Two weeks ago I wrote a blogpost on how I get so many compliments ( and stares of incredulity) for having learned Dutch in a way that others think went “so fast!”. Truth is, it actuality took me more than two years to start speaking it decently. I wouldn’t be so sure as to using the word “fast”to describe the process, but hey!, I did it. And I promised a follow up on this whole learning-Dutch-issue. Usually, people are striked about the HOW.
… “HOW DID YOU DO IT?”
Following a course was essential in all this. It gave me the base for comprehending the language’s structure and learning the grammar. Because, people: you don’t exist without grammar. So forget Duolingo, and language-exchange meet-ups. Bad news was: I soon realized the course was not enough. Those 5 hours of weekly-classes could serve as the structure, but they could never build the edifice. It seemed clear to me that the only way I would ever become fluent was by being in a Dutch environment, so that I’d be exposed to the language on a daily-basis. But how could I possibly do it in this uber-international Amsterdam we live in, where everyone replies back to you in English, no matter how hard you try to articulate a Dutch word?
Somehow I ended up working at a proeflokaal. A proeflokaal is a tasting tavern for local drinks. We are specialized in liquors and genevers ( still working there – it’s a love story you can read more about, if you fancy). Never heard of genever before? You see, it couldn’t have got more local than that.
When I started working behind the bar I was terrified. My Dutch was still terrible, and the core of our guests were locals. I had the feeling everyone would find me a fraud. “How dear you working at such a traditional venue without mastering the correspondent language?!” – nobody ever said this to me but, somehow, this sentence was always echoing in my mind. My go-to sentences were: “sorry, mijn Nederlands is niet zo goed” or “ik ben Nederlands aan het leren”. And when they replied back in English I’d claim: “ik wil oefenen”; “ik moet Nederlands praten, anders leer ik nooit”.
Our guests were absolutely encouraging. Many of our guests were much older than I was, so I guess that was a key-factor for their patience in listening to my slow cracked Dutch. I conversed with our regulars about all of topics imaginable, on a daily basis. They’d tell me stories about their families, about their youth, their travels, their jobs. They’d teach me anecdotes, local traditions, popular sayings. And they all wanted to know about me, as well. So, as you can imagine, I got proficient in introducing myself and telling my story.
Ik ben Ana, uw gastvrouw. Ik kom uit Portugal. Ik wonde in Lissabon voordat ik naar Amsterdam verhuisde. Ik heb Theater gestudeerd. In Amsterdam heb ik als actrice meestaal kort-filmpjes gedaan. Voortaan, wil ik meer Theater gaan doen. Ik zing hier in het proeflokaal ook. Ik ben verliefd op Amsterdam geworden, en op een gegeven moment dacht ik “ik wil hier niet meer weg”. Ik voel me thuis.
Next week I’ll publish the third part of this story: how I took Dutch to the next level & I’ll bring a little bit of psychology to the whole thing. See you then!