EXPLORING THE NETHERLANDS – THE WIND POWER MASCOT OF THE DUTCH

EXPLORING THE NETHERLANDS – THE WIND POWER MASCOT OF THE DUTCH

Reading Time: 10 minutes

 

The Netherlands really cares about green living, being eco-friendly, sustainability and conservation. Just think about how the windmill (and therefore wind power) is basically considered the unofficial mascot of the Dutch!

There are more zoos/wildlife parks here than I ever imagined, and all of them I visited are in superb condition. They all have some connection with wildlife conservation and education.

I was truly impressed with the habitats for the animals in each of the zoos we went to. My favorite was Burgers’ Zoo, south of the Hoge Veluwe National Park. I commented that it seemed like we were in the animal’s natural habitat with every site we visited.

It really feels as though you’re walking in different climate zones and just happened to come across the animals in the wild. They’ve done such a good job. The animals there are the happiest I’ve ever seen in captivity, and animals in “bad” zoos don’t have enough space to exercise (I hate seeing what I call “dead eyes” on animals in zoos), and Burgers solves both problems by giving them a lot of space to move in an environment that feels authentic, but without having to worry about survival. The combination makes for some very happy animals.

Another fantastic zoo, is the Apenhuel Primate Park, just to the east of the Hoge Veluwe. This was a wonderful experience, with capuchin monkeys greeting us upon arrival. And when I say greeting us, I mean crawling on my head, my husband’s arm and all over our pram Lemurs were also free roaming, and other primates had amazing enclosures/open air habitats.

It is set in a beautiful park that would be lovely to take a day and picnic, or ride a bike, have a romantic date and finish off at the restaurant. Speaking of food, if you want to eat while in the zoo, you need not worry about finding healthy fare. Most of the zoos in The Netherlands offered organic meals! In fact, Apenheul only offered organic ice cream! Quite a contrast to zoos in the United States, for instance, where you’re basically going to solely find the worst kind of fast foods, and inevitably leave feeling a little sick.

Exploring the National Park took us to Kootwijk, a small village that lies in the middle of the park, and is filled with farms that house gorgeous horses, ponies, sheep, goats, cows, llamas and even a few wallabies (which we spotted from our car as we zoomed by, then turned around to make sure we weren’t hallucinating). We hiked a bit, finding our way to the famous and beautiful sand dunes along the coast (who knew The Netherlands had sand dunes?!).

I can’t forget about our trip to Efteling, the oldest amusement park in Europe, which predates Disneyland by 3 years. You can see that Walt Disney got lots of inspiration from this park, which is far less commercialized than any Disney park… as well as less crowded, cheaper and way more magical. Despite not being able to do the big roller coasters (thanks to having our toddler with us), we still immensely enjoyed every moment of it – especially the Enchanted Forest and carousels.

Before our visit to the amusement park, we stayed in Tilburg, a small university city located just a stone’s throw from Efteling, as well as the Safari Park Beekse Bergen, which had African animals, as well as all sorts of ungulates, walking around. I recommend doing the drive-through section on a weekday, not at a peak time. We learned this the hard way, getting stuck in traffic, with no room to pull over at a whim to admire an animal for more than a few seconds. Our experience here was not ideal, but I imagine if you go when it’s not packed, it could be lovely. If you must go at peak time, opt for the walk-through or boat tour instead of the drive through safari.

We then traveled to Drachten and stayed onboard a yacht for a few nights. Odd as it sounds, this is Airbnb-able. It was great fun, and my daughter decided she wants to live on a boat after that experience. We even found fantastic food in the city center there, enjoying the best mustard soup (a Dutch favorite) of our entire trip.

Not too far away is the charming town of Giethoorn, which is inaccessible by car, so you need a boat and/or bicycle to get around. We rented a small boat and took a couple of hours sailing through the canals, admiring the beautiful thatched roof homes, perfectly manicured with fragrant flowers on the lawns and lily pads in the water. Giethoorn is a busy touristy town, but it’s easy to find your way into your own bubble, if you just exit the main area and venture off in your boat or bike or on foot for 20 minutes or so. Idyllic. In fact, I imagine that Giethoorn is where the word “quaint” originated. It should have been, anyway, because that’s what it feels like when you’re there. Quaint in the best way possible.

