must learn Dutch

March 17, 2014 · 10 comments

in Belgium, impractical advice

No, really. I’m serious this time. I have to learn Dutch.

In Kyrgyzstan, I gave up on learning Russian. Work was the ultimate excuse, plus I had reached a decent level of speaking and comprehension. I was good enough at Russian, I told myself. It wasn’t even a personally satisfactory level, I always wished I had studied more and knew more and could speak better. Not knowing better Russian disappointed me, but I made excuses for why I didn’t need to bother and moved on.

But I’m telling myself it will be different this time. Kirstin, you MUST learn Dutch!

What makes this language different? Yes, duh, I should learn the local language wherever I live. It’s nice to be able to communicate with people (although there is so much English spoken here), and it’s respectful. But I have a bigger reason.

Well, physically small, metaphorically big.

Darwin goes to a nursery three days a week now. The ladies watching him speak Dutch. The kids he plays with don’t really speak any real language yet, but most of them are learning Dutch from their parents and will start babbling in Dutch. Once Darwin turns 2 1/2, he’ll go to a Dutch-speaking pre-school (it still shocks me that he’s already registered for school that he’s 18 months away from starting). This kid is well on his way to becoming a native Dutch-speaker.

So, two things. One, I want to be part of that world with him. I want to be able to talk and interact with his teachers and other parents, help him with his homework, read Dutch books to him, understand Dutch cartoons with him, and not feel like a total dope at any community events. I don’t know much yet about encouraging bilingualism in young kids, but I’m sure it would help him develop Dutch skills if I had a few of my own.

And two? I don’t want him to have a secret language. A friend of mine who grew up in Kyrgyzstan, speaking Russian, told me how she knew (and used!) all kinds of dirty words that her non-Russian speaking parents didn’t pick up on (while at home, she wasn’t allowed to say even the tamest of dirty words in English!). If my little man wants to make mischief or keep secrets, I don’t want to willingly give him an easy tool to do so. I recently read this great post on Design Sponge about Amy overcoming her fear of speaking a foreign language, “And perhaps my self lesson here is that I’m more nosy than I am afraid.” Farrell will readily tell anyone that I know how to speak Russian more than I actually do speak Russian (I’ll usually whisper vocabulary words for him to say), but wanting to make sure that I can share this part of Darwin’s life with him may finally(/hopefully) be the push I need to really commit to speaking another language.

There are plenty of other reasons to learn Dutch, too. Sure, all of our friends speak excellent English, but conversations can quickly lapse into Dutch, leaving me to space out until someone clues me into what the conversation is about. And then there are people who don’t speak English. I once took Darwin to a doctor who didn’t speak hardly any English at all! Luckily it was just to get a short medical form filled out, and we mimed a conversation about whether or not Darwin had tuberculosis, but obviously the whole interaction would’ve been greatly improved with some Dutch. Also, I can tell it puts people on edge when they realize they need to speak English. Even if we have to have a slow, repetitive conversation, I’m sure people would much prefer speaking dumbed-down Dutch with me then suddenly searching their brains for the right English word. (Even though, in my experience, people are so hard on themselves about their English skills. Relax, guys! Your English is great and understandable and I’m not going to ever laugh in your face for using a word incorrectly.)

So today, I’m cobbling together an action plan. I’ll visit Huis van het Nederlands and check out my options for classes. I’ll curse at DuoLingo for not having Dutch (not until September, maybe. Check it out and help out if you’re a bilingual Dutch-English speaker! Please and thank you!), because after playing around with the French levels it seems like a fun way to learn some basic phrases and vocabulary. I’ll check out Dutch Word of the Day, these free Dutch picture-vocabulary books (thanks for the tip, Leah!), these Flemish for Dummies videos, and the Dutch vocabulary courses on Memrise.

I have no real desire to use Rosetta Stone, but are there any other audio books/softwares for language-learning that you love (and that are available in Dutch)? Even those meant for kids, because that would be a great way to do activities together with Darwin. I’m also cursing at Little Pim for not being available in Dutch. I mean, come on! 28 million speakers worldwide, nothing to scoff at.

Other than recommendations and advice, I’d love your well wishes. Succes to me, inshallah!

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