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…



Doing the CanCan

According to the World Health Organization around 147 million people worldwide use cannabis; that is 2.5% of the world population. It seems that there are many opportunities to fight illness with cannabis, but predictably much opposition from those making a lot of money through the main stream medical industry. On the other hand, there are also lots of people making money and earning their living from this green revolution. In 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to completely legalize marijuana.  There is such fierce debate and division about this pretty plant, so I thought I would share a few facts about the drug and the trade with you from around the world:

It may come as no surprise that China apparently holds 309 of the 606 patents relating to marijuana. China is world famous for its traditional medicine which includes herb-based medicines and so it seems fitting that, according to an article in the Independent, China is set to dominate trade in this drug which they were using in medicinal treatments as much as 5000 years ago. Read more here.

Israel has been called the ‘marijuana research capital of the world’. In 2014, a government-backed Israeli start-up developed the first device of its kind to administer cannabis as a pharmaceutical. The Syqe (pronounced psyche) Inhaler enables patients to inhale metered doses of vaporized cannabis granules. Today, around 20,000 Israelis take doctor-prescribed cannabis. See the documentary: Cannabis Research Studies. Read more about the inhaler here and here.

On 25 February 2015 Jamaica legalized the recreational use of marijuana and established a licensing agency to regulate a lawful medical marijuana industry. That is right, it was illegal to smoke before then, in spite of the Rastafari movement, born in Jamaica in the 1930s, which regards the herb to have religious significance. The use of marijuana by Rastafarians is a spiritual act and is highly ritualized; the following prayer is said before its use: ‘Glory be to the father and to the maker of creation. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be World without end: Jah Rastafari: Eternal God Selassie I.’ Read more on the Rastafari here.

Probably the most famous place in the world for smoking weed in public spaces, yet cannabis is actually an illegal class II drug in the Netherlands. The tolerance towards the ‘soft drug’ had been very high since the 1970s but in the 2000s things changed. There was a move to make the notorious coffee shops for Dutch people only with the introduction of a ‘weed pass’ (!!), but that idea has not yet been officially introduced. Nonetheless, one source reports that 193 coffee shops have closed in Amsterdam since 1999 and the mayor of Amsterdam has decided that he will close 70 more in 2015. Read more here.

Absolutely the most baffling, promising and scary country of all regarding this plant in my eyes. It is decriminalized but not legal in many states; Washington and Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana for 21s and over on 26 February 2015 (see an amusing story here); medical marijuana has been legalized in several states and municipalities, generating jobs and saving and improving ‘s thousands of people’s quality of life. Meanwhile young people (of course much higher numbers of black kids) are being arrested and imprisoned for possession which is both expensive and socially destructive; billions of dollars are being spent on the ‘war’ on drugs and at the same time the US is supplying arms to Mexican drug cartels. Watch this brilliant documentary to see a critique of the US involvement in the cannabis trade: The Culture High

Oh and by the way, cannibis and marijuana mean the same thing when talking about the drug, but the plant is called cannibis. Read more about the plant and drug here.

Here are a few more articles and websites for you to browse:

A Vogue Editor Cooks With Pot

Heavy cannabis use ‘linked to lower GCSE results at 16’

7 Stunning Figures that Sum Up Colorado’s Marijuana Market

Teen Challenge UK (help for teens with addictions in UK)


And my recipe today … no, I am not going to make anything using the herb. Instead I will give due attention to my Jamaican roots and share with you my method of cooking Rice and Peas. I cooked it at the weekend to eat together with a vegetarian coconut based curry. It goes well together with all Carribean dishes, but also Indian food and many Thai dishes too.

4 large spring onions
2 large cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon dried thyme (or 6 sprigs of fresh thyme)
2 tins of kidney beans (or two cups of dried beans soaked and stewed until soft)
1 tin coconut milk
300ml of stock  (chicken is good, but vegetable is fine)
200g basmati rice
generous pinch of salt

Cut off and discard the ends of the spring onion. Squash the remaining stems using the palm of your had and the side of a large knife (if you dare not do this then use a large, reasonably flat wooden spoon)  and cut them into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces. Peel and similarly squash the garlic cloves. Add them to the stock together with the thyme, kidney beans and coconut milk. Bring to the boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes. Wash and rinse the basmati rice and then add to the mixture. Increase the heat keeping the lid off and stir intermittently. Once the rice mix starts to boil again reduce to a low heat and put on the lid. The liquid should be around one centimetres above the level of the solids at this stage. Cooking time can vary drastically between different brands of basmati, so the remaining cooking time could be anything between 10 and 20 minutes. If in doubt, check the packet for instructions.