Driving west, we stopped to visit the Castle De Haar, a fantastical castle, complete with moat and drawbridge, perfectly manicured lawns, and the best kept castle I’ve ever seen. The Dutch do take pride in their country, maintaining their historic buildings and manicuring the landscape in ways that many countries don’t. Everything is taken care of and maintained so well. Even the neighborhoods we were told were lower income still looked beautiful, and were exceedingly well kept, including the roads, buildings and sidewalks. Visit this castle and be blown away by its grandeur.

Of course, we had to visit Gouda on our trip. We did, and we learned that Gouda is not only known for cheese, but also candles and ceramic pipes. I learned all about the Gouda cheese making process, and the different types, based on age. We had one of our best meals in the town, and left with a suitcase full of cheese, vacuum sealed and ready for our flight. You likely think I’m exaggerating. I am most certainly not.

Finally, we stayed in a farmhouse just twenty minutes drive from Schipol Airport, and our toddler enjoyed the chickens while we enjoyed the fresh eggs each morning.

We left The Netherlands after experiencing so much, yet feeling like we only skimmed the surface of what the country has to offer. We need to go back, especially during springtime to see the tulips, and also during winter to skate on the canals in Amsterdam when the water freezes over. It sounds like a dream – but in reality, it is already calling us back.

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Traveling The Netherlands is More Than Just Amsterdam

Traveling The Netherlands is More Than Just Amsterdam

Reading Time: 8 minutes

 

When our work took us to Amsterdam for a film festival (which we had entered and won, by the way – woo hoo!)

My husband and I decided to take advantage of the opportunity of being in Holland and take a couple of weeks to travel around The Netherlands. In that time – our first time exploring the country together – we fell in love with the place. And not just its capital.

When tourists think of Holland, they instantly think of Amsterdam, conjuring up images of weed cafes and legal prostitutes as far as the eye can see, with tulips, canals, trams or bicycles, but all still through the prism of The Dam (as the locals call it).

It does indeed go far beyond the tulips and canals and really is worth planning a trip to this amazing country – sooner rather than later.

Many of the places/attractions we visited are fun for both adults and kids alike. As the saying goes, The Netherlands is for ages 1-100, which was just as well as we were also travelling with our young toddler daughter Xena.

Public transport is a breeze in this country. Getting from city to city couldn’t be easier, and their trains are prompt and clean. We left Amsterdam and hopped on a train to The Hague. Even with four suitcases, a pram and a toddler, it was painless.  We opted to stay by the beach, which was beautiful and highly recommend. Even in the warm summer months, it means lovely cool breezes at night. The weather was especially fitting for rolling up our jeans and wading around through the soft sand of the flat beaches that seemed to extend forever, creating mini ponds and ocean water puddles throughout.

There were restaurants along the beach, and the harbour, where you could go for fresh and fried fish and seafood.  It reminded me of New England, with the same quality to the sand, the water and even the seagulls, but with far less congestion and pollution.

It was simple to get into the city center via bus and/or tram, and we headed in on most days, enjoying fantastic coffee. The third wave coffee movement is alive and well in The Hague. In fact, The Netherlands in general is one of the best countries in the world that I’ve visited with consistent quality coffee throughout.

We also explored the culinary scene, which was stellar. The food in this country is really great, and you will appreciate it even more if you are a foodie.   Wherever we were, it was possible to find a good quality restaurant serving sustainable, fresh food. Even most conventional grocery stores offered a decent organic (bio) section, including meats. There were also a few fully organic supermarkets to be found, even in smaller cities.

The City of The Hague is gorgeous. There’s greenery all over, smooth roads with bike lanes and quiet trams weaving in and out of the architecturally impressive homes. In the center is the Hofvijver, a beautiful pond adjacent to the Binnenhof (government office) and the Mauritshuis (the museum that is home to “The Girl with the Pearl Earring”).

Not too far away is the Escher in Het Paleis, where you can see M.C. Escher’s original artwork while wandering through the magnificent palace that houses it. Sheepishly, I’ll admit that I had no idea Escher was Dutch! I am a fan, though, and it was really special to see original works of such famous paintings, especially after being exposed to prints of them on the wall of every college dorm I’ve ever been in (alongside Ansel Adams, Bob Marley and Albert Einstein posters).

