The New Face of Immigration & Danish Language Acquisition

G is being brought up with three languages. Mamma speaks English with him and this is by far his strongest language so far, daddy speaks Italian with him, and he has Danish at the nursery which he attends five days a week (mostly). When we are with Danish friends I ask them to stick to speaking one language, Danish, with him. What a great start, not only from a communcation perspective but apparently also from the 'exercise' his brain gets when switching between the three … according to some experts.

Apparently one of the important aspects of language acquisition when children grow up in multilingual environments is that grown-ups stick to one language when they communicate with the child, and preferably their mother tongue. It has surprised me how difficult some adults find it to do just that. On several occasions I have had to ask carers and acquaintances to refrain from switching to English with Giulian if Danish is their mother tongue. I have thought a lot about why it is so challenging.

It seems that many just want to communicate with the little man immediately (because they like him), in other words, things should not take too long, and it should not be taxing for G. Part of the challenge here is that almost everybody in Copenhagen speaks English confidently and well – it is very, very easy for most Copenhageners to switch. If G’s first language was Croatian or Thai the same people would have a totally different mindset and be entirely focused on making themselves understood and on helping him to acquire Danish, which would be entirely to his benefit. I do not get the impression at all from G that he finds it challenging being at the nursery, so there is no reason it should be taxing being spoken to in Danish by others. The pedagogues report that he speaks in Danish there and he has a level that is very normal for children for whom Danish is a second language. I am trying to raise G to approach challenge pragmatically – there is always a way to solve things. In general, I think that some personalities, maybe even children in general, instinctively approach challenge very differently. Perhaps it is society that teaches us that challenges are problems.

Another issue which appears to confuse and complicate things is that even when we are in Danish speaking environments (e.g. the nursery, birthday parties etc.) I continue to communicate with G in English even though I speak Danish very well. Other strange things happen in those situations too such as people responding to me in English when I speak Danish to them! I may of course be entirely wrong, but it seems that people think I speak English to him because that is what he understands better, rather than because English is my mother tongue. At this point I must note that, if I may generalize, Danes tend to focus a great deal on foreigners learning Danish when they come here, whether they need it in their daily lives or not. I am not necessarily against this, however, I find it ironic that I, or rather, G is having challenges with getting Danes to speak Danish to him in Danish-speaking environments. The end result is that G has less exposure to Danish and therefore fewer opportunities to acquire and practise the language, which will be to his great disadvantage at school start.  

I am quite language focused so there is no doubt that G will learn English grammar and all from me at home. The experts also say that it if multilingual children have a very solid foundation in one language, they will learn the other ones well, in good time. In a way then I should not be too concerned about what is happening right now. I made the decision that I just need to be quite persistent and insistent with people and it will be fine. I also have a few friends for whom neither English nor Danish are their mother tongue – there I am able to understand easier why they would switch between the two, yet I still try to gently encourage them to stick to one.

There seems to be so little awareness and understanding about bi- and multi-linguistic children’s language learning and language acquisition among parents of such children and, more surprisingly, among practitioners who are responsible for educating them. This is very worrying if one considers that we are in an age of migration and people are moving and mixing like never before. One of the concerns I have from my experiences in Denmark is that bi- and multi-ligualism is often treated like an illness rather than an asset. Perhaps because Denmark has been used to many of the bilingual children in schools in previous years coming from families with lower levels of education, the term ‘tosproget’ (which literally translates to ‘two-languaged’) has acquired negative connotations and is used to pejoratively define descendants from particular migrant groups … even when language is not the topic of conversation!

Denmark has taken great strides to attract highly educated foreign labour to its shores, and it is succeeding. However, family-related challenges, such as the care and schooling of children result in many of the migrants moving on to other traditional migrant-receiving countries which have an infra-structure that matches the needs of their mobile, multi-lingual families. This immigrant group has a choice about whether to stay here or not, and that differentiates them greatly from the previous waves of migrants. I hope for Denmark that its institutional structures and people who work within them will be able to adapt to the new ‘face’ of immigration, which shines very brightly indeed.

