nonna on the phone, he’s very good at saying Ciao, ciao, come sta?

    • Lovely! Even though it’s quite natural to grow up bilingual if your parents speak different languages, it still seems like a bit of a miracle to actually see it happen before your very eyes, doesn’t it?

  3. I love how young children are like sponges – absorbing the language that surrounds them. I had a friend who was French and who spoke both English and French to her children – would do half a sentence in one and then finish in the other. I used to love how quickly the children could pick up on both. I have adored your Dutch posts, Judith. Thank you so much for sharing them xx

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