A trip to Den Haag wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Madurodam, a miniature replica of the entire country. My young 2 year old daughter Xena loved it, but I think my husband and I enjoyed it more. The detail is insane and settled in amongst the miniatures happens to be some giant tulips, perfect for unforgettable photo ops. Do not miss. I have no idea why, and no one could quite explain it, but Dutch people love miniatures. As if one theme park made up of a small version of the country isn’t enough, there’s also Miniworld in Rotterdam! It’s not nearly as majestic as Madurodam, but still fun to see, if you’re in the area. Which we were!

In fact, Rotterdam was our next stop. We enjoyed this bustling, hip city. If The Hague is a classy, bourgeois Grand Dame (thanks to all the diplomats, expats and government officials living there), then Rotterdam is its art-school attending, aspiring musician, younger cousin. It’s very multi-cultural, with a lot of cool shops and artsy vibes. It also, like most places in The Netherlands, has great cuisine and top-notch coffee. Another plus is the Rotterdam Zoo, considered one of Europe’s finest (my favorite part was the Oceanium).

To be continued ……………

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When in Rome, Do as the World Eater Does

When in Rome, Do as the World Eater Does

Reading Time: 12 minutes

 

Ah, Italy. Land of pizza, pasta, espresso and more. Such a wondrous country. And at the epicenter of it all, Rome. The Eternal City. What a glorious place to visit. It is indeed a magical land, transporting you back thousands of years no matter where you venture. I firmly believe that Rome is a place everyone should visit at least once in their lives.

With all the history on display, visitors flock to Rome in droves, which makes it a tourist mecca… which means much of it is also a tourist trap. And nowhere is that more apparent than at it’s thousands of eating establishments, which all seem specifically designed to draw in sightseers and out-of-towners with the promise of a delicious, classic, Italian meal, but rarely deliver. Which brings up an interesting problem. Where should one eat?

Romans love holding onto their classic culture – and history in general – more than other place I’ve ever visited. This is wonderful in regards to preserving culture, heritage, history, art… but tends to stymie progress in the food and coffee world. Let’s consider what the phrase “classic” means when it comes to a meal.

Many Roman restaurants claim recipes handed down from generation to generation. This may very well be true, and Grandma’s recipes might have included the best ingredients possible… when she was alive. Remember, there was once a time that food was, by default, natural, organic and whole, as opposed to pre-packaged, chemically processed, mass-produced, and littered with chemical pesticides, chemical additives and preservatives. Let’s assume that Grandma’s recipes really did hail from 200 years ago, as opposed to from the 1950s, when frozen, canned and microwave meals were standard in every kitchen, and it wasn’t yet known how bad these foods were for you. Going with a best case scenario, Grandma’s recipe might have called for tomatoes, which she grew in her garden, and chicken, which came from the family farm. This sounds great, but that easily could have evolved into a mass-produced, GMO, subpar-tasting, mealy tomato and a water-and-antibiotics-injected, washed-in-chlorine, mass-poultry-farm chicken. Technically, still the same ingredients, but eons away in terms of taste and health benefits.

Bottom line is that, in today’s world of artificial foods, toxins, chemicals, additives, carcinogens, hormones, medicines and a whole other plethora of unappetizing ingredients added to our foods, sourcing good quality ingredients is the first step to a good restaurant. Unfortunately, I find that unless you’re paying a Michelin Star-level premium for your meal while in Italy, many Roman restaurants – even if they are sticking to the spirit of generational recipes – serve subpar quality ingredients, resulting in a subpar outcome, no matter how talented Grandma was.

Add to that, an alarming lack of consistency, some truly cranky service and crazily expensive food, it’s as if the Roman restaurant industry realized that since Rome is like Disneyland – non-stop tourists and no down season – they are unlikely to have a lot of repeat customers, so there’s no reason to worry about winning anyone over long term. And while I get how frustrating it can be to kowtow to ungrateful interlopers regularly, I don’t care! When I eat out, I want good food, good service, and – of course – a good price!