I went to academia when I was pregnant to find out more about multiple language acquisition, but here are a few links to resources (I have not read much of) if you waned to browse yourself: 

A website dedicated to multilingual children

Books on Amazon about raising global children

Books on Amazon about raising multilingual children

This evening a Danish colleague has invited us over for soup dinner. She is married to a Dane and they have two kids. There will be a mix of nationalities present and our interest in India is what brings us together. The language of the evening will I suppose be English. So my recipe for today will be written up tomorrow, once I have tasted my soup and gotten permission from my host to share the method and ingredients with you.

Have a great day!

And so this is the reply that my friend sent me when I asked for the recipe – making this soup requires that you have some knowledge of the ingredients. I would suggest trying different combinations of measurements to find the taste and consistency that you prefer. The version I ate was absolutely delicious!

Fry onion in oil with curry leaves, garlic, ginger, cumin seeds, a little chili add some of the vegetables you have e.g. (carrot, beet root, tomato), add more vegetables after a  while (e.g. squash, cauliflower, broccoli) as well as lentils (e.g. red lentils or mung dhal), add plenty of water, some vegetable bouillon, a pinch asofoatida (hing poweder) the yellow coloring stuff (tumeric I guess), salt pepper, cook for a long time. Blend it with a hand mixer add lemon and maybe soy yogurt…



Phenomenal Women in a Man’s World

Last night I was invited to my dear friend’s birthday dinner. Many of my Danish women friends celebrate their birthdays with their female friends, and they really host the get together – always great food, slightly formal welcome (which somehow is not formal at all, but takes getting used to if you are not from the Nordic region), and very sincere verbal expressions of how pleased they are to have you there … it is lovely! I arrived late to the gathering last night – the dinner was in full swing and the ladies were in the process of introducing one another (i.e. going around the table with the host and one other person introducing a third person) with humour, affection and humility.

The inspiration for the blog today is a story I heard last night about a woman who I have known for 15 years. I knew that she used to be a professional footballer, but I had no idea just how distinguished she was. Her first unique achievement was in 1971 when, at the age of 15, she scored a winning hat-trick in the Women’s World Championship Football final against Mexico. She went on to play professionally in Italy and scored a mind-blowing 600-and-something goals in her career which ended in 1995. It was noted last night that had she been a man and had the same professional record she would likely be extremely famous and have had so many different opportunities and doors open for her. In spite of no Danish male footballer coming anywhere close to my friend’s achievements, and the Danish men’s team never winning a World Championship (in fact they have only ever reached and lost a quarter final in the FIFA World Cup in 1998 against Brazil) most people who follow men’s football can name a couple of male players who are famous on and off the pitch. A further attribute that contributes to my perception of Susanne as phenomenal is her modesty. Listening to her story and spending an evening hearing women being outwardly complimentary, thoughtful, and so warm, familiar and honest with one another was refreshing and so enjoyable and made me think about the traits in my female friends that I cherish the most.

I met another inspirational woman last year called Catherine Hakim. Catherine came to the Nordic countries to deliver a series of lectures on women’s work preferences, and her theory on erotic capital. In short, erotic capital is (natural or learned) combination of "beauty, social skills, good dress sense, physical fitness, liveliness, sex appeal and sexual competence". Hakim argues that women have more scope to use it than men because of the "male sexual deficit", i.e. because men never quite get as much sex as they need/want. Unfortunately, the discussions about this capacity seems to repeatedly turn toward a discussion of sexual attractiveness, but if one really looks at Catherine’s definition properly, it is much more than that. Her suggestion that women should exploit their erotic capital (if they have it) to their own gains, unsurprisingly also creates lively discussion. Indeed, the Danish media and some members of her audience in Denmark were unable to differentiate between having erotic capital and using it, and women using their ‘sex appeal’ to get ahead … this in spite of Catherine only giving examples of famous men who have it and use it (e.g. Obama, Clinton, Clooney). This in a country where it is more or less mandatory to put a photograph on your CV and also very common to give information about your family and personal life, both of which are quite unconventional in the UK in the moral plight to avoid prejudicial decision-making processes. Incidentally, a study conducted in Israel found that attractive women were discriminated against negatively while attractive men were discriminated against positively when attaching a photo to a CV, apparently because of female jealousy in HR departments … I am sorry to say that in Denmark I have come across women deselecting attractive women for a position because they can’t stand the way their (male) bosses behave around attractive women.

