When I went back to visit the US, a lot of folks asked me how my Dutch was coming along. My stock answer was “not great.” I’ve made improvements, but I’m behind where I thought I would be by now: I’m slow to speak, I pretend to understand things I don’t, trip over grammar, I am too hesitant to ask people to repeat things I don’t understand, and I rarely speak Dutch at home. But I do take classes, and I am trying, and these things take time, right? And besides, as this writer so eloquently put it: https://bitterballenbruid.com/2015/05/25/learning-dutch-is-fcking-hard/
Then I stayed with my friends in Austin and their super-cute twins who were just learning to roll over when I left. Now they speak complete, grammatically correct sentences. While I was impressed, and they are clearly above average, a little part of me couldn’t help but be a little bit saddened that I hadn’t made more of my three years in the Netherlands. It was a stok achter de deur (incentive) that I needed to step it up with my Dutch.
Everyone knows that children have several advantages when learning languages – aside from being immersed in the language, they have greater neuroplasticity. As adults, new information has to compete with what we already know. Destin Sandlin from Smarter Every Day, does an excellent job of explaining how entrenched certain processes, even simple ones like riding a bike, are in our minds. He demonstrated this by riding a “backwards” bicycle – one that his welder friends engineered so that he had to turn the handlebars left to turn right, and vice versa. They bet him that he would not be able to ride it and initially they were right.
Seriously, watch it. While the analogy isn’t perfect, it does illustrate how learning different grammar rules, word order, conjugation can feel as tricky as riding a backwards bicycle can be, and just how much serious time and effort is required to learn something new. And cramming won’t cut it – because as he says – “knowledge does not equal understanding”.
But I know that adults can learn Dutch well, because I’ve met (and solicited advice) from quite a few of them. Here are a few bits of advice that I frequently remind myself of:
Do or do not. There is no try. One of the most helpful pieces of advice offered was in response to me saying (in Dutch) that I was trying to learn the language. The woman I was speaking with got all Yoda on me, by telling me that I shouldn’t try, but do. She also said that I shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that Dutch is a hard language, because by telling myself that, I’m implicitly giving myself an excuse to give up on it.
I’m going to make mistakes. The advice offered on bitterballenbruid.com, makes for a good mantra: Fuck it – I will make mistakes, and I need to dust off and move on. Which sounds obvious, but trust me it’s not, and it can be highly frustrating.
So…what are those goals again? Here are my Dutch goals for August. Please hold me accountable for them! If I meet them I buy myself a Fitbit and if I don’t meet them, I fess up to all of you.
The flashcards are for building vocabulary, the Taaltempo book has timed exercises that help me with speaking, response time and conjugation, and the Language Café is a bar in Utrecht where people who are learning Dutch can meet and have conversations.
Thanks for being stok achter de deur. I’ll be back with some updates next week.