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How I learned (some more) Dutch

While I was still busy with the first Dutch language course described last time, I started working. The same position in the same firm as in Romania. The most important difference (besides earning as much as in Romania but for half the time) and cause of sweating every time the phone rang in the first months, was the language. I work in the sales department of a German company and our customers are situated in the Benelux, so mainly Dutch speaking. In the beginning, I only spoke English with my colleagues, as  I still thought I couldn’t speak decent Dutch, but I was learning, so I had hopes. When customers called and started speaking Dutch, I was close to fainting every time from the effort it took me to understand them, even their names were quite a challenge.

So it was high time for another language course, a better one, a more expensive one, as now the firm would pay! 🙂 I was very happy that the firm offered me a course and I can say that it changed my life in the Netherlands since I attended it. It was at ILC in Waalwijk where I had a teacher all to myself, which was exactly what I needed. I could ask away, all my doubts and uncertainties found answers, while also practicing the Dutch language I needed at the office. The lessons were once a week, in the evening and took about 4 months (30 hours in total). After a few lessons I was confident enough to speak Dutch and use it also more in writing.

This was my second and last Dutch course so far, I am now at an acceptable level, I have had my share of compliments on the Dutch I speak and I particularly enjoy noticing the mistakes Dutch people make in their own language 🙂

I would like to know and use more Dutch expressions, this is still a pretty unfamiliar territory for me. And I would like a richer active vocabulary, I understand most of the words I hear or read, but I do not use many of them myself because they just don’t come to mind when needed. So there is still work to be done, for sure.

And to round up my Dutch language adventures, here are some reactions I have had from Dutch people while still not speaking Dutch or now, that I do speak Dutch:

– when I was at the beginning of my Dutch life, I was approached by a Dutch person who spoke Dutch in a loud voice and in a sort of slow motion, something like: “THE WEA-THER IS RE-ALLY NI-CE TO-DAY.” Somehow, this method seemed the best way to deal with someone who doesn’t speak your language but is trying to learn it.

– others, who were not comfortable to speak English (which I was communicating in at that time), which is understandable, told me they are only speaking Dutch to me so that I can learn the language, since I have to learn it anyway. Of course, it can be a method to be forced to speak a foreign language, but at times I felt isolated and left out of conversations I couldn’t follow.

– now, after about 6 years of speaking Dutch every day, I was recently amazed by a Dutch person who hadn’t spoken to me before, but knew that I was not Dutch. He spoke Dutch with me as if HE was a foreigner who doesn’t speak the language well. I spoke to him normally, I certainly don’t sound Dutch, it’s clear that I am a foreigner, but still, I speak correctly, making maybe small mistakes, but nothing major. Well, his Dutch towards me sounded like: “You looking and you seeing the tree.”

– probably the same accent I mentioned also makes many customers calling me at work (it is an office based in the Netherlands, the phone number is Dutch) start talking to me in English. Which I swear they didn’t do when I was just starting here! 🙂 Even some customers who I have on the phone regularly and whom I have even written e-mails in Dutch before. Some of them make it very complicated for themselves, because for some reason they don’t start in Dutch or at least ask me first if they can speak Dutch to me, they just start in English and have sometimes a hard time finding their words.

Well, that was it, good luck to everyone learning Dutch!

 
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Posted by on 21 August 2013 in ENGLISH POST

 

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How I learned Dutch (in the Netherlands)

I came to the Netherlands a few days before Romania joined the EU, as I was telling you in the previous postMy only knowledge of the Dutch language was, as I wrote there, only what I had learned by myself from a book and a CD.

Ana, a Romanian friend (now living in New York – this would be the moment to share her blog, except she doesn’t have one :), but believe me, it would be very interesting!) had told me about a Dutch book: “Cirkel in het gras” and I bought this book soon after I arrived here, thinking to give it a try and otherwise, read it later, after I would have learned Dutch.

P1180667pSomehow, reading this Dutch book was doable, I had several words on each page which I didn’t recognize and I would look them up in a small Dutch-Romanian dictionary (a gift from my friend Lia, still living in Bucharest, no blog either, but very suitable for one :)). The rest of the text I understood by association, comparisons with all the languages that I speak well or vaguely and probably by understanding the context. Recognizing words in this foreign language was every time a small victory.

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Being able to read in a language I hardly knew was quite cool, but speaking the same language was something else. In my opinion, I did not speak Dutch. I was the only one who thought so. Everyone around me was trying to convince me I could speak Dutch, if only I dared. I thought that these people must be crazy :). I just couldn’t accept that I was expected to speak a language after a few lessons read in a book.