Catherine and I discussed the likelihood that had a man developed the same theory it would have received quite a different type of attention and validation both in and outside of academia. I spent two days with Catherine and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the interactions – the one-on-one time, the lectures, the social engagements with male colleagues. To me Catherine is one of those phenomenal women who professionally and personally, like my friend who hosted the dinner party last night, champions women. I love this trait in a woman, particularly because we live in a man's world, and I am fortunate that the vast majority of my web of women friends share it too.

I have decided to encourage some of the amazing women I know to contribute a blog post to Global Food and Thought this year, so watch this space for some writing by phenomenal women from around the world.

If you have time, please do read more:

About Susanne Augustensen here.
About the history of women’s football in Denmark here.
About the Erotic Capital theory here.
About Catherine Hakim and her work here.
About the study conducted in Israel in The Economist here, and a journal article by the researchers here.

… and my favourite poem, Phenomenal Woman, by the late, great Maya Angelou here.

My friend who hosted us last night is phenomenal in many ways. A particularly distinguishing trait is her ‘way’ in the kitchen. Her food is always amazing and yesterday she treated us to two desserts, one of which was a delicious cheese cake. She assured me that the recipe is very easy, so when I get it I will make it and of course share it with you virtually here.

… So, here is the recipe. I have yet to make it myself, but I think I will give it a try at the weekend! The direct translation of the recipe from the website (see here) is “Digestive dream with cream-cheese and Daim” which does absolutely no justice to the resulting deliciousness, so I am reformulating:

Dreamy Digestive and Daim Cheesecake 


200g sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla sugar
200g cream cheese
1 cup crème frâiche (approx. 50g)
¼ liter whipping cream
3 Daim bars
100g melted butter
200g Digestive biscuits


Place the Digestives and Daim bars into a plastic bag and crush them into medium-sized crumbs using a meat hammer or rolling pin. It is a good idea to wrap the bag loosely in a kitchen towel first to avoid splitting the plastic. Place the crumbs into a bowl and mix in the melted butter. Spread the biscuit mix on to the base of a tart or cake tin.

Whip the cream and crème frâiche separately and then gently fold them together. Whip the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla sugar together thoroughly and then fold in the cream mixture. Gently spread the mixture evenly across the biscuit base and leave to cool and set in the fridge overnight.


Challenges of migration

I have spent the last six years concertedly thinking about and researching migration; more specifically, temporary migration to a country that is socio-culturally different to ones country of origin.

You might say that this is the position I am in myself, although some may argue that 14 years does not seem very temporary. There is an intention to move elsewhere at some point though and so in that sense it is temporary. In any case during the course of my research, similar to my informants in India, I have also faced some big challenges that have been more difficult to deal with being away from my country of origin, England, where, in my imagination at least, there is some kind of status quo.

As I told you in my last piece, giving birth and having little G in our lives has made me realize how engrained particular aspects of my British culture are, and as the little one grows we can see both the positive and (to us) negative aspects of Danish culture that he may or may not pick up. We also miss not having our families around, even though we have some very good friends who are very much like family to us here.

I have experienced another first recently that is affecting my everyday life now and probably will do for some time. It is also making think even more, if that is at all possible, about my research topic and how much the everyday lives of migrants differ to those of domestic populations.