That’s why I was so happy when I finally discovered the best place to eat in Rome, which I ended up visiting numerous times:

Mercato Centrale Roma

 

Thank goodness for you! Located in the Stazione Termini (Rome’s main train terminal), the market is home to a wide variety of high quality food vendors, a wine bar, a coffee shop and a restaurant. Fairly new, having opened in October 2016, the Mercato took over the Cappa Mazzoniana, a century-old hall built by architect Angiolo Mazzoni, initially intended for use as the station’s restaurant, which never happened (until now). The thing that sets the Mercato apart from the other eateries in Rome is that they went out and sourced the best of the best in terms of local chefs, so you don’t have to. They did the research and you reap the benefits.

Whatever you might be in the mood for exists at the Mercato. Meat? Pizza? Gelato? You name it, you got it. They’ve got a pretty good system down, too. Sit at a communal table and a server takes your drink order. Then choose from one of the many stalls and eat to your heart’s content. Start with a glass of wine and an antipasti of cured meats and cheeses, move on to a pasta, have fish for a main, finish with a ristretto and something sweet. Each from a different vendor, specializing in a specific thing.

On this last trip to Rome, I frequented the Mercato a handful of times. I was over the moon about finding some enjoyable espresso there (something, surprisingly, very hard to come by in Rome), but it was the truffle stall (Il Tartufo di Luciano Savini, aka Savini Tartufi) that won my heart. We tried two different truffle pastas there, and they were, without a doubt, the best pastas we ate in Rome.

My favorite was the Gricia al Tartufo Nero. It starts with a calamaretti, which is a short, wide pasta tube, visually reminiscent of calamari, that collapses when cooked, trapping the sauce within (!). It’s coupled with bacon, a drop of milk, extra virgin olive oil and Pecorino Romano cheese, and then finished with a generous heaping of freshly grated black truffles. The sauce perfectly melds with the fresh pasta, and each bite is a reminder of all that is good in this world. I’d never had a pasta so delightful, perfectly cooked to the desired al dente consistency. Their Tagliolino al Tartufo was excellent as well, using a tagliatelle pasta in an egg/Pecorino Romano/extra virgin olive oil sauce. Both pastas were in the €15-20 range. That may seem expensive, but – to put Roman food prices into perspective – we went to a busy, casual osteria not at the market and ordered their truffle pasta. It didn’t even come close in taste or quality to the Mercato’s truffle stall, and it cost a hefty €37, nearly double the price.

The next time we visited the Mercato, we had the Trapizzini, a triangular shaped pizza bianca (pizza dough) stuffed to the point of overflowing with traditional Roman fillings. They recommended as a first timer trying the braised beef (their #1 best-seller), but, not being in the mood for red meat, I opted for the pollo alla cacciatora. Wow. It was a winner. The chicken was juicy, flavorful and so well cooked that it fell apart easily. It was cooked in garlic and white wine, and mixed beautifully with the crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside pizza dough surrounding it. My only regret is being too full to try another one.

At the Mercato, you shouldn’t miss out on something sweet. I opted for a tiramisu from Cremilla. Even though they’re known for their gelato, I couldn’t resist the look of this fluffy, velvety, coffee-tinged dessert. Sure enough, it was smooth, subtle, creamy and exactly what eating a tiramisu in Italy should be like.

Paired with an espresso from La Caffeteria (one of the few espressos in Rome I didn’t have to cringe to ingest, nor add sugar to), my meal was complete.

All in all, come to the Mercato to enjoy the hustle and bustle around you, and take in the smells of all the fantastic foods. Have a sit down meal at Michelin-starred chef Oliver Glowig’s restaurant on the second floor, enjoy a casual plate of lovely pasta at one of the many booths on the ground floor, or go really chill and simply grab a beer and a slice of pizza to go. Indulge in fried foods or sweets, chocolate and cakes. You can even buy some fresh produce on your way home. The market really does have it all, and they do an excellent job executing.


  

 

 

 

 

I tried a plethora of items and was pleased with them all. Mercato Centrale definitely offers a great choice for a variety of typical Roman foods (and more) at a good price. And you can trust the sourcing, because the vendors come highly curated.

 

 

 

 

 

In other words, when in Rome, do as the World Eater does, and eat at the Mercato Centrale at Termini I. Buon appetito!

