Can kids learn a language in one week?

In China I try to speak Dutch to Scott, but he normally does not really understand what I say, except for some frequently used sentences (where are your shoes, you’ve got to go to sleep etc.). The problem is probably that I am the only one talking in Dutch to him at home, and when I talk to my wife or the staff at home I always speak English or Chinese. So often I end up talking to Scott in Chinese as well, to make sure he understands what I mean. Not good of course, because you should stay with one language while talking to your kids.

Exactly one week ago today we flew from China to The Netherlands. Since then Scott has mainly heard Dutch, because my parents and I speak Dutch to him. When my wife and I went to Maastricht last weekend, Scott stayed with my parents. At first we were wondering whether my parents would be able to communicate with him, but it turned out we didn’t need to worry. Scott understood a lot of what they were saying and picked up words very quickly.

Now that we are almost one week in Holland I realize I only speak Dutch with Scott and he perfectly understands me. One week ago he probably would have looked at me showing that he does not comprehend what I am trying to tell him, and now he even replies to my Dutch questions (in Chinese or by nodding, not in Dutch yet). I think it shows kids can pick up a language in a one week. Of course not the complete language, but the main words he needs to understand, and the structure of sentences. I am truly amazed by this, I wish I would still have this ability!

His own talking is still mainly in Chinese, his favorite words right now are qiche (Chinese for car) and mei you (don’t have, finished), and he starts to make sentences such as dao qiche boom (when he rides his tricycle backwards and he hits the wall, with boom being the sound of hitting something). But if he is looking for something and finds it, he now says “Daar!”, which is Dutch for “There!”. The only English word he regularly uses is “no”. As usual for toddlers his age (20 months) that’s quickly becoming a favorite word. But he also starts to use the Chinese variety of no, especially bu yao (Chinese does not have one word for no, it depends on the verb you use).

I like to observe his language abilities and I wish I had learned several languages as a toddler already. I look forward to seeing his (and soon also Elaine’s) progress over the next couple of months.

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  1. Accept it Marc. Your boy is intelligent. Take him to Korea next week and Japan the week after. 😉

  2. Marc,

    This put such a smile on my face…

    I have similar lingo issues here in Europe. Though I'm a native English speaker, but I also speak a handful of other languages, and Czech is the one I use most when in Prague, obviously, otherwise most locals there won't have a clue what I'm saying in English (yes, it's that bad).

    Andreea, my partner, is a native Romanian speaker, but she speaks Spanish with a perfect Castillian accent, fluent French (which puts the Canadian in me to total shame!), Italian, a little Greek, and English.

    We communicate in English, but I cannot converse with Andreea's parents, except in a broken sortve French.

    We've also been thinking a heap about which language our potential kids will speak, and our discussions have been similar to the views you put across here.

    I'm going to pass this onto Andreea ( and also crosspost to Facebook.

    Thank you for this! Your kids are just adorable. Can we get an autograph? 😉


  3. We kept Andy in English til he was
    2 – then my wife spoke only Chinese
    and he's now bilingual BUT finding
    good interesting reading in Chinese
    is hard cf English – so his vocab
    is much better in that language.

  4. Even though I don't have kids yet I'm already very interested by this topic.

    This experience shows the ability of kids to quickly learn languages (I remember 10/15 years ago in France, we welcomed kids from war zone (Kosovo, Afghanistan..etc) who managed to speak fluent french after few months only).

    I know some people here who buy (or DL…) DVD's from their native countries, I guess it's a good way to keep the child into a dutch/fr/ger…world.