Migrants in Denmark often end up befriending other migrants because of challenges with socializing with Danes. I am not of the opinion that Danes are so difficult to get to know. The difference in Denmark is that often the onus is on you to do the work of befriending, and this is what many migrants struggle with. I was young and carefree and worked in bars and restaurants when I arrived here, and so met and socialized with many Danes during those years; they continue to be my good friends now. I also have many foreign friends. The ‘first’ I mentioned before was losing one of them at the turn of the year.

My friend was a migrant too and he left us during a trip to his home country. This dimension has made things feel somehow even more wrong. He spent much of his adult life here and we enjoyed him for so many years. But at his passing, there was no time to get to the funeral and he is simply gone. I hope to go to his home one of these days and see where home was for him, where he chose to be at this time. I guess or maybe hope that a trip there will allow me to get to know him even better, even though he is not here.

Living as a migrant for so long, one gets used to saying goodbye to people. It is always sad, but many of us love travelling, so if it is a good friend, you know, or at least hope, that you will see each other again at some point in the future. There are also so many ways to be in touch as well now, virtually. I haven’t quite figured out yet how to deal with someone leaving the country permanently, without a proper goodbye … maybe it will come one day, maybe not.

I miss my friend.

He was a fan of Eckhart Tolle, so I finish up with a quotes from him that my friend might say to me if he were sitting next to me now …

“Some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.”

― Eckhart Tolle

I need to find inspiration elsewhere for my recipe this week. My friend and I used to eat together often, usually at my place. He loved food and so there was no particular favourite that I can think of to share here. Instead I will find a new recipe, something from his home country, Portugal, and have a go at it this weekend. I will let you know how it goes!



Maternity mums

Well, it has been a shameful 22 months since I last posted! My excuses: finalizing (so I thought) my PhD manuscript, pregnancy and motherhood. Maternity leave finishes shortly and I will return to the first ‘excuse’, finishing my manuscript on my own time. The second and third ‘excuses’, which incidentally bring an immediate smile to my face, have been pure pleasure.

The inspiration for hitting the keyboard again today has been my mothers’ group that I joined in the latter stage of my leave. The ladies are a group of extremely creative, intelligent, fun-loving mummies and have been so wonderful to have around for many reasons.

I am now qualified to say that there is nothing like having a baby to make one starkly aware of ones own values, identity and culture. In Denmark, the social system provides new mums with a health visitor at various intervals during the child’s first few years. She also puts them in touch with other women who have given birth around the same time to form a ‘mother’s group’. I asked that I be put into a Danish speaking group= as, since being in Denmark, I have never consciously sought out English people or foreigners (despite my friendship circle being distinctly multinational). I like being a ‘local’ foreigner. Our Danish-speaking group unfortunately just did not gel and after two or three months I decided to leave it. At the meet-ups I did attend, I realized how entirely differently I interacted with G compared to the others, and that I was not going to find the empathy I needed from such a group largely, I felt, because of cultural differences.

For the first time in my 14 years in Denmark I decided to look for an English-speaking group to socialize with. I needed to find mums with whom I had more in common. I had a brief look on line, and, coincidentally the following day, I met a British woman on the bus I had encountered once before at Torvehallerne. She approached me both times as she has her own company selling products for people with natural hair. We got chatting as we realized our babies were about the same age, and she invited me to her next mother’s group meeting that she would be hosting at her apartment in the city. The group was international and English-speaking with mummies from UK, South Africa, France, Hungary, Germany, Turkey and the US. I went and had a lovely couple of hours with the ladies who were able to attend. I left that day with a feeling that as well as receiving the maternal support, I may also form some new friendships.

Since then it has been Felicity (UK), Cathy (UK), Sez (SA) and their respective little bubbas who I have spent most time with. Both G and I have benefited equally from having them in our lives. It suddenly seemed so much easier and comfortable to chat about the ups and downs of it all. I had been missing interaction with mummies who were culturally similar to me. The need for that Anglo-Saxon input was a complete surprise.

