Dutch? All it takes is courage!
Hans Aniba reports on learning Dutch in the Netherlands
Dutch, Greek and Chinese share a very doubtful honour: they are generally considered to be particularly difficult languages to learn. In our schools new students (often English speakers) frequently ask us: “Aren’t I brave to take up Dutch ?”
I always give them the following, very Dutch, reply: “Yes and no!”
No, because no language is more difficult or easier than any other language. Language simply doesn’t work that way. Having said that, there is no denying that German is easier for us Dutch than it is for the French and your average Spaniard will find Portuguese considerably easier to learn than, for instance, Polish. It all depends on where we’re coming from and where we’re going, so to speak.
But if we look at it from that angle, how can Dutch be difficult for English speakers ? Both languages spring from the same roots. Have a good look at the following sentences:
DAT IS MIJN PEN.
DE KAT IS IN HET PARK.
WAT IS DE PRIJS VAN DAT BOEK ?
All right, so I have picked some easy ones, but the point is: how difficult can Dutch be for English speakers if – beside some quite amazing differences – there are so many similarities ?
Nevertheless, yes, learning Dutch is difficult. But Dutch is not to blame, the Dutch are! Let’s use our imagination and picture, say, an Australian in Turkey. Not just on holiday, but living and working there for a number of years. Would this visitor from down under learn the lingo ? You bet he would ! If he wants his daily kebab, he’d better …
And there’s the rub, because even if it takes a Dutch shopkeeper a while to realize the customer in the funny shorts is American and trying to pronounce Gouda the right way, chances are that the conspicuous tourist will be leaving the premises with some sort of cheese and a merry “Enjoy your stay in Holland, sir”.
It’s our fault, we don’t give foreigners the opportunity to use our language and that’s the real reason why it is difficult to learn. In the Netherlands, most adults under a certain age speak at least some English and they just love to prove it to you. (Plus they are practical and they want to be helpful too!) So, one could ask, why then learn Dutch at all ? Well, unless one is just visiting for the weekend or the week, not being able to speak to older people and young children proves to be rather annoying. The same goes for having to guess what road signs and billboards say. And, much more importantly, you might want daily conversation to go a bit deeper than “Hello, how are you? I am Piet, I am born in Rotterdam and I am working for ABN AMRO already for more than 15 year”.
Although, particularly in Amsterdam, one sometimes gets the impression of being in a completely bi-lingual part of Europe, Dutch is of course still very much the language of the country, as foreigners who work here sooner or later appreciate. It is not for nothing that intensive Dutch courses make up a sizable part of what goes on in most language schools in the Netherlands. They help students to reach ‘take-off level’, which admittedly is considerably higher in Holland than in Germany or – probably the best example – France. There is simply no getting away with broken Dutch or ‘a bit of Dutch’: you will never get to use it ! That is why an intensive starter course is so rewarding for both trainers and students: the people who come to us, know it is all or nothing and, therefore, usually do their utmost. Think of our centres as oases where, at last, Dutch is spoken to you instead of English – and spoken by well-trained and experienced teachers. After two or three weeks of ‘incubation’, you are ready to go out into the real world. From then on, all it takes is courage …