But I do think that I was a sort of a sponge at the time and I was able to learn a lot of Dutch words by listening and watching television and reading the subtitles. I also asked the meaning of words I didn’t understand.

After less than two months in the Netherlands we considered it was time for me to get some Dutch lessons. There was a school nearby where I could do this but first they had to test me in order to determine the level I should start from. This was a bit strange for me, I was convinced that I was a beginner, no doubt about it. I was scheduled for a total of 5 tests: listening comprehension, writing, reading comprehension and two kinds of speaking. I did my best. Later we had a meeting with one of the teachers who was going to give us the results. She sat down and asked me:  “What are you here for?”. I was puzzled. She went on: “Your scores are so high that there is not much we could teach you. Why don’t you just speak Dutch?” I don’t recall what I answered exactly but it must have been something like: “I cannot speak a language I haven’t learnt!” She probably thought something was very wrong with me. 

I have found the results of that test and see that I had a 4 for listening, writing and reading and a 2 for speaking (unfortunately I don’t know which scale was used, but 2 was the lowest score of the four).

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In the end I was able to attend lessons once a week for 2,5 hours each. There was a group of students I joined, most of them were Polish, the others were all from different countries. The lessons were diverse, but not what I felt I needed. I wanted to learn how to write in Dutch, grammar rules, words – the heavy stuff, from the beginning. Maybe the other students had already had all that in previous lessons. It came as a big surprise to them  when they heard that I was beginning my study of the Dutch language together with them, who had already attended several courses, starting at lower levels. I was just as surprised. We discussed lyrics of popular Dutch songs, we were commenting pictures, we had to prepare a speech on a subject of our own choice, we exercised. I didn’t quite feel this is the right way to start learning a language, but this wasn’t the aim of the course either, as it was not meant for beginners like me.

In the end, 4 months later, I finished the course. My exit level was “on the way to B2”, the levels being A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2 (this last one is the highest). 

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– to be continued –

 
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Posted by on 15 August 2013 in ENGLISH POST

 

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How I began to learn Dutch

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).

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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 🙂

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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.

 
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Posted by on 14 August 2013 in ENGLISH POST

 

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Of Dutch pronunciation or Ouch, my throat hurts!

Ask any non Dutch person what the Dutch language sounds like and I bet most of the answers will be something like: hhhggggrrrrrrr.

The truth is that this is the most typical Dutch sound: this guttural hhhhhhhggggggrrrrrrr. Not all Dutch words contain it, of course, but sometimes it happens that one sentence holds an agglomeration of such growling sounds, to such an extent that you can’t believe you are hearing a human language, as it very much resembles the language spoken by aliens in some movies.

This sound is the way the letter “g” is being pronounced in Dutch (I guess it is a surprise, as you expected it to be the letter “h”, right?), which sounds like an English “h”, but combined with a sort of “g” and pronounced from the depth of your throat, after the uvula and the tonsils, the deeper, the better.

When I learned Dutch, my luck was that I happen to live in the South of the Netherlands, in the province Brabant, which has a favourable characteristic regarding this sound: here we are blessed with a “zachte G”, meaning a ” soft G”, so that the guttural growling is much more moderate than in the rest of the country and this is why I think that I pronounce the sound quite easily and well.

This luck doesn’t solve everything about this tricky letter. When the word starts with “gr…”, like “grijs” (“grey”), the growling becomes more serious, try pronouncing a guttural “h+g” followed by “r” –  it’s like starting an engine, isn’t it? But this isn’t everything, there are also other combinations, even more killing: an example is the word “graag” (meaning “with pleasure” or “willingly”) which on top of things ends also with a “g” – give it a shot, what do you think? Do you already feel partially Dutch?

What I find most difficult is the combination, in the same word, of a “g” with a “h” like in “gehaald” or “hygiëne”. In such cases my Romanian organs fail tragically, so that  my”h” starts to sound like a “g” and the other way around, in any case not as it should. Passing from a difficult sound (“g”) to a regular one (“h” which is being pronounced absolutely normally, just as in the English “hotel”), but still resembling the first one, makes me reach my limit and is proof of my not (ever) being Dutch.

I think you got the hang of it, so I’ll give you a few more words and combinations to practice:
Graag gedaan = You’re welcome

Goedemorgen (“oe” is pronounced “oo”, like in “good”) = Good morning

Gehoor = hearing.

Recommendation: after reading and pronouncing the words, take a Strepsils or a teaspoon of honey 🙂

 
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Posted by on 31 July 2012 in ENGLISH POST

 

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