This article is the continuation of a saga that started out with this blogpost, followed by this one. You may 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 states your fluency in the language (mandatory 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 weird as this may sound, that phase was actually just the beginning. By then I had the structure laid down. But if I wanted to keep the building up, I had to commit.
During the same time, I met a certain Dutchie in the park, on a particularly warm summer afternoon. He was a friend of a friend. There was some romance in the air. After a couple of months things got serious. At first, we talked to each other in English and tried to speak Dutch in social situations. This constant switch felt more and more confusing to me. I felt divided between two languages, never fully going for one or the other. It also annoyed me that, 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 – which we did, as much as possible. We only resorted to English in long conversations or deeper topics. In this period I dealt with a lot of frustration. My level of communication in Dutch was the one of a 10 year-old, exactly the position you don’t want to be in, at the beginning of a relationship. I ached to communicate at the same level as my partner. It felt incredibly vulnerable to be stripped off the very instrument that makes me – the ability of putting things into words.
There was no way around that mountain. If I really wanted to develop my Dutch I had to go through the embarrassment; I had to be willing to make a fool of myself. Or at least, I had to accept that this is the way I felt 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 got from people around me kept me going.
The turning point for me was really when I started to wake up and go to sleep to the sound of the language. Those moments of relaxation, between awaking and sleeping were prolific in making Dutch sound natural to me, even intimate, and cosy. It was the power of association, I guess.
Now, by no means am I suggesting that in order to learn to speak a language you must to start sleeping with a native speaker. Although that, of course, helps. What I want to emphasize is that surrounding yourself as much as possible with the cultural universe of the language is the best way, especially if, growing up, you were not exposed to it.
For me the magic formula was thus: Dutch language course + Dutch at work + loving in Dutch. Now I’m eager to hear all those peculiar stories of yours too.