By Gino Morillo Morales
Speaking Limburgish with your children will have negative consequences for their Dutch. True or false? Answer: false. Among linguists, this commonly held belief is an outdated myth, so no need to worry about confusing ‘sjogkels’ with ‘schommels’. Recent research has shown that not only are children are able to learn more than just one language simultaneously, they will not mix them to such an extent that one language will severely hamper the child’s proficiency in the other. In Limburgish society, each language fulfils diverse, yet important functions and thus are both invaluable. Raising your child bilingually even brings additional benefits. In other words, as a parent there is no need to fear teaching your child Limburgish. If it is your mother tongue, it should only be encouraged to teach your child both the language of the heart (in which the child thinks, feels, and dreams) and the instrumental language (which is Dutch, the official language of the country) and not enforce Dutch in the family situation.
“I’m glad my parents opted for [raising me in] Limburgish. It is a part of my identity. It is my mother tongue. It feels like home.”
Professor Ad Backus, a linguist, is one of many people who grew up with Limburgish and Dutch in Limburg. He grew up in the small Limburgish village called Heythuysen, also simply known as ‘Heitse’. He considers the Limburgish language to be a part of his heritage and is grateful his parents opted to raise him in Limburgish as it is a part of his identity. About his attachment to the Dutch language, he mentions: “[To me] it’s purely an instrumental language, something you need in this country. And rightly so”, therein also confirming the vital role of the Dutch language in Limburgish society. When asked about the disadvantages of being raised bilingually, his reply can be summarised in a brief and concise “None”. They will not only be able to speak the instrumental language – Dutch – but also the language of the heart, thoughts and emotions of many of their peers – Limburgish. This might be one of the most convincing arguments to raise your child bilingually in Limburg.
“The only advice you should give to parents is: speak as you speak. Do what feels natural.”
Can a child learn more than one language? “The answer is obviously yes”, says professor Backus, while elaborating his reply by saying that children will not learn both languages for all the same domains, that is, for instance a child’s Dutch school vocabulary might be larger than their specific Limburgish school vocabulary. In society, however, this is not an issue as each language is used wherever it is needed, so both languages will fulfil their respective functions where needed. How should parents of young children deal with this bilingualism then? The solution is not to fear, avoid or enforce any language, but rather to speak as you speak and do whatever feels natural. Professor Backus adds that this can be easily done in Limburg, but it should not be a universal advice, as in some parts of the world parents might understandably refrain from teaching their child their mother tongue because of social tension or apprehension, like in Cataluña during Franco’s reign in Spain, where it was forbidden to speak Catalan. In such a situation, other considerations might come into play.
As a parent, you will not have to be afraid that your bilingual child will only be half as proficient as a monolingual Dutch one. Quite the opposite!
Aside from the aforementioned social and emotional reasons to raise your child bilingually, there are also some cognitive advantages. Recent scientific research has shown that bilingual Dutch-Limburgish children in Limburg have an on average better developed vocabulary in Dutch than their monolingual Dutch peers. As a parent, this means that you will not have to be afraid that your bilingual child might only be half as proficient as a monolingual Dutch child in the end. Quite the opposite! Additionally, they are better in ‘filtering out noise’, that is, concentrating on a specific source of sound amongst many others – a useful trait in today’s busy and tight-scheduled life.
In Limburgish society, being bilingual is only advantageous and the idea of badly mixing languages is an outdated myth.
It is beneficent to acquaint your children not only with words like ‘woelen’, ‘kruiwagen’ and ‘lucifer’, but also with ‘sjravele’, ‘sjörkèr’ and ‘zjwaegel’. Additionally, children will not be surprised when they hear someone speak about a ‘tas koffie’ (which is not a ‘bag of coffee’, which would be the interpretation in the Dutch language, but rather a ‘mug of coffee’). Dutch is invaluable as it is the main language used in schools in Limburg. Instrumentally, it is absolutely necessary, as it is the official language in the Netherlands. Limburgish is invaluable because it creates a sense of belonging. It is the language of emotions and thoughts for many people in Limburg. So, raising your child with both languages provides them with two excellent tools to succeed in life.