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Friday, 3 May 2013

A Very Special Friday with Lisa

Lisa is a friend of mine whom I met in the Netherlands. Lisa then moved back to the US with her husband and two adorable children- her son is close to age with Klara. She contacted me with her idea for this post, and I thought this was a great and very timely, as the new King of the Netherlands has a wife from Argentina. Nowadays, this may come across as unusual, but within European families, intercultural marriages were the norm (and often the only way to ensure peace between the two countries) rather than the exception- Poland itself had kings and queens from many countries, including France, Prussia, Russia, Italy, Lithuania and more! As for the Netherlands, maybe with the Royal Family's biculturalism and bilingualism, speaking many languages and belonging to many cultures will become more normal. 

Photo by Novum
Royal Multilinguals

This week, the Netherlands is headline news with the abdication of the throne by Queen Beatrix in favor of her son, William-Alexander on April 30th. As many of you may have read in various news articles, Queen Maxima is from Argentina. Which means that the Dutch King and Queen are also a multicultural and multilingual family!

As a bit of background on the Dutch Royal Family if you are not already familiar: The King and Queen met in 1999 in Seville, Spain and began dating shortly thereafter. At the time they met, Maxima lived in New York City, but she moved to Brussels a year later to be closer to her boyfriend. They announced their engagement via national television on March 30, 2001, with Maxima speaking fluent Dutch. They were married on February 2, 2002. They have three daughters, Princess Catharina-Amalia, (born in 2003), Princess Alexia (born in 2005) and Princess Ariane (born in 2007).

In addition to Dutch, King William Alexander speaks German and English, as is common with most of his countrymen and women. Maxima attended a bilingual Spanish/English school in Argentina.  I must assume that the first bit of their relationship was therefore conducted in English, their common language. Within two years of meeting, Maxima became fluent in Dutch, with the help of tutors and some serious self-motivation. While her Dutch citizenship was granted via Royal Decree in May 2001 from Queen Beatrix, she completed the integration courses later that year and she has certainly earned her Dutch nationality (and probably knows more about the country then the average Dutch citizen). 

Like many multilingual families, there is a predominant language in the royal family, based on the nationality of one parent, the location of where the family  lives/works/children go to school, and of course, the family’s unique obligations as Dutch Royalty.  Dutch is the family language, with perhaps a smattering of English.  It is reported in several English speaking websites and news articles that Queen Maxima speaks Spanish with her daughters.  The level of fluency in Spanish for the Princesses is unreported (I admit I only searched in English, there may be more details on Dutch websites).  Certainly Queen Maxima faces the same challenges of many of the blog readers in ensuring quality time in a minority language, when surrounded by overwhelming majority language influences.  Books, movies, television, music, food, games, holiday traditions, internet resources, etc can all supplement Queen Maxima’s Spanish/Latin American culture educational efforts.

Queen Maxima also faces a challenge in sharing her Latin American culture and language with her daughters, because of a complicated relationship with her Argentinean family.  Her father was a cabinet minister during Argentina’s “dirty wars”.  An agreement with the Dutch politicians, who had to approve the marriage, meant that Maxima’s parents were not permitted to attend her wedding.  Nor were they allowed to attend this weeks ’investiture as King and Queen.  As the readers know, support from family is crucial to sharing one’s culture and language with your children.  One can only speculate on the private relationship with her family, but publicly it nearly non-existent. 

As the three Princesses grow older, they will be provided with various opportunities to study different languages.  English will be nearly mandatory, as they will represent their country abroad and interact with other foreign dignitaries. French and German are other languages typically spoken by the Dutch as third or fourth languages.  Perhaps the Princesses will instead seek formal instruction in Spanish, influenced by their mother’s heritage. 

Whatever languages the Dutch Royal Family speaks, we appreciate that they are just as multicultural and multilingual as many of us “normal” families!

Lisa VanBuskirk is monolingual American who lived in the Netherlands for 4 years with her monolingual American husband.  Despite the Dutch last name from 400 years ago (when her husband’s ancestors moved to Nieuw Amsterdam), she learned only a few phrases of Dutch, which in hindsight maybe she should have tried a bit harder to learn. Instead, she grew to appreciate (and was even a little jealous of) her expat friends unique multilingual/multicultural families. 

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  1. Informative post! Teaching children two languages when only one parent speaks a language is pretty difficult. We've been having this problem in our household. It's also hard without family support, but we are hoping to find an immersion school for Russian when my daughter is old enough.

    1. Thank you, Kat! I know how hard it is to keep up a language without family support. I hope you will find a good immersion school for Russian! And I am in the same situation as you- as I am the only person who speaks Polish. But so far it has worked out perfectly, so good luck!

  2. Fascinating article! So funny that we think of multilingual/multicultural families as a new phenomenon, when in fact it has been the norm in many circles for centuries! Isn't there something about how all the crowned heads of Europe were first cousins when World War I broke out? Thanks for sharing about this interesting royal family!

    1. Yes, it Is faascinating, isn't it? And as for multilingual royal and aristocrat families, speaking many languages is considered a good sign, showing education.It's not only the majority of the world that is multilingual, Europe has been as well, and not only for royalties!


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