Why learn Dutch?
This is the first question that springs to everyone’s lips (whether Dutch or not) when I describe my latest venture.
Currently I’m mid-point through a two-week introductory course in Amsterdam, with four hours of class a day.
Two weeks is short, I know.
At the end of this (plus two weeks here not taking classes), I still won’t be able to understand or say so much.
My class is small (total 5 students) which is nice. Everyone gets a chance to talk and ask questions.
My four classmates all have Dutch partners, and just moved here one or two months ago. This is a good reason to try to learn any language.
At language schools I attended in France, I can only recall one student in my class (out of a dozen) who was learning French for this reason.
Do Dutch men make better lovers than the French? That’s for me to know…
One reason I wanted to study the Dutch is because I have a good Dutch friend I have here. I try to visit him whenever I am in Europe. A crazy soul-mate. He has a social life on overload, so I am often in all Dutch gatherings. This is great fun.
As anyone who has been to the Netherlands knows, everyone here speaks good English, and most are very willing to. (This lulls people into thinking there is no benefit in spending time to learn Dutch.
Yes, at social gatherings people happily speak to me in English, but I miss most of the content of the group discussions. I plan on coming back again in future. I don’t want to wear out my welcome. Long-term expats who haven’t made an attempt to learn the local language (in any country) irk me. And I don’t want to be like that myself.
When traveling, I always try to study a bit of the local language (listened to podcasts before visiting Cambodia, carried a text book in Indonesia and went to language school in Thailand). I have only retained a smattering of phrases from these ventures, but it enriched my experiences in those countries, and I still encounter words from these languages occasionally. (Earlier this year I worked at the Cambodian Embassy in Tokyo for a few hours, and was able to use the few words I remembered.)
The second reason for my learning Dutch is a linguistic interest in it. After telling myself for 3 years that English is just poorly pronounced French. Now I’ve come to wonder if it is actually drunk Dutch.
At times in the Netherlands, someone was speaks to you and for a moment you tune-in, thinking they are speaking in English.
There is much familiar vocabulary: “dik” and “dun” are examples which come to mind (thick & thin). Can you imagine a native English speaker living far from London pronouncing “thin” in a way which might sound like “dun”? I’m encountering words like this constantly, and now that the writing system makes more sense, I notice signs around town and can often guess the meaning of words.
One dilemma this week was the numbering system which, like German says “six and forty” for 46. Yet the nursery rhyme ‘Sing a Song of Six Pence’ came to mind: with the line “four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.” It occurred to me that English perhaps once had such a system (and it turns out that it did). Finding these connections has been fascinating.
Studying other languages always broadens my horizons. It also gives me insights into my own language, when I encounter different nuances and systems for classifying and describing our surroundings and experiences. I am reminded of how limited and subjective my world perspective can be.