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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

A Polish child and a Dutch teacher walk into a daycare

In Klara’s daycare group, there is one more Polish child, a boy who has just turned 2 and a half, and so joined the peuter group. Today, the number of Polish children in Klara’s daycare got even bigger, because today, yet another boy started attending. So, this makes three Polish children in a group, of… nine. 30% of the children in Klara’s daycare group are Polish.
Today, as the new boy was introduced to the group, the nanny, half-jokingly asked the children to not use Polish when talking to each other.

Now, I understand that the teachers needs to make sure that she can understand all the children in case there are conflicts and problems, so that she can help. I also understand her concern that by speaking Polish with each other, they will exclude other children from the conversation. And after all, one of the reasons that we sent the children to a Dutch daycare was that they can learn Dutch. So maybe I should just agree with the nanny?

But I have concerns. The first one is that I think that everybody should be allowed to speak their own language, regardless of where they are. The argument: “but we are in (fill in country) and so everybody should speak (fill in the official language of the country)” has never appealed to me, as I always felt it is extremely patronizing.

Then, again, there is a problem of low priority languages and Polish definitely is one of them. I am working hard on making my children speak Polish and I know it will become harder still as they grow up and spend less time with me. If Klara sees that her language is not accepted in the country she’s living in, she will be even more reluctant to use it. Hearing similar comments won’t help!

Then, there is the thing that Poland already has a long history of oppression. For 123 years, Poland didn’t exist, and the Polish language was forbidden at schools. Pupils were strictly punished for speaking it. The same thing goes for WWII where Polish language classes often took place in secret. So, if I hear comments like this one, it rings alarm bells in my Polish head.

And while Dutch children won’t understand Polish, Polish (and other expat children) children will speak Dutch and so can act as translators, and mediators between cultures. If they are forbidden to speak their own language, it won’t make them feel that they belong more; instead they will lose a huge part of their identity. It might even cause them to stop speaking Polish at home. Also, these children will learn to speak Dutch and will also speak Dutch to Dutch children and Polish to Polish children. Isn’t that amazing? What an opportunity for showing how cool knowing different languages are! Such a great opportunity for teaching acceptance of all cultures regardless of what they are! It would be a shame to miss this!

I must say, however that so far I have always had great experiences with this daycare. One of the nannies even learned the Polish words for “byebye” and sometimes calls Klara: “Klaruś” or “Klarunia”, which are both similar to the Dutch “Klartje”. I like how many nationalities and cultures are represented there. I also like that it is a “Dutch” daycare, and that they can learn the language.

When I came to pick the children up in the afternoon, I got to talk with her. She said that they are required to only speak one language at daycare- Dutch. She also mentioned how a situation in which two children play together in another language can hinder their speech development- not true at all!

This isn’t over. I hope to talk to more people from that daycare to make sure that the children receive positive messages about their own cultures rather to being forbidden to speak their own languages! Also, some more knowledge about raising- and caring for bilingual children would be also useful! 

Maybe you have any ideas how I can deal with this? I am very, very upset about this and would appreciate all advice and suggestions!

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  1. Definitely talk to the staff. Understanding the children they care for is one thing, limiting the children's expression and making them miserable for no real reason other than the staff perhaps feel inferior not knowing Polish is quite another story! I'm with you on this one wholeheartedly ;)

    1. Thanks! I talked to my husband and he thinks that I am overreacting but judging from the positive response I am getting from my Polish readers, maybe I'm not? I'll talk to them. Funny that Polish readers might be with me on this one, with other cultures being more reserved about it. But we have had enough cases where families were forbidden to speak Polish, on the ground of spoiling the children and I don't want this to happen to us. If it was German or English nobody would have any problems with it. It's just because it's Polish, and they can't understand it...

  2. Jestesz gupia. Dragging in world war II when talking about toddlers is totally off-base. See 'Godwin'.

    Really. Kids being asked to speak the local language (Dutch in this case) in daycare is so that the children will be able to speak the language of their home country properly when they go to school later. There has been a huge problem with kids going to school and simply not being able to communicate with other kids and teachers and to follow the lessons. If you want your kids to grow up speaking Polish to other kids then do it after school, invite them into your home and have your kid go there. But once they cross the line to the door of the daycare/school/office/whatever you're going to have to adapt.

    You are setting your kids up for being disadvantaged under the guise of free expression. It's just plain dumb.

  3. Olga, but the same happened to me with my son talking German at daycare. It's just that they want to avoid that little not-Dutch-talking groups hinder a general "together" and communication within the group. Later we found out that in this daycare they used to talk about celebrations from all the 10 (!) countries the children in the daycare came from, in order to help the children to talk about their or their parent's homecountries.
    And about what you say about the "hindering their speech development": I guess they were talking about their Dutch speech development. Often it happens that children sharing the same language and always playing together get isolated and don't really find it necessary to learn the language their taught at school or at daycare. As far as I know, this is the only reason why they ask the children not to talk their mothertongue "in class" or when they're all together in class.
    It should be allowed though, that children talk every language they like during playtime or "relax-time". - How is this in your daycare?

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Ute. Yes, that's exactly the reason why they don't want expat children to speak their languages. The way I see it is that expat children speak their language to other expat children and Dutch to Dutch children- that would be perfect, wouldn't it? I think the children going to Dutch daycare do understand the importance of learning Dutch- Klara has many Dutch friends and doesn't really play with the Polish children (they are only 2! She is 3!), so it'd not like she's getting isolated. But by being forbidden to use their language the expat children will feel isolated because they won't feel accepted by the Dutch society- so it's not a solution! I am not sure how it's done in this daycare, but I will have to talk to them about this. I don't believe that being forbidden to speak Polish will help the development of Dutch. If so, it will hinder the development of Polish- which is already hard enough to achieve! This could be done differently- for example by asking the children to translate, or making them a part of the general conversation by asking them about their countries- by using positive reinforcement, rather than negative one! However, this of course is daycare we're talking about, and my husband thinks this is too early to even bother with such problems. However, I do believe that I have to talk to the staff about this- it's important that the children get positive messages about their cultures-and "but you can't speak Polish here" is not one of them...

  4. The positive reinforcement for "minority languages" starts within the family and the social context a child lives in. If this is not possible at daycare - for many reasons! - then you have still the option to provide a "healthy" linguistic environment at home and outside the daycare. However, let your children profit from the full-immersion into Dutch at the daycare. They will know: at daycare we speak Dutch, at home Polish with mama and German with papa. – May I just give you a friendly advise: don't let Klara feel your worries about this. She might end up not talking Dutch or not liking Dutch children and "leidsters" at school. And I'm sure that this is not what you want to happen.


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