So as the rest of the country sits wide awake, glued to the Netherlands-Argentina game, I too am considering the position of Dutch in the world, but the language, not the football team. Don’t feel sorry for me; I’d really rather think about language than watch the World Cup semi-finals… (small confession: the game is on, but the sound is muted – I know the horns will alert me if there is a goal).
So why am I pondering support for Dutch as a mother tongue from my sofa in the Netherlands? Because all over the world there are children being raised with Dutch as one of, but not their only language, for a variety of reasons. Some of them may have a parent on a foreign posting (a footballer perhaps?) and others may have a Dutch-speaking parent (or Flemish speaking!) but are being raised outside the Netherlands. But for whatever reason, these children are in the process of being raised as bilinguals, in a place where schooling is not available in their “mother tongue” or L1.
This weekend I have been invited to speak at a training conference for an organisation that trains and provides Dutch L1 teachers to schools and organisations around the world. I think this is a fantastic initiative. To be completely frank, Dutch is not a widely spoken language. It’s a small country, and even when you add the numbers of Flemish speakers from across the border (sorry Vlaams speakers – I am considering it “Dutch” for the purposes of this article, although I am very aware that it is not “just Dutch”!) there are still not that many people in the world who speak Dutch.
So if you are abroad with your Dutch-speaking children, either temporarily or permanently, you may not have a lot of resources available to help your child’s Dutch grow and thrive. Language One helps international schools and other private organisations provide “mother tongue” tuition for many of these children which would not otherwise be available. This is important on many levels. For children temporarily out of the country, it’s important that their Dutch language skills continue to grow at an age-appropriate rate, so that when they come “home” they can reintegrate back into Dutch schools and Dutch society. For Dutch-speaking children permanently abroad, language support gives them a chance to grow their Dutch skills in a school-based setting, so that they develop a level of Dutch that will allow them to access their own culture and connect with their “Dutchness”.
If I were a business person, I’d consider this a great model – there are so many expats and immigrants around the world that would be delighted to have an organisation provide qualified, trained L1 teachers to their schools or companies. It’s a valuable service that supports the growth and development of the growing “Third Culture Kid” population, and provides possibilities for positive in-school models of bilingualism. But I’m not a business person, so I’ll just say I think this is a great initiative, and I hope that it becomes available for other languages one day too. And I look forward to working with these “Language One” pioneers on Saturday!