“Wat is dat?” asked my girlfriend’s three year old niece as she pointed to the image of a brightly coloured sheep.
“Het is een schaap.” I informed her.
We were sitting on the sofa of her parent’s place as she proudly showed me her new story book and inquisitively asked me the names of all the animals within. I’d been learning Dutch off and on a bit for a few years. I still wan’t great at it but I was trying to show off just a little. A conversation with a three year old Dutch child seemed like it should be manageable.
“En wat is dat?” She asked pointing to another smiling animal.
I didn’t know the answer so I tried to cover by telling her the English name. “Er… het is een duck.”
She responded by looked at me with the kind of confusion only a three year olds can pull off, the kind where they just stare at you in the vain hope that you will make sense and stop being strange.
She quickly realize that I probably would not be making sense anytime soon so she decided to correct me instead, “Het is een eend,” and then point to another animal, “wat is dat?”
“Ik weet het niet.” I confessed this time, deciding to go for the honest approach.
“Het is een koe.” She informed me like a teacher correcting her student.
And then, since questions about farm yard livestock seemed to be too complex she continued to identify them for me;
“En dit is een konijn.”
It was while she pointed to each animal that I realized…
“En dit is een geit.”
…she was no longer doing for her own amusement or benefit…
“En dit is een haan”
…it was for mine.
“En dit is een varken.”
This is how I ended up learning Dutch from a three year old Dutch child.
And little did I know that a few years later I’d end up having my Dutch corrected by my own daughter.