I can’t pronounce my neighborhood



Gent + Brugge. Brugge is the Flemish spelling for Bruges, which I pronounce like “bruise” with a “zh” at the end instead of just a “z”. Therefore, Gent+Bruges=Gentbrugge. Right?


One of my first Flemish lessons occurred in Kyrgyzstan without me really knowing it. The last names of one of our Belgian friends has a “G” stuck in the middle. It’s a long, scary-looking last name; begins with a vowel, lots of letters, a random “y” stuck in there, etc. When Farrell or I tried to say his last name, we usually did so with an overemphasized and confused tone. One day he corrected our main error: the Flemish “G” is not like the English hard “G” (like “go”), but sort of closer to the Arabic “غ” (“gh”). Hence why the English spelling of Ghent has the “h” thrown in there, because it’s actually pronounced somewhere between “Gent” and “Hent”.

So, there’s my first problem. I’m incredibly awkward at trying to strike that balance and get the Flemish “G” right. Usually I say “Gent” with my American accent and just move on.

graffitibirdseventually. I think about walking around Bishkek whispering zdrastvoyte under my breath so I could actually say “hello” like a normal person, or asking my Russian-speaking friend to slowly repeat my street name over and over (too-rooz-BEK-oh-va) so I could actually tell taxi drivers where I lived. Isn’t that the theme of my life lately? Right now, this is hard. But it will get easier. Memory of Kyrgyzstan. The end!


And this is the part where you guys share your language troubles in the comments section so I can feel like we’re all giving each other internet-hugs!

10 replies on “I can’t pronounce my neighborhood”

  1. My whole life is a language problem. Now that I fiiinally feel that I got Russian kind of under control, I took a job as the only English speaker in a French school. God. The struggles. I feel your pain!

    1. Oh la la! That is a unique situation. Maybe your next vacation should be to Paris, you know, so you can “study” (and relax and eat croissants).

  2. When I taught in Hungary, I lived in one of the easier-to-pronounce places (Debrecen, DEB-ret-sen). But I definitely remember the teachers’ orientation week, when we were all in Budapest getting to know each other before scattering around the country, and there were a lot of… well, interesting and sometimes funny pronunciations of place names. Granted, I had the unfair advantage of a) having a linguistics degree and b) having had two semesters of Hungarian in college, and thus knowing how to pronounce it, but still. My dear friend Lee, who I met over there, lived in Hajdúszoboszló, and our friend Emily was in Nyírbátor. Before I took the job in Debrecen I was also considering a job in Nyíregyháza (and I had a lot of fun telling my friends in Seattle that I was thinking about going to work in Nyíregyháza, Magyarország, and watching their faces react to what had just come out of my mouth). One of our friends taught in Győr, a surprisingly tricky one for how short it is due to the ‘gy’ and that long rounded front vowel. And learning to say cheers (egészségedre, or egészségetekre in the plural) was definitely a rite of passage. The long-vowel short-vowel distinction in Hungarian is so hard for native English speakers to hear. Vowels in general are hard. And all the two-character letters… cs, dz, dzs, gy, ly, ny, sz, zs… there are 44 letters in the Hungarian alphabet.

    All of that meant that having very short conversations with strangers or understanding the cashiers at the grocery stores (or the train announcements on the platform, etc etc) felt like huge victories.

  3. Kirstin,
    I found your blog after reading your comment on the Design Sponge blog post about blogging. I really like what you’re doing and think that the experience would be cheapened by just having images and a few captions, like you would have to do if you posted everything on Instagram. You have such interesting stories to tell, and your pictures are great, but the words in your posts add so much to them. Good luck, and I hope you keep blogging!

  4. I keep trying to figure out what in godsname could be your streetname! I think it’s awesome you’re learning Dutch, it’s one of the most difficult languages to learn.You’ll get there! Just keep practicing your G’s!

    1. I’ll email you my street name. It is a regular word! But it could be used for something else, and everybody always thinks of the bad meaning first, womp womp.

  5. My landlady is Hungarian, but her husband is Dutch and they live in Holland. When they pop in once a year to visit, they use a mix of Dutch and Hungarian, and when it’s over I only know the meeting went well because they give my children candy.

Comments are closed.