A while ago I wrote a blogpost on how I get regular praise for being fluent in Dutch. Especially for having learned Dutch in a way that people deem “so fast!” Truth is, it actuality took me more than two years to be able to hold a conversation that wouldn’t make me sound like a 10 year-old. I wouldn’t be sure as to use the word “fast” to describe the process, but hey!, I did it. And I promised a follow up on the issue of how. Read part I of this story here.
… “HOW DID YOU DO IT?”
For me, following a language course was essential. It gave me the base for comprehending the language’s structure and learning the grammar. Because, friends, we’re nothing without grammar. So I wouldn’t rely on Duolingo nor language-exchange meet-ups. But here’s the catch: I soon realized the course was not enough. Those 5 hours of weekly-classes I got access to could serve as the structure, but they weren’t enough to build the edifice. The only way I would ever become fluent, I concluded, was by being in a Dutch environment, so that I’d be exposed to the language on a daily-basis. But how to do that in über-international Amsterdam where everyone replies back to you in English, no matter the effort you put in articulating a Dutch setence?
But the Dutch gods heard my prayers and I found myself working at a proeflokaal. A proeflokaal is a tasting tavern for local spirits, although beer proeflokaal(s) are more popular. At ‘In de Olofspoort’, where I work, we specialize in liquors and genevers (my workplace makes for a love story you can read more about, if you fancy). Never heard of genever before? See, it can’t get 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 work at such a traditional venue without mastering the language?!” – this idea was always echoing in my mind, even if locals were nothing but friendly. 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 very encouraging. Many of them 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. 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.
Read the third part of the saga here!