There are so many different ways to cook Rice and Peas, and mine is by no means the best, but it is pretty simple and tastes good. The best is to use dried beans, and actually my favourite is with black-eyed beans, but I have not tried making it often enough to share with you here. Here is an alternative method from BBC GoodFood accompanied by what looks to be a delicious recipe for Jerk Chicken … I might well try this one out at the weekend rather than relying on my Jerk mix!


Food, glorious food

The other day I saw a post on Facebook about the chemicals used to keep ready-to-eat (i.e. chopped and pealed) fruit looking ‘fresh’. I found the post interesting mostly because I had thought it was, for want of a better word, obvious that this fruit was treated with something to be able to stay so bright and perky all day long. (By the way, a tip for removing the unwanted chemical stuff from your fresh whole fruit and veg is to soak them in water that has a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in for 15mins, then scrub them a little and rinse them off.) There is an astronomical amount of information available nowadays on how the food industry ‘prepares’ food for us, the negative effects of ‘sugar-free’ and ‘fat-free’ products, the relationship between the food and pharmaceutical industries and government, but it is seemingly not far-reaching enough. And perhaps, even if it does 'reach far', the machinery of global capitalism is so strong that changing eating patterns and the content of one’s diet is not a particularly easy thing to do, and is often not economically viable for many, many people. One good tip that Michael Pollan gives which I think is particularly useful for those with a wide range of products to choose from yet have budgetary constraints is that no matter what food it is that you eat, it is always better to cook it yourself (see How Cooking Can Change Your Life). But then there is the modern-day challenge of time which must be saved for another blog post.

At the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS) where I currently have an office space, food is a major part of our day, so much so that when NIAS moved to the new premises, the kitchen was redesigned so that it resembled more a ‘proper’ kitchen than a ‘staff’ kitchen: there is an oven, two induction hobs, a microwave, two fridge-freezers, pots, pans, cutlery, cooking utensils etc. … everything to facilitate a DIY lunch. And the fridges are packed! Many of us love food and it is visible at mealtimes. Most days everyone comes together for lunch at 12.30 and the colours and diversity of the food can be quite amazing. It is rare to see people eating pre-packed food (apart from sweet stuff!). In fact in four years I think the most I have witnessed is pre-packed salads and 3-minute noodles. But this can also make people uncomfortable. I remember one person saying that when she started she would just heat her food up in the microwave and bring it to the table and eat from her Tupperware. But, she said, she became a little bit self-conscious because everyone ate their ‘good looking’ meals on plates, so she started to do the same. I have to say, I enjoy eating every day with seemingly healthy eaters … I am not a food saint: I love fish and chips, well, chips in general, I love pizza and I am by no means a food snob. If microwave lasagne is all that is available, I will polish it off no problem! I am and have always been food and health conscious, and nowadays (it has happened with the more sedentary lifestyle that has come with age, change in work environments and change in family life) if I eat such ‘fast’ foods, I do have some kind of adverse reaction afterwards.

In the so-called advanced industrial societies, most people have access to the resources they need to address issues of diet, nutrition and weight gain/loss, however there are many who are not aware of the options that are open to them, such as free or low-cost advice, guidance, classes etc. at public institutions, community centres and churches. This is often not the case in other countries, regions and communities that are at different stages of development, which have been infected by the bad consumption practices of the so-called ‘developed’ world.  In reading around for today’s post I came across the term ‘New World Syndrome’. The term was first used by Weiss et al. (1984) to describe something that was happening in American indian tribes: they experienced major dietary changes from traditional high protein, low carbohydrate diets to diets consisting high refined carbohydrates and high saturated fats, and (coupled with living more sedntary lives) suffered/are suffering severe health consequences as a result. New World Syndrome is now characterized by obesity, type-2 diabetes and gall bladder diseases, and cardio-vascular diseases and a resultant short life span. The sedentary lifestyles of so-called ‘advanced’ and ‘developed’ societies also contribute greatly to the onset of NWS, and the speed with which this is infecting societies around the world is such that it is common to refer to it as an epidemic (see more on the role of capitalism in the obesity epidemic here). Reference is also made to the ‘obesity-malnutrition paradox’ that exists in countries whatever their stage of development (see examples from the US here and India here).

