must learn Dutch

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!

10 replies on “must learn Dutch”

  1. When I lived in Antwerp, I attended the Universiteit Antwerpen, which had excellent Flemish classes for foreigners at a pretty cheap price. It was a fantastic class that was taught in English since most participants know English, or at least some English. After a year, I felt like I had a pretty good hand at the language. I think one of the things I found frustrating was how well everyone spoke English. Anytime I flubbed my words they just reverted to English for me. They grow up learning English, plus programming on tv that is originally in English is left in English and subtitled. Having a child there should be a help for learning the language. Good luck!

    1. It seems to me that Flanders does a pretty good job at giving foreigners a lot of different options to study Dutch. I had thought, before moving here, that most people would speak English with me and that would make it difficult to learn/practice Dutch (although easy for me to speak English everywhere) but pretty much everybody at Darwin’s daycare and his school speaks only Dutch! They get so uncomfortable when I’m around, so it’s extra motivation for me to pick up some useful phrases more quickly!

  2. Best of luck! I am with you I really need to get better about my Icelandic studies. It is so hard when everyone speaks such good English but when the conversation switches to Icelandic I would like to be able to at least follow along.

    1. oh my GOSH Icelandic! I’ve heard it’s super super hard! Do you take classes or are you studying on your own? And yes, it’s totally frustrating (but understandable) when I’m with friends who I know all speak perfect English, but because they’re together they quickly revert to Dutch. They like to think of it as “immersion” for me, and they’re convinced that Dutch is close enough to English that I should be able to follow along. Uh… nope. Best of luck with your language studies too!

  3. Good for you! Check out my mother-in-law’s website, – she sells all sorts of language learning materials. Or you can email her – – and explain to her what kind of programs you’re looking to get and she’ll help you figure out what you need to buy. She hates Rosetta Stone and refuses to sell it because she claims that it’s all marketing and it’s ridiculously expensive.

    1. Yeah I see no reason to get Rosetta Stone. That’s so cool that your mother-in-law sells language learning materials! I’m on total overload right now with programs and websites and books and methods, so I’m trying to sift through all of them and figure out what seems to be working, what I like using, and then I’ll go from there. But maybe I’ll get in touch with her for some expert advice!

  4. Learning another language is hard work! I remember when I studied abroad in Italy, and I thought I would just pick-up some Italian while I was there… No one will be surprised to hear that didn’t happen. I do not consider myself to be someone who is good at picking up languages, but reflecting back on (many) years of studying Arabic I have two suggestions: (1) take as many language classes with trained teachers as you can afford/have time for and (2) find someone who will speak to you only in Dutch (besides my teachers, I really only made one friend who fell into this category in Egypt – it’s tough). Maybe your school can help you find a language exchange partner? Computer programs can be useful for vocab, but they don’t make a disappointed face if you miss class, or make the same mistake for the twentieth time, and they don’t help with ‘language stage fright’ that comes with dealing with strangers/ a new situation (for me, at least). Also, in a class you learn a lot from your peers. Anyway, I’ll stop myself here – obviously I have a million thoughts this!

    1. uuuuuugh ARABIC! my biggest language failure, I don’t even know if I could read the alphabet anymore, after graduating with a Middle Eastern Studies degree! waaaaaah. But yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about class-learning versus self-learning. I think a class would definitely be useful for getting started, so someone can correct my pronunciation and I can maybe steer the lessons towards stuff I want to know how to say. I have terrible stage fright when it comes to speaking another language though, I’m really really terrible with it. I just freeze up and speak like a caveman (if anything comes out at all). Right now I’m at a weird stage where I know some phrases, but I know a lot more disconnected vocabulary from studying online, so I don’t think I could put together a coherent sentence if my life depended on it. Soon I’ll try to get started in a class though, I think some structure would be good. Thank you for your thoughts!

  5. I can send you weekly Dutch emails! You can translate them and reply to me in Dutch. Or we can send eachother postcards! It think it’s great you’re learning Dutch, you’ll be able to order some fries in Dutch shortly, I’m sure.

    1. I would LOVE either of those options! Right now Farrell is the one who picks up the fries on his way home from work, but he tells me that the lady selling them will only speak Dutch to him. I’ll have to teach him what to say!

Comments are closed.