Nieuws - 6 januari 2020

Dutch adventures and dramas

According to Resource blogger Donatella Gasparro people can be divided in those that find it weird that after two years and a half of living in the Netherlands she still speaks so little Dutch, and those that find it interesting that after two years and a half of living in the Netherlands she speaks so much Dutch. And that’s also how she feels about it: yes, both things.

© Sven Menschel

I took a few basic courses and I can ask for things in shops, I understand the sentence structure and some basic grammar rules, but work conversations or anything beyond small talk is still quite challenging. And it makes me pretty uncomfortable when a full room needs to switch language because of me – whether that’s at an informal dinner or at a work meeting.

Nonetheless, I had the brilliant idea of choosing to do an internship in a fully Dutch environment. Smart.

In principle, it is indeed a smart move: exposure is what makes languages actually permeate in one’s brain. And, in Wageningen, in the big international community, and in international student houses, not much Dutch happens. At the same time, while with languages close to your mother tongue it is pretty quick to pick them up at a decent level – I was able to speak basic conversational Brazilian Portuguese after only two weeks, to my greatest surprise (and I have meanwhile lost most of it, to my greatest disappointment) – with a language like Dutch, pretty far from my Latin roots, it’s just impossible to start from scratch.

Why am I inflicting this torture to myself?

I faced the very first big challenge last week, when I attended a day-long symposium at my internship place, all in Dutch, about my favourite topic: agroforestry. Too interesting to miss it, so I gave it a try. The morning was okay: I got, say, 30 percent of it, and things on slides helped. Not taking into account the huge frustration of really wanting to understand something but not being able to, I considered it quite a good first step. The afternoon though, was the real struggle. Quick discussions with panellists and a mixed audience: there my attention completely dropped and my brain started to burn.

At that point, I thought: 1. Why am I inflicting this torture this to myself?; 2. I should maybe take another Dutch course. And, besides the mental exhaustion of a full-immersion in another language like that, I also decided I should do this more often. I mean, that evening, I started texting friends in (pseudo) Dutch. So I guess it did something. Plan for the future: more Dutch exposure. Brain already hurts at the thought… I’ll update you on this adventure.