This article is the continuation of a saga that started out with this blogpost, followed by this one. You might want to read those first. Here I share with you the whole process I went through when leaning Dutch.
TAKING DUTCH TO THE NEXT LEVEL
In July 2014 I got my Staatsexamen (NT2) diploma – a document which basically states your fluency in the language ( and also one you need if you want to apply to university studies in Dutch). However, and even though I was very proud of that piece of paper, I was by no means fluent. Somehow, and as wired as this may sound, that phase was actually just the beginning. By then “the structure” was built. Keeping the edifice standing though, would require a lot of effort.
By that time it was already one month that, in one particularly warm early-summer afternoon, I had met this certain Dutchie in the park. There was a certain level of romanticism going on with this person. A few months later we officially became a couple, and we talked to each other in English most of the time. In social situations, however, communication would flow in Dutch. This constant switch felt more and more confusing to me. I was divided between two languages, never fully going for one or the other. It also annoyed me that, in this way, both my English and my Dutch were to remain mediocre.
I started insisting that we should speak Dutch to each other – it is the official language after all! – and we did that, as much as we could. We only resorted to English in long conversations or very deep subjects. In this period I dealt with a lot of frustration. In Dutch I expressed myself like a 10 year-old, and that’s exactly the position you don’t want to be in, in the beginning of a relationship. I really wanted to communicate at the same level as my partner. Feeling like I was stripped off the very instrument that makes me – the ability of putting myself and the world into words – felt terrible.
There was no way around that mountain. If I really wanted to develop my Dutch I had to go through the embarrassment ( beyond the mountain?), I had to accept I would make a fool of myself very often. Or at least, I had to accept that this is the way I had to feel, even if, objectively, nobody’s a fool for trying. Nobody’s a fool for being at a learning stage – it is, in fact, the exact opposite. And the incentive I regularly got from the people around me, really kept me going.
The shifting-point in my fluency of the language really happened by going to sleep and waking up while speaking it. Those moments in which I was not very awake, my guard was down, and my unconscious mind sort of surfaced, seemed to be very prolific in making Dutch sound like a natural language to me, if this makes sense.
Now, this was my experience. By no means I want to suggest that in order to learn how to speak a language you have to start sleeping with a native speaker. What I want to emphasize is that surrounding yourself as much as possible with the cultural universe of the language in question is the only way, especially if you don’t speak it at home.
There will be a fourth part to this saga, with a sort of psychological approach to it, and some tips to those in need. Stay tuned.