One article that I looked at by Prentice (2005: 96-97) highlights another interesting point about social stigma:

‘In the Western world social stigmatism against obesity and a widespread (though usually unsuccessful) obsession with trying to remain lean have probably helped limit to some extent the rate of rise in obesity. In many developing countries this psychological brake has been absent. The classic example comes from Polynesian islanders who associate large body size with power, beauty, and affluence. […] Studies in African Americans have reported a lack of social pressure to be thin and reduced social negativity toward obesity especially in women. However […] there have been very few reports of attitudes to obesity in native African populations.

This point makes me think of Wonderful Copenhagen where food is such a craze – ‘New Nordic Cuisine', food magazines, numerous Michelin-starred and non-Michelin-starred restaurants, websites, TV programmes, organic-food-mania – and there are almost as many sports centers, gyms and such as there are inhabitants! I joke with my guests that come to visit, who are amazed by the healthy appearance of the average Copenhagener, that a big difference between the Danish and British partiality for drunkenness and alcohol is that Danes are up the next morning/afternoon and biking to the gym and sweating off all they indulged in the night before. The main stream media and academia Danes tend to deny that they treat people differently according to their appearances and that fat people are stigmatized, but there is strong evidence to suggest the contrary, which is the downside to the health consciousness here.

In summer the Asia Dynamics Initiative (ADI) at the University of Copenhagen have their annual conference. This year the focus is on food. Take a look at their website here: “Food, Feeding and Eating In and Out of Asia”.  ADI are hosted here at NIAS and so I am reminded about the conference by my colleagues and conscience each day; even though food is not my research focus, I am eager to write and present a paper. The difficulty for me is in deciding which aspect to focus on – there is so much to discuss. I am looking forward to attending the conference and hearing what others have to say.

Please click:
here for Michael Pollan’s website.
here for a list of more recent documentaries on food.
here for healthy eating/lifestyle tips from the European Food Information Council.
here for food tours in Scandinavia.
here for food tours in other European cities.

A couple of weeks ago I made two recipes using beetroot. It is considered a ‘superfood’ because of all the goodness it contains and I would like to incorporate it into my diet a bit more. In looking for recipes I came across this fun website called dedicated solely to beetroot! I want to share with you the two delicious recipe’s I found and made. Both absolutely delicious:

The first is for Beautiful Beetroot and Feta Patties from the BBC’s GoodFood site. I followed the recipe and cooking tips almost 100%. The one change was to add two tablespoons of olive oil to the mixture. I actually did it by accident, but the outcome was great – I think they might have been a little bit dry without it.

The second is for a scrummy Flour-Free Beetroot and Chocolate Cake. I was particularly pleased with this one as I am not quite as experienced with baking as I am with cooking savoury dishes and so I rely on the recipe and description of the method a lot. This recipe was taken from a cookbook I bought recently, Love, Bake Nourish, by Amber Rose, to guide me with making delicious healthy desserts. The texture is amazing, the flavor delightful, but next time I make it I will add something (maybe a sweeter honey than the one I used) to make it slightly sweeter, or make sure I eat it with some vanilla ice-cream! I’ll add the recipe I used when I get home, but in the meantime take a look at this recipe for a Decadent Beet and Chocolate Cake from a really wonderful website called Green Kitchen Stories.

Flour-Free Beetroot and Chocolate Cake

300g cooked unseasoned beetroot, peeled and pureed
4 large free-range eggs
4 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon raw cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting
1 teaspoon (gluten-free) baking powder
pinch of salt
125g ground almonds (I used half almonds and half walnuts)
125g dark chocolate (70%)
4 tablespoons cold-pressed olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees. Greese and line a 22cm loose-bottomed cake tin.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the beetroot, eggs, honey, vanilla extract, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt with an electric hand mixer. When these ingredients are thoroughly combined, fold in the ground nuts.

Place a heatproof bowl on the top of a saucepan containing a little water. Make sure the bowl is big enough to cover the top of the pan, but do not allow the bottom of the bowl to be in contact with the water. Put the chocolate pieces in the bowl and allow to melt over a low heat, then mix in the oil. Gently stir the chocolate and oil into the cake mixture until well combined.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the ven for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave the cake to cool in the tin before turning out onto a wire rack.

Once the cake is completely cool, dust with cocoa poweder. Serve on its own or with creme fraiche.