Apart from this nationality-based cultural similarity, Fliss, Cathy and Sez are also all freelancers or rather independent professionals. Felicity works in media, Cathy a journalist and Sez is currently starting up her own business restoring and selling vintage jewellery and clothing. Does it take a certain ‘type’ to be freelance? I don’t know what ‘type’ it is, but for sure it is not for everyone, and, more to the point, it meant that there was another major aspect of life (work) where there was greater understanding. Another common thread is our love for second-hand items – from baby clothes and toys, to furnishings and (as far as I gather) good quality clothing too. That’s not to say there isn’t any impartiality among us to luxury items in the same categories too!

Cultural similarity is absolutely unnecessary in order to form friendships and relationships in my world, but thankfully when I needed to find it, it came around easily. Sure, a lot of luck was involved, but I have always said that one of the great things about Copenhagen is that it is a big village and so very easy to find what you are looking for. Making these families’ acquaintance and G having some babies to play with in the run up to starting at day care has been invaluable.

Thank you ladies & babies for your support and friendship thus far!

My recipe this time is the main dish I prepared for the lunch one Friday with the mummies. One of them has already made it for herself and partner and said it was a hit! I literally put this together with the leftover ingredients we happened to have in the fridge. I am not writing the measurements as I think you should just put as much or as little of each in as suits your taste …

Prawn Rice Salad


  • Cooked and refrigerated basmati rice
  • Prawns (I used the peeled and cooked ones you buy in the plastic container, but good quality frozen cooked ones, or even better freshly peeled ones will work. Just make sure you defrost naturally and squeeze a bit of the water out of the frozen ones)
  • Coriander
  • Cucumber
  • Gem lettuce

Accompanying dressing

  • Fish sauce
  • Fresh small hot chillies

How to make it

  • Mix your rice and cooked prawns together using a metal spoon. I used a little bit of the water that the prawns were in as well.
  • Chop and add the coriander – not too finely as you want to be able to taste the leaves without overpowering the whole dish. I use the stalks as well.
  • For a good large portion for four people, I only used half a gem lettuce – cut it lengthways and then slice it finely from top to bottom.
  • Grate and add the cucumber – I used about half a medium sized one.
  • Slice the chillies, not too finely, and add them to some fish sauce to use as a dressing on the side.
  • If I had had any on the shelf, I would have added a splash of sesame oil to the rice, but it is delicious and fresh without any additional dressing or seasoning.



International Human Rights Day – Domestic Violence

“Millions of girls don't finish their education for fear of violence and rape on their journeys to and from school; millions of women can't make their voices heard for fear of retribution. Violence against women impedes progress on the UN millennium development goals. Our whole understanding of conflict and security is still dominated by narrow concepts of men fighting other men with pieces of technological weaponry.”

Madeleine Bunting, The Guardian, 25 November 2010

On 25th November it was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. At the General Assembly in October 1999 a UN resolution was drafted officially marking the International Day, while women’s activists have marked it since 1981 in commemoration of the three Mirabal sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic known as Las Mariposas (The Butterflies), who were assassinated in 1960 by order of the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo (1930-1961).

Reports of rape and violence in war and poverty-stricken areas, as well as abusive and intrusive cultural practises are relayed frequently in the news, but we must not forget that violence against women is also prevalent in Western so-called developed and democratic societies. I am fortunate not to have experienced domestic violence personally but can think of at least six women in my circle who have suffered some form of physical abuse in the home by a male family member or partner. According to the UK-based support line for men, domestic abuse may take many different forms: physical, psychological, sexual or even financial which is what makes the crime challenging for legal systems worldwide. While violence against men is more prevalent than we realize, the fact is that abuse against women is far greater. The statistics on domestic violence against women in the so-called developed countries are horrifying and worrying, particularly as there has been a tendency in recent years for Western politicians and voters to publicly make strong moral judgements about other cultures’ treatment of women. Here are a few examples reflecting the severity of the situation in the ‘developed’ world (you can read the articles the information was sourced from by clicking on the facts):

