21 February 2012

Dutch blitz

I'm now into my second week of Dutch classes, and already feeling that much more attuned to the language flowing around me on a day-to-day basis. The challenge, I can see already, will be to push myself to use Dutch when dealing with people in public, because it's all too easy to use English here when everybody understands (and speaks) it perfectly well.

Everybody, that is, with the exception of the (older generation of) supermarket checkout ladies, who treat me with annoyance or incomprehension when I speak in English. As is their right. I would probably learn Dutch faster if everybody acted that way--in other words, if everyone acted like the French do!

As I expected, since I'm taking the class through the University here, most of the students are undergraduates from a wide variety of countries. But even all of *them* speak English, too, so it's tempting to slip into English when we're helping one another understand what's going on or elaborating on a painfully simple sentence that limits our identities to "I am a student" or "I am from America." But technically, we're only supposed to speak in Dutch during class hours, so I do my best.

Still, knowing only a very tiny sliver of a language is extremely frustrating. One can't go beyond the present tense, or stretch vocabulary beyond a painfully narrow set of commonly understood words. I've resigned myself to saying that "Ik ben studente," "I am a student" when asked what my occupation is, although I really want to explain that I just finished my doctorate and am looking for a job. The alternative is worse--the only other accurate thing I know how to say is "Ik ben huisvrouw," and especially given the obviously fecund state of my belly I don't want to be labeled as "just" a housewife!

I'm also learning just how pitiful my cognate-based reading comprehension has been over the last months. I had been somewhat puzzled at how often the notices at Gabriel's school insisted that we register our children for summer daycare, but now I know that "jullie" doesn't mean "July" at all; it means "you" (plural). So I had no idea what any of those notices were saying, after all. And I probably missed something important. Hopefully I will soon miss out on fewer announcements, and will soon progress beyond the hyper-present tense of a new language learner.

1 comment:

Catanea said...

Pol, Pel en Pingo [http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pol,_Pel_en_Pingo]was our first introduction to Dutch. Not that I speak Flemish, despite Flemish students and having taught several courses in Flanders; but it's still fun! We found the comics in a friend's children's room...now I see they're on television; but reading is more fun.