 

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For The Love Of Layering

For The Love Of Layering

Reading Time: 9 minutes

 

We live in a Country where weather is a huge topic of conversation, and so we all need an outfit that will work all day and night regardless of what is going on outside.  Temperature shifts like that call for layering… and I simply adore layering.

The big, fluffy sweaters atop a tight tank. The ripped jeans with patterned tights or fishnets underneath. The bomber jacket over a cropped sweatshirt. The T-shirt paired with a natural-waisted pair of boyfriend jeans, with ankles rolled up, showing off your colorful socks. You really can have fun with layering. I especially enjoy it because I love to keep clothes from prior seasons in my closet, and layering allows me to still wear as part of a layered ensemble what might otherwise be a bit too dated to wear on its own.

You can truly get creative with layering. Almost anything goes, and it can be ridiculously fun! That being said, here are my top five layering rules to remember:

Rule One: The Plot Thickens

Remember that layering adds thickness. If you don’t want to look like an overinflated balloon, be sure to layer thin fabrics underneath thicker ones. Also remember to make the thin layers more form fitting than the top layer. Finally, make sure that top layer has a little bit of breathing room, so you don’t see all the creases and everything else that can accumulate from all the layers underneath, no matter what shape you’re in.

“The Go-To”: A tank top and netted sweater under a long, flowy cardigan, with comfy jeans and ankle high boots. Toddler optional!

Rule Two: Your Bottom is the Tops

Generally speaking, if you do all your layering on your top half, then simplify your lower half with something slimming, like a skirt or trousers. You want people to be able to tell where you start and the layering begins, and vice versa. Simply put, going baggy on both top and bottom will make you look precisely like a potato sack. And an un-stylish potato sack, at that.

“The Classic”: A button-up under a loose sweater, with cuffs rolled up. Note the colorful socks peeking out below the rolled trouser hem!

 Rule Three: Mixing Business and Pleasure

Always mix textures. Always! Example: denim on the bottom; jersey tee, cotton sweater, leather jacket and silk scarf on the top. Get texture crazy. If you wear all of one fabric, you will come off a bit flat and washed out, or – worse yet – appear too matchy-matchy. Wearing all of one texture is to be avoided at all costs, because it will not only make you look drab, it will also add weight. Horror of horrors.

“The Autumn Dress”: A button-up covered by a thick cardigan with winter tights, and boots. Get that short dress out of the closet all year round!

Rule Four: The Long and the Short of It

Have a variety of lengths. You want to make sure your layers have complementing proportionate hemlines that are different from one another. In short, you want people to know you’re layering, as opposed to you just having gained three layers worth of weight. If you layer three tops over one another and they all end at the same length, instead of looking stylish, you will look stockier, boxier and heavier. Avoid.

“Hot Shorts”: They’re not just for summer anymore, especially when you layer with fun, patterned tights and fishnets. Never hurts to throw a scarf in with this ensemble!

Rule Five: Cut from the Same Cloth

Choose appropriate fabrics. For example, when layering a button up shirt under a sweater, make sure the button up is not too heavy, or every button, wrinkle and fold will show through to the top layer. Ew. If your top layer is thick like a cable knit, you can get away with almost anything underneath, but if it’s fine like merino wool, you’ll want a smooth, lightweight shirt underneath – something like a non-slubby silk (satin, crêpe) or lightweight cotton (Batiste, lawn, voile). After all, there’s a reason the saying goes “smooth as silk.”

“Hem-brace the Layers”: Have fun with hems by layering with different textures – lace, sequins, pom poms… whatever!

 Bonus Rule: Cute As A Button (Up)

Simple crew neck sweaters look great with a collared, button up shirt peeking through at the neck, with the cuffs folded up and the hem showing underneath. Make sure the shirt is not too short or too long under the sweater. Ideally, you’ll be able to see the natural split of the shirt at the bottom, but have the lowest button covered by the sweater. Fold the cuffs over the arm of the sweater to give it a cohesive look. Make sure your collar is crisp and don’t let it splay all over the place, or risk looking sloppy, which is a fashion crime. Keep it in place by buttoning it up to the top, or near the top. My favorite secret for layering button ups is to wear a fitted tank top over your button up and under your sweater to hide any visible bumps from seams and buttons. No one will see it, but you’ll look sleek.

