Growing up with two nationalities has allowed me to maintain fluency in both of my parents’ native languages: English and Dutch. Although I learned both languages from my family as a child, English has taken on a more prominent role in my life as I have attended international school in English for most of my life. I did, however, live in Belgium for a time and attended public preschool there in Dutch. Then from ages five to fifteen, I took Dutch classes both in and out of school where I studied a range of skills, including writing, grammar and vocabulary. These classes helped to make up for my lack of time regularly spent in a Dutch-speaking environment, as we are only able to visit my family there once a year.
Despite my citizenship, because I had never lived in the Netherlands, it was necessary for me to prove my fluency in order to apply to university or work there. Although I was not sure of my future plans at the time, in tenth grade I decided to prepare for the NT2 Staatsexamen, which tests candidates on reading, writing, speaking and listening to determine whether or not their level of Dutch is sufficient for study. I took the test during the summer after tenth grade and received my diploma a few months later.
My Dutch teacher sent me an email to congratulate me after passing my exam. The above translates to:
Congratulations for achieving your Dutch diploma. A little bird told me that your scores were very good. Of course I expected that from you.
Best of luck with your second-last year.
This was an important achievement for me, as it opened the door to different university options in the Netherlands, regardless of whether or not the program was in English. This was also reassuring for me, as it has been difficult to feel close to both of my cultures, but the language has allowed me to maintain this connection.
Speaking two languages has been so beneficial to me in my life so far, as it has only added to my widened perspective of the world. I think that speaking two languages as a child also improved my ability to learn foreign languages, and both English and Dutch have definitely helped me learn French vocabulary and grammar and see the connections between languages. Although being bilingual is not very rare when attending an international school, it has helped me keep a piece of my identity while living in a foreign country. For me, speaking Dutch has been essential in incorporating Dutch culture in my life, and the same of course goes for my connection to the United States. I hope that in my future I will be able to learn more languages that will continue to shape who I am.