Monday, 6 October 2014

Bilingual Children: How Rumours Start

When you are raising bilingual children there will undoubtedly be frustrations, but there will also be laughs.

When we are out and about people outside our home obviously expect to consistently hear Dutch from my sons once they have struck up conversation in Dutch. They are not expecting them to suddenly switch to English. But sometimes it happens.

The funniest moment so far was when a pediatric nurse cast serious aspersions on Bert’s sexuality, the grumpier of the Bert and Ernie duo.

My son, two at the time, had to go for an appointment at our local hospital. Whilst we waited for the nurse, he was busy with various toys scattered around the waiting room. He picked up an Ernie, of Sesame Street fame, and began to play.

The nurse appeared and to get him comfortable with her (some two year olds are not too happy when a stranger wants to poke and prod them) she asked about the cuddly toy he was holding,

Nou, wie is dat?” ("So, who's that?")

“Ernie,” replied my son looking at her as if she had landed from an alien planet.

En waar is Bert?,” she continued. ("And where is Bert?")

“Bert’s at home,” he replied, turning around to get back to the important business of playing with Ernie.

The nurse looked a little shocked and turned to us and asked,

Wat zegt hij nou?” ("What did he just say?")

Bert is thuis,” my husband said “maar dan in het Engels. Hij heeft een Bert knuffel thuis.” (Bert is at home, but then in English. He has a Bert toy at home.")

The nurse broke in to hysterics and the three of us looked at her as if maybe she needed an appointment in a different section of the hospital. Until she explained,

Ik dacht dat hij zei ‘Bert is een homo’.” ("I thought he said Bert is a 'homo'.")

It wasn't the first time I had heard that rumour, but in the sterile surroundings of a hospital examination room, it certainly broke the ice.
Seychelles Mama


  1. That's so funny! Misunderstandings always happen with my parents as they don't speak English and sometimes it can lead to surreal conversations...

  2. My (Dutch) children, raised in Bangladesh and therefore speak Dutch, English and Bangla, still get the giggles when people talk about 'bibs' for a toddler :-)
    Your posts are great - I am enjoying them a lot!

  3. I love these quirks of "lost in translation" multi-lingual confusion. Lovely story.

  4. Hahaha I love it!!! I too have heard that rumour about best and ernie.....!!!!

  5. Ps thanks for linking with #myexpatfamily lovely to have you join in! X

  6. So funny. When I was 12 I was visiting Oma for a week. My uncle came to collect me from the airport and we were chatting away in Dutch both together and to a lady in our compartment. A little later I started reading my (English) book. It was Lord of the Rings. The lady was very impressed at how good my English was. Very advanced for 12 apparently. My uncle and I could not stop laughing and explained I went to an English school in England.

  7. Awww what a happy funny conversation =P

    My son doesnt know my language sadly but I told myself that I will slowly teach him how now =)


  8. Funny story! I love all these misunderstandings /mistakes /mispronunciations, they make life more interesting, I think! My Spanish is really good, but I still make mistakes and get mixed up. When I was in hospital just after my daughter was born I found I was inadvertently talking about "bloodthirsty groups" instead of blood groups! And I had to try so hard to stop laughing, the day after having a c-section, it was just too painful!