“A Layered Approach”: Use thin, soft fabric to pile on the layers, and avoid the bulk. Here, I’ve got four layers on, but manage to still look sleek in the process!

 Personally, I love the effortless layered look of a netted sweater with a tank underneath, and either a cropped jacket or super long flowing cardigan on top, with jeans and ankle boots on the bottom. It’s a look that can work with lots of body types and is easy to throw together, plus is super warm and cozy.

Speaking of warmth, I find that when layering for the cold, merino wool works best. It’s much warmer than anything else out there, and isn’t bulky. It’s a bit pricier than other fabrics, but you can get away with having just one or two for the season, as it’s naturally anti-bacterial and wicks away moisture, so you don’t need to wash it as much as other articles of clothing.

“The Timeless”: A short jacket over a cropped sweater with a tank underneath. Try a metallic tank, instead of a boring basic!

 A Few Layering Combos To Ponder

  • Bring your summer dress into winter by adding an open button up (chambray), a thick cardigan (also open), winter tights and boots.
  • Wear shorts year-round by putting leggings under them. Top with knee high socks and boots for a cute bottom half. Pair on top with a fitted tank and an oversized sweater.
  • You can even layer multiple tights under shorts or a skirt by putting a patterned or shimmery pair under a netted pair. Don’t go overboard with this, or you won’t be able to bend your knees.
  • For a more fitted look, add a thin belt to a cardigan that’s been layered over a form fitting knit top.

The ideas for layering are endless, but keep to the rules above and you should be fine to get as creative as you want. Most importantly, commit to your look so it appears intentional. There’s nothing worse than layering that seems like you’re wearing whatever happened to be clean that day.

“Warm & Cozy”: Wear a turtleneck underneath a sweater, topped with a blazer. You can’t go wrong with this easy and comfy look!

Finally, don’t be afraid to mix and match patterns. There are rules on how to do this properly… but we’ll save that for another day.

 

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Teach Your Child – There Is A Wealth in Languages

Teach Your Child – There Is A Wealth in Languages

Reading Time: 18 minutes

 

It is beneficial to teach your child multiple languages from the moment they are born, even if you aren’t fluent in the other languages you’re instilling in them. As I have lived in multiple countries and travel regularly, I’ve often said that in today’s world, true power comes not from position, but in the ability to communicate. Why wouldn’t we give our kids a leg up to be able to wield that power?


As the world grows smaller thanks to the Internet, satellite offices, shared work spaces, multi-culturalism, people marrying across racial, religious and geographical lines, etc., this issue of languages spoken (or not spoken, as the case may be) is at the forefront of how we navigate the world we live in now more than ever before.

We understand that work, life and love opportunities are not limited to our home soil. Rather, we are aware that those opportunities are spread throughout the globe – as far and wide, in fact, as the Internet (and low cost airlines) can take us.

 

 

Equipping our children with the tools to communicate in more than one language gives them a boost in life, and opens up entirely new places for them to explore – not just for personal enrichment, cultural exploration and sampling great new cuisines – but for job opportunities as well. In fact, even the businesses in your very own hometown often now require multiple languages to be spoken by employees, because partnerships with companies outside of our bubble are more and more common.

Language is the currency of the world, and the more you speak, the richer you are.

Some countries require their children to study more than one language in school for this very reason, but often that curriculum kicks in later than is ideal for a developing mind. The conclusion one can draw is that the best way to do this is at home from day one. Growing up bilingual used to only happen to children of that rare couple who spoke more than one language at the home, or if you grew up in a place where a minor dialect was spoken. Due to family units increasingly coming from a variety of backgrounds, this is happening more frequently, but surprisingly not as much as you might expect.

 

 

At this point, few people dispute that speaking multiple languages is an asset, which means that instead of asking “should we do this,” the question really becomes “how should we do this?” As someone who is only fluent in English, yet is part of a family (my husband, my daughter and myself) in which we regularly and consistently speak three different languages, I had to ask this question myself. There are many opinions as to what the right approach is to teaching your child multiple languages. Through research, conversation, interviews and my own observation over the last 21 months of raising my little girl, I can now definitively say that the only right way is to simply commit to doing it, without excuses. Everything else is just rhetoric.

