When I worked on Holland American Line cruise ships, the majority of the officers were Dutch. When I heard them speaking dutch for the first time, the initial thought that came to mind was “crikey, they are really working up some serious phlegm there!”. Let’s admit it, it is not the prettiest language on the ears. Unlike French or Spanish, I would certainly not label Dutch as ‘the language of love’. Far from it!
Ironically, I began a relationship with a dutch man and began picking up a few words here and there, mostly the bad ones. But at that time, I had no interest in learning the language. I was still in denial that I would need to. With words like ‘gekruid gehakt’, ‘scheveningen’ and ‘verschillende verzekeringen’, it was just too complicated.
Some people are natural linguistics. I am not. I grew up in Australia where English is pretty much the one and only language spoken. Apart from some french classes in high school (which I never took seriously) I had not been exposed to any other language than English until I met my now husband at the age of twenty.
I managed to avoid learning the language properly until we relocated to the Netherlands ten years after we began our relationship together. This was when it really hit home. I am an organiser. I like to plan, prepare and organise. When we first moved to the Netherlands, we had two children of our own, yet I felt like a child again. I could no longer do these things as we were living in a small town where no one spoke English. I had to rely on my husband to do everything for me. He needed to pay all of our bills, read all my mail and make my appointments for me. I hated the feeling of loosing my independence and that’s when I decided that if I was going to be happy in our new country, I would need to embrace this language that I had been trying to avoid for so long. I had married a Dutch man and was now living in the Netherlands. In order to fully integrate, I would need to be able to speak their language.
After attempting to use various self-taught methods in the past without success, I enrolled in a dutch language course in Rotterdam at CBE Languages. Once a week, I attended a two hour course. I was motivated and in a classroom situation, I thrived and seemed to pick up the language a little better. I realised that I knew a lot of the words already, it was just a matter of learning how to put them together to build a sentence and gaining the confidence to speak in front of others. After a while, I finally felt like I could hold a basic conversation with someone and make my own phone calls. Sure, my grammar was not perfect, but they knew what I was saying, and that was a great feeling. For a long time, I was afraid to speak it. Believing that if I said the sentence wrong, that people would laugh at me or think I was stupid. I felt as though I sounded like a child when speaking dutch. Now I realise, that even though I make mistakes, speaking it is the only way to improve. People don’t laugh at all, they genuinely appreciate that I am trying.
Eighteen months after arriving in Holland, I received ‘that dreaded letter’ in the mail. The letter was from the municipality, informing me that I would need to enroll in an integration course and pass the civil integration examinations in order to stay in the Netherlands. As I had already done the language courses in Rotterdam, I managed to complete the course in three months rather than the usual two years. I then sat the exams, passing them with much relief.
I still have a way to go before I would call myself ‘fluent’ in dutch, but at least now I can make that phone call, or buy a magazine and read it without hesitation (rather than having to wait until the next time I travelled through Schiphol airport). Best of all, I can now walk into the butcher and confidently order that 500 grams of gekruid gehakt!
Fijne dag verder!