I am taking a beginners language course to whip my butt in gear and finally speak the language of the country I’m living in, and thought I would take the opportunity to regale you all my experiences. Aren’t you lucky?! It’s two classes a week for four months, and I went to my first lessons this week.
Despite having learnt some Dutch before landing in the country, and having little to no trouble with shopping and getting around once here (helped by the fact that everyone speaks at least some English), I was completely inundated. I hadn’t thought to ask what teaching method was employed.
It was my worst fear; full immersion. A teacher who refused to speak Engels, only Nederlands, and the first hour was tough. The second hour got a little easier, but we were all gesticulating wildly, and there was plenty of “Ik begrijp het niet!” (“I understand it not!”)
Because of the way my head works, I kept wanting to ask why things were done the way they were. I managed to stop myself each time when I reminded myself yet again how patently rude that question would be. I mean, after all, why is Engels spoken and structured the way it is? Because that is how it developed. That’s why.
I’m a creature of habit (aren’t we all?) and I missed the way my previous lessons had been structured where they’d tell you what the words were in English so the Dutch phrasings made sense to my English trained mind and I knew what was being said. But this is the course, it’s a well respected school, and I’m here to learn. I’m determined to learn.
I spent time the next day making good friends with Google Translate and translated everything we’d done in class so I’d know what we’d said and learn better how to structure my sentences. This was time consuming, but fruitful, and alleviated much of the confusion I’d had.
I’m vaguely bummed that we are learning informal language. When I brought up this point with the teacher, mentioning that I’d already been told off once by a shopkeeper for not using formal language to speak to someone I didn’t know, she said everyone was very casual these days, and the Dutch were a forgiving people. Personally I’d rather show the respect, and will endeavour to use more formal language in my daily dealing with people I don’t know. (Though having a certain Sister-In-Law weigh in here with local opinion might help! 😉 )
The second lesson was all about word and sentence structure. It went much more smoothly than the first lesson, and I was a bit more confident. We conjugated verbs and learned how to pronounce combinations of vowels correctly. No wonder the locals have such a problem with mijn achternaam! Then again, it was often hit and miss in Engels speaking countries as to whether or not it was pronounced correctly …
So I have homework, and a textbook, and I find myself watching Dutch Sesame Street on YouTube to get the hang of how to pronounce the alphabet and numbers. Have you ever thought about how attached you are to the voice you’re used to hearing (Jim Henson) coming out of Ernie’s mouth …?