A bit of background, so you understand where I’m coming from. I grew up in America only speaking English, even though my mother is from Taiwan and English is her third language (Taiwanese is her first and Mandarin Chinese is her second). I regretted being unable to communicate with my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, let alone the rest of the Taiwanese people, every time I went to Taiwan as a child, which we did quite often. I decided to move to Taiwan and learn Chinese when I finished university, which I did. Unfortunately I never quite became fluent, and having been gone from Taiwan for 13 years prior to having my own child (and rarely speaking it with my mother even after learning it), my Chinese got worse and worse. Even so, I vowed to teach Chinese to my baby, to give her that part of her culture that was never given to me. Plus, what a useful language to know!

 

 

But how was I supposed to do this? When Xena was born, I started speaking Chinese with her immediately. It was fairly easy, and helped me refresh my Chinese, which at this point was barely above a beginner level. One word at a time, we learned together. Since she wasn’t communicating back, my limited Chinese skills were plenty sufficient. I pointed to a dog and said “gou” with as convincing a Chinese accent as I could muster, and she nodded and smiled. I was a genius.

As she’s gotten older, and has started speaking herself, it’s become more difficult for me. More and more, I’ve been coming across vocabulary I don’t have (thank you, Google Translate!), realizing I don’t know the correct grammar for a sentence, etc. Realizing I had to stay one step ahead of the baby at every turn, I downloaded multiple Chinese language apps and practiced daily. Once she had the attention span to watch videos, I only let her watch them in Chinese (or Hebrew, my husband’s language). We got books in Chinese and I re-learned with her.

 

My husband’s Hebrew is fluent though not native, as his native Hebrew-speaking Israeli mother also chose to favor English at home with him as a baby (it was a common thing in 1980s America). He lived on and off in Israel throughout his life, and served in the Israeli Army, so now he’s able to communicate fairly flawlessly. He speaks Hebrew to our baby and has since birth.

Conventional wisdom states that a baby needs to be exposed to a language 30% of the time in order to learn it, thus allowing for 3 or 4 languages to be learned (30+30+30+10). I primarily speak Chinese with her, my husband speaks Hebrew with her, and my husband and I speak English to each other. The baby is 21 months, understands each language and speaks all three. It really is fascinating to watch her soak up each word and retain them all, while recognizing that multiple words mean the same thing in different languages.

We spend a good portion of the year traveling around Europe for work, so she’s heard a variety of other languages since she was two months old, including Bulgarian, Hungarian, French, Spanish and German. She definitely prefers Spanish (her eyes light up when she hears it spoken and she’ll stop whatever she’s doing to look around and find the source), so we have decided to introduce that as language number 4, the language that uses the last 10% of the language learning capacity. Who knows if this current information is true, but it seems to make sense to us, and – not at all shockingly – she now peppers in the occasional Spanish word or phrase alongside her trio of languages, while not replacing any of the words she already knows. We want to continue to focus on four languages as a baby/toddler, with the idea that this exposure will help bolster her brain to be able to pick up an endless number of languages as she grows up and continues to develop.

 

 

We’ve been met with a surprising amount of criticism along the way, however, but we are undeterred and sticking to our guns. The progress we’re seeing is simply undeniable, and – frankly, even if there was no proof – sometimes you have to trust your gut.

Interestingly, the criticism comes mostly from family members, and the occasional know-it-all. We’ve heard a plethora of comments, such as:

“You shouldn’t speak a language with your baby unless you’re a native speaker.”

“You’ll give them bad habits and a bad accent.”

“Why are you speaking Chinese/Hebrew with her? That’s odd.”

“You’ll confuse the child.”

“That’s too many languages.”

“You’re not consistent enough.”

“They will start to speak later.”

“They’ll have difficulty communicating in preschool when they don’t speak the same language as others.”

“It’ll make her life more difficult.”

“They don’t need (insert language here). English is enough.”

 

Sadly, I could go on.

We’ve also been given this well-meaning piece of advice often: “The most important thing is that you be consistent in which language each parent speaks, so that they only associate one language with one parent, and make sure you consistently speak only that language.”

