Bruised + Gekneusd = Gebreusd

img461_edited-1 Our last visit to the Netherlands was eleven years ago, when B was six and R almost three. That was also the last time I spoke Dutch for any length of time with other adults.

I pretty much stopped speaking Dutch to the kids six years ago, when R’s language therapist advised against it, since R was having a hard enough time with English. I hadn’t spoken more than a few sentences in Dutch since then. Sure, I read Dutch almost every day online, but that’s different.

Last week two Dutch friends came to visit for a few days after attending a conference in Houston. It’s amazing what spending a few days with Dutch friends, speaking Dutch, will do to a Dutch-deprived mind.

First of all were the odd things that came out of my mouth if I didn’t pay attention. I would combine the Dutch and English version of a word, thus inventing entirely new words like “gebreusd”, and I would translate English words literally to make things like  “meningloos” for “meaningless”, etc. Then I would hear it and think, no, that doesn’t sound right. But at least I’d realize it right away.

Having to switch from Dutch for my friends to English for everyone else was sometimes too much for my brain. It gave up being able to tell the difference. So when the kids were arguing and I told them to quit it in my strictest and snappiest voice, they’d respond simultaneously with “What are you saying?” and “I don’t know what that means.” Only then would I realize that I’d been chastising them in Dutch. Everyone would laugh, including me, and my authority was out the window.

I also suddenly started calling Austin Amersfoort, which was the town I lived in before emigrating. While speaking Dutch, my brain was back to thinking Amersfoort was home.

I read something decades ago about Dutch people who emigrated to Australia in the 1950s and were now becoming senior citizens. Those suffering from Alzheimer’s often lost their ability to speak English. It made things extra hard for their caretakers, who usually didn’t speak a word of Dutch. These immigrants didn’t start speaking English on a daily basis until they were adults. I’ve been pretty much bilingual since the age of five, so I wonder what would happen with my languages if I became senile. I can just picture it: “And what would you like for dessert today, dear?” (As if you’d get a choice, but anyway.) “Hmm, I lust well what hopjesvla, alsjeplease, with some flocks erover gesprinkeld”.

8 responses to “Bruised + Gekneusd = Gebreusd

  1. Yes, similar things happen here, luckily I have 3 family members that speak Dutch, so mine is still pretty ok-ish, but the things that roll over my tongue at times makes me worry too for that time when I get old and forgetful, hopefully over many more years! 🙂


  2. It’s too bad your children could not be bilingual. When I was a child I wanted my mother to speak Spanish to me but she gave up after about half an hour… I always regretted not being raised bilingual.


    • Yeah, B understood a lot and if forced, he could say a lot more than I thought. But now he barely understands anything anymore, and R doesn’t understand a word. The saddest part about it is that they can’t read my favorite Dutch children’s books…


  3. Marie-Jacqueline

    LOL: Languages is my stokhorse!
    Dutch talk plentyvol vreemde languages!
    It rains pijpesteels!
    I steek the road over!

    I am from province Limburg and you might remember that we speak dialect!
    At home, at work etc. dialect is predominantly used.
    The dialect changes from north to the south of the province, changing a bit from town to town, village to village.
    Dialect has no borders, so I can use it in Germany and Belgium, where the border of those two countries meet the Limburg one.

    As I always say:
    Dialect (from Roermond) is my mother tongue but immediately followed by Dutch (ABN).
    I can remember in school, having to write an “opstel” wich I really didn’t like to do.
    When I got it back some grammatical mistakes were mentioned as limburgianisms.

    But the advantages of speaking a dialect outweighs the little faux-pas

    The advantages of speaking another language than you own have proven to be in favour of neurological development!

    In my opinion, just from your story mind you, that teacher did take the easy way out with your sons English problems
    Teachers in the Netherlands, in province Friesland (Fries) and province Limburg did have to deal with that problem and still do.

    These two books of Maarten Rijkens:
    Maarten Rijkens: “I always get my sin” en “We always get our sin too”.
    Maybe something to make you laugh!


    • Hi Marie-Jacqueline,

      Yes, the Limburg dialect is amazing. I spent a few days once among some Limburgers who only spoke the dialect, and I couldn’t understand a word they said! And yes, in most cases being bilingual is a good thing, neurologically speaking. But if certain neurological pathways are missing–as in my daughter R’s case, due to oxygen deprivation during birth–creating and then maintaining those pathways for just one language is already a constant battle. This wasn’t a teacher taking the easy way out; this was a specialized language therapist’s advice afgte4r working with R for a while and figuring out what was going on.


  4. Marie-Jacqueline

    First of all I owe you an apology, but most of all the language-therapist!
    As I wrote in my initial answer, I was giving my opinion with just the information of your post!
    I did assume something that in this case wasn’t there!
    It can’t be easy for your daughter and I understand that another language than English will make it even harder for her!

    Yes, it is amazing and it is still very much in use!
    Certainly compared with the rest of the Netherlands (Frisian excluded).
    Dialect is being used by every social class!
    This in contrast with the rest of the country where a local dialect is in decline and pushed aside as common and crude!

    It comes in handy when learning German ( when to use der, die, das) and all that!


    • No apologies needed. R has very specific challenges that don’t apply to most people learning a second language. Yes, the Limburg dialect is like another language. I have never found any dialects common or crude. I went to college in Deventer and became friends with many people from the eastern part of Holland, and I loved their accent and the different vocabulary. Dialects are cool!


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