I came to the Netherlands after trying for a few months to learn Dutch by myself, at home, helped by a book and a CD (for the connaisseurs: Het Groene Boek).
I knew that Dutch is a Germanic language, so I expected it to have a lot in common with German and English, languages I had learned for many years. But the strange words and certainly sounds that came out of the CD were quite different. The first lesson in the book was of a more general nature and contained among other things the question: “Hoe heet jij?”, meaning: “What are you called?”. It does resemble the German question: “Wie heißt du?”, but only if you know how to look at the words 🙂 But the same question on the CD didn’t sound Germanic at all, if anything, it was definitely Chinese. It sounds something like: “who hate chai?”. Fake a Chinese accent while reading this and you’ll understand what I mean 🙂
Still, I did not despair. I went on with the lessons in the book and tried to learn words, the few grammar rules in the book that were not really explained further than by examples and, what was more difficult, I tried to learn how to pronounce the Dutch words. I recall listening to some words over and over again and still not understanding a certain sound. Like the infamous (if it isn’t officially infamous, it should be!) “ui” sound, I would like to explain it to you, but it is impossible. If I spoke to you in person I would still not be able to pronounce it like Dutch people do. And in the context of more letters, like “huis” (=house) I think I can mimic a sound which is acceptable, but when the sound is completely naked, in the word “ui” (=onion) I have no place to hide and it becomes obvious how infamous a sound it is 🙂
The reason I was learning the language was that Romania, where I was living, was not a member of the EU at that time and in order to be accepted to live in the Netherlands I was supposed to pass a language test. I had read more than half of the book and I was not really optimistic about passing the test. But I could call a certain number and have a test on the phone in order to get an idea of my level. I don’t remember exactly how long the test was, but it seemed to take forever. I was unable to answer most of the questions. Panic struck as I already thought I will never be permitted to live in the Netherlands. The result of the test revealed however (the following day) that I hadn’t done so badly, if I remember well it was something like 60% OK. Which could only mean that the expectations weren’t high at all, as most of my answers were “I don’t know” 🙂
A few weeks later I was finally saved by the EU, when the announcement came that Romania would join it on January 1st 2007, meaning for me that a language test was no longer necessary.