The good news and possibly the greatest difference is that in many of the countries identified above, there are centres and advisors that victims of domestic violence can go to for help and support. It is a strange thought that almost half of the women who are reading this have had or will have some experience of this, so click here for initial online assistance if you are one of them. Of the Nordic countries, renowned for their progress with gender equality, egalitarianism, and high levels of trust, only Iceland has organized a major event during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence between 25th November and 10th December, International Human Rights Day. Admittedly I have only searched the Danish and English language websites. The Nordic countries have big issues with excessive home-based alcohol consumption, long hours of darkness during winter and in many remote rural areas in the north there is a lack of diversity of work opportunities and of opportunities for non-alcohol related socializing. Many of these environmental and social issues are cited as reasons for increased levels of domestic violence.

The quote written by Madeleine Bunting at the start of this piece applies to women in every corner of the globe. I shall be giving thought to them during these days.

This year, International Human Rights Day is recognizing the work of human rights defenders worldwide who act to end discrimination.

Here are some links if you want to read more:

This week I could not think of a dish that would be particular to the writing, so I thought I would just share my dinner that I cooked last night with you. It is one that I love to do with rice or noodles because it is simple, quick and delicious! Enjoy Pork and Mushrooms in Oyster Sauce with Egg-Fried Rice.


Good News

Modern-day media loves to shower us with all the horrid stuff that is happening at home and abroad. They do also tell us something positive, but unfortunately I have often turned the page or the channel before they get round to it!

When I was growing up in the UK, the ITN News that was shown at 17.45 always ended just before six o’clock with the opening phrase “And finally ….” and that meant they were going to tell us a piece of good news. That is how I grew up. I am not sure if they still do it. One piece of news that sticks in my mind was on 1st April (April Fools Day), when the “And finally” news item was about spaghetti that grows on trees! I just googled it to find a clip and it turns out that the original April Fool’s joke was aired in 1957 on the BBC. It is hilarious! Click here to watch it.

So this week I thought I would share a few pieces of good news with you from around the world … enjoy the read!

  • Earlier this year, a mother in Sydney Australia gave birth to twins prematurely at 27 weeks. The daughter was healthy but the son was stillborn. When the doctors told the woman, she took her son and held him for 2 hours. She and her husband talked to him and stroked him as he lay on her chest. When the 2 hours had passed her son, Jamie, started breathing again. Read the full story here.
  • Even with ‘global warming’ new species of wildlife continue to be found. In Borneo, over 123 new species have been discovered over the past 3 years (click); this year new amphibians have been discovered in Columbia (click); a new carnivorous plant species found in the Philippines in 2010 has been named after the broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough (click).
  • Brazil is way ahead in achieving the targets of its Millennium Development Goals and has already lifted millions of Brazilians out of extreme poverty and hunger. Read more here. There is more than enough money in the world to balance out the inequalities that exist and eradicate destitution. Decision makers are starting to discuss the taxing of the billions of corrupt dollars that are sitting in offshore accounts. Read more here.
  • … and finally, And Finally has a website, so you can read good news whenever you feel like it (click).

This week’s food is inspired by a country that has been very good news for me for a long time, and particularly over the past year – Italy. We are having friends over for dinner tonight and I managed to get my shopping done this morning before the dense snowfall came down. Here is the menu:

ANTIPASTI …. Bruschetta con lardo di colonate 
PRIMO ……… Rigatoni Broccoli e Salsiccia
SEGUNDO …. Costolette di agnello al forno con patate

I am in charge of the Segundo. I shall let you know the details of the recipes and just how delicious it is tomorrow!

Click here for the recipes.