It seems to me that some foreign languages are more child friendly than others. I don’t mean in their sentiment, but in their ability to be picked up easily by anyone, of any age. I’ve been convinced of this because I’m writing from Aruba, where the language is Papiamento – the most family-friendly tongue I’ve come across.
I’d never heard of Aruba or of the island’s mother tongue, until now. A small island in the Caribbean, 30km off the coast of Venezuela, it has strong ties with Holland, so the official language is Dutch. But nearly everyone speaks Papiamento at home, a bouillabaisse of Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English, which is said as it’s written and in which even a shopping list sounds like a poem.
Unlike French or Spanish, there are no gender words to struggle with. And to emphasis something, you just say it twice. Poco poco is slow; blauw blauw is completely blue. It’s the only language in which my kids have been able to pick up several phrases in just a few days. Very good, for example, is Hopi bon. Imagine what fun the eight-year-old twins have saying that, over and over and over again.
I’m delighted. I make a huge thing about my kids doing their Thank yous (Masha danki) in the language of the place we’re on holiday. I know it sometimes makes me look foolish, as usually the shopkeeper or waiter or guide speak right back to us in flawless English. But I have this idea that it’s somehow more respectful to master a few foreign words. Usually with my kids that’s a real struggle. Like me, they’re not natural linguists.
But with Papiamento, its rhythm makes them want to say Good Morning (Bon dia) and Goodbye (Ayo) with far more courtesy and frequency than they would at home. I never thought of a language as an attraction – something to consider when deciding what destination to chose for a family holiday – but now I think it could be. And my teenager paid Papiamento the ultimate compliment. She’s put it as her status on Facebook.
Read more about Aruba family holidays.