 

 

To be clear, I don’t claim to be an expert in linguistics, nor in child development. I know what I know, what I research and what I see myself. Thus far, as I said, the results speak for themselves, and we’re pleased. She said her first word at seven months (“Duck!” in English), and has been a little chatterbox ever since, really grasping the individual languages at around 11 months when she started saying handfuls of new words each day. I stopped counting new words once she hit about a hundred in each of her three primary languages. Yes, I said each. At around 18 months, she started saying the same word in multiple languages (sometimes saying “doggie” in English, sometimes “kelev” in Hebrew, and other times “gou” in Chinese). She recognizes that they all mean the same thing. She picks and chooses which language she wants to use and when she wants to use it, but she understands all three. It’s hard to argue with that.

In response to any criticism, I say that if a child has no problem communicating his or her needs and wants, then it seems to be working, despite us not doing it the way you would have done it.

 

 

Yes, there can be ramifications to the decision to introduce multiple languages early on, but said ramifications are neither positive nor negative. For instance, it can happen that a multilingually raised child can begin speaking later than normal (whatever “normal” means). Others can confuse the various languages towards the beginning of their learning cycle until they sort them out. In both of these cases, we’re talking about things that happen when they are still young and meant to be developing. Normally, even in severe cases, by the time they pass toddler age, they’re over it. And let’s be real – while we love listening to our children talk, they haven’t developed enough to the point where what they’re saying is going to be deep and profound. The things kids say in the first couple years of their life mostly serve as cute memories, videos and stories for us… not for them. Even if they do fall into the small percentage of children who experience one of the above situations (or any other), the benefits that come with the skills they’ve acquired once they finish going through that period are tremendous. Bluntly, trading the long-term benefits of language skills, cultural connectivity and brain development for us being able to hear some cute phrases we can laugh about later on is selfish, and nothing but. And most of the time, you still get the cute phrases… now you just get them in multiple languages!

 

As for the advice I get regarding consistency, or of having the child associate one language consistently with one parent, both my husband and I do our best, but – beyond not being native speakers – I can’t help but learn Hebrew as my husband is spouting it all day, and he, vice versa, is learning Chinese, so we slip into each other’s language occasionally, without even thinking about it. We jokingly say that our family speaks Chebrish, because sometimes one sentence will include all three languages. And lately, four! Xena doesn’t seem to mind.

I readily admit that it’s been challenging for me to keep speaking Chinese with her, but I won’t stop, and neither will my husband with his Hebrew. We won’t, because we believe we’re doing our child a service, not a disservice. Even if my grammar has flaws, or my accent isn’t perfect, and that gets passed down to her initially, she will have a foundation in the language, which is better than not speaking the language at all. Once she gets a little older and we enroll her in a Chinese “school” and a Hebrew “school” (at that age, they will be more like playgroups), she will start to evolve that foundation into something more organic. This should naturally help mitigate the accent, grammar and vocabulary issues that I unintentionally instilled in her early on.

 

 

As for worrying about confusing Xena, I’m not at all worried. I see her grasp each language and say more words every day. I watch as she plays with children who don’t speak any of her languages and they get along just fine. I know when she goes to school, she’ll be able to figure out which language to use with her peers, just like she’s figured out to say “dobre den” when we’re in Bulgaria, “shalom” when we’re in Israel and “adios” when we’re in Spain.

I’m just not stressing about it. I think that the “consistency” that we give her at home will be enough to help her figure things out in her little, but powerful, brain. Remember, babies are born with the maximum number of neurons they ever have throughout their life. At three years old, babies’ brains more than double in size, but they go through what’s called a synaptic pruning, which means that even though their brains are now bigger, they have less neurons firing. This is why early development matters, and why it’s recommended to introduce multiple languages early. In fact, the fastest rate of human brain development occurs between the ages of zero and three, so hurry!

 

 

Of course, research and science are ever-changing, and each human is different. Being a parent means knowing your child and assessing what they’re capable of. It also means being able to really pay attention and observe in order to see what does and does not work for your specific offspring. Babies and toddlers are capable of so much – far more than people give them credit for. Let’s give them a chance, and they will learn as many languages as we possibly can teach them.

 

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