The downside to being bilingual…

The Mach Was challenge this time around is to do something with languages. I love the topic but have not had time to get around to doing anything about it yet. And now the deadline is here, and all I can think of is this post I wrote some 4 years ago about being bilingual Dutch and English. Some would say I’m trilingual because I’m quite fluent in German as well, but my German has deteriorated over the years so I just call myself ‘virtually trilingual’ now.


Anyway, I realize it’s cheap to just repost something old but I was just starting out wth blogging when I wrote that and most people who come here now will not have read this before. Also, every word I wrote then still holds true today, right up to that writing project that I mention and still haven’t started! Reposting this is a great reminder of that project I had thought up then and I think this may now finally motivate me to take some time to interview my mother before I can’t anymore. I should at least start somewhere so I won’t have regrets later.

Happy reading, if you choose to do so!

The Book of Esther

… or almost trilingual, is that you don’t speak or write any one language perfectly!

I am Dutch, my first language was Dutch but, as I lived abroad during my childhood, I went to an English school starting at the age of 4. I’m not sure if I was already speaking English by then or whether I learned it when I was there. All I know is that my whole life I remember always being able to speak Dutch and English. The first language I could read and write in was English. We spoke Dutch at home and although I did get some Dutch lessons as a child it wasn’t until I was 16 and moved to The Netherlands that I actually started writing and reading Dutch on any regular basis.

EngDut(image source:

When I was 10 we moved to Germany. My older brothers and sisters continued their education…

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20 thoughts on “The downside to being bilingual…

  1. Esther I hope you get to interview your mum and fulfill your writing project. My brother for years wanted to interview our mum who is German but now at 90 almost 91 just too late.
    I took German in high school and college but after 30 plus years I can understand the writings but similarly the speaking vocabulary fails me. We never used German at home unless my mum was upset.
    Your trilingual is a blessing and there’s no such
    thing as being perfect. Nothing ever is so be proud of these three beautiful languages !
    Wonderful post to from 2015.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Michele. Yes, I am proud of the fact I speak these three languages.
      And yes, I am going to set up that interview with my mom. I want to prepare first, though, with some questions. I know the answers to many questions I’d ask, my mother has always been very talkative about her life, but what I’m also looking for will be surprises and new answers. I need to think about what questions could possibly give me that. Which, now that I type this, gives me an idea for a new blog post… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Esther I am excited for you. I think my brother just waited too long. My mum is a ghost of her former self now although she is astute I think her willingness to sit for him and answer questions is gone. Cannot wait for your blog post! Fascinating subject and very emotional no doubt!!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Gemeinschaftsblogprojekt ‘Mach was!’ – Ergebnis #51 und neues Thema | Unkraut vergeht nicht….oder doch?

  3. What an interesting read, Esther. (And I am shaking my head at myself – why did I not read/comment on it way back when??? Ignorant me!) It never occurred to me that you must have had English (international) schooling – even though I knew you grew up in Palestine. In any case, even though I have never heard you speak German, I’m pretty sure that you must near-native fluent – despite not having had that much opportunity to speak the language actively anymore. With so much time spent in Germany, and the language being relatively close to Dutch, it’s probably only the vocab that has a gap here and there…
    BTW, I once took a Dutch language course in college and found it really enjoyable to learn the language.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember you saying that before about the Dutch course.
      Yeah, I’ve spoken English ever since I can remember. My parents also adopted two teens way back when we lived in Israel, so English was also spoken at home a lot although they both learned Dutch soon enough.
      My German – well, I don’t know, you’d have to ask Suzy’s opinion on that. I mean, yes, it still is quite good but it’s not effortless anymore by far and yes, it is about needing to find the vocabulary sometimes but also the grammar is a little off, I feel. I remember the last time I spent a weekend speaking German with Suzy I came back with a tired mouth! It’s like my lips had muscle ache. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 😂Muskelkater im Mund 😉. No, I understand what you mean – and it’s an apt description for the effort it takes to express oneself in a foreign language. I really think the term “my [insert language] is rusty” is also very apt. Haha, the worst thing for me is, that I often feel that my *English* is rusty – and I am even surrounded by English every day 😂


        1. You are bilingual too so I get it. Your English writing always seems very good to me! But then, yes, speaking can be a different thing. Do you find yourself searching for the right vocabulary when you speak English?
          I find myself searching in each language I speak, even Dutch. At home it’s no problem, I just throw in the odd English word or phrase, very occasionally even a German word, but when I’m at work I need to stick to Dutch and sometimes it takes a few seconds to find the word I’m looking for. For me it would be easiest to just mix it all up, but then people would get really confused when talking to me. Although, Mr Esther has gotten used to it and sometimes does it too, as do even my kids on occasion! I’m such a bad influence.


          1. Oh yes, the whole “Denglisch” scenario comes to mind. I can’t tell you how often I am tempted to speak Denglisch. It’s just that I am really, really pedantic when it comes to language. Not in a grammatical sense – I believe that grammar is not *that* important for communication. But I hate it when language – and particularly German – gets watered down by the constant use of anglicisms. Total pet hate of mine. “ticket” instead of “Fahrkarte” and “store” instead of “Laden”. All the “highlights” and “feedbacks” and “meetings” *grah*… Having said that – yes, I do it, too. Especially when speaking with people of whom I know that their English is very good.

            Liked by 1 person

  4. squirrel.0072

    🙂 Thank you!
    – Chaque langue aujourd’hui repose sur une mixture de mots de vocabulaire, issus d’autres langues.
    – Mais avoir la possibilité de pratiquer plusieurs langues dans sa jeunesse est une bénédiction. Car apprendre devient de plus en plus dur, l’âge avançant.
    – L’écriture est réfléchie donc plus facile mais la parole immédiate, spontanée requiert beaucoup plus de compétences.
    – Ce sujet m’interpelle tous les jours dans mon travail que je parle avec un touriste ou non. Même le choix du terme exact qui doit être utilisé dans une phrase , pour exprimer au mieux sa propre pensée est un challenge d’honnêteté intellectuelle.
    – Je déplore que la langue soit moins enseignée aujourd’hui car elle est un moyen d’insertion sociale et professionnelle.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great read! I relate 100% (different languages, though) My mother language is Portuguese, but I also learned and teach Spanish. I’ve been living in the US for almost 20 years and am fluent in English as well. My grammar skills in Portuguese have taken a plunge and I not only make silly mistakes, but sometimes say awkward sentences because I’m thinking in a different language.

    Liked by 1 person

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