March 31, 2012 | Dutch

Dutch Regrets

It pains me to do this, but I think I will have to close the (grammar) book on Dutch for now.

Here’s the thing: I have started this new volunteer gig at one of NYC & Company’s Official NYC Information Centers, as I have mentioned, where one of my primary goals is to practice my language skills with tourists arriving in New York from other countries. There I have noticed with rather alarming frequency the negative effect of my Dutch studies on my German.

Me at Information Center, Trying to Hold on to Language Skills!

Me at Information Center, Trying to Hold on to Language Skills!

That can happen when you study closely related languages. On the one hand, you learn faster, because of the similarities.

On the other hand, you can also get confused faster. My German g’s are now officially screwed up, and at the same time I’m also finding I’m not too happy with the state of my French, Spanish, and Italian, all of which I have the opportunity to use regularly in this NYC & Company gig but to which I am not doing justice, in my opinion. My official Spanish study period ended almost two years ago, my German ended in the fall of 2010, and my French review concluded nearly one year ago.

Time to brush up?

I don’t technically need Dutch. Now, normally I don’t care whether I actually need a language or not, but seriously, every Dutch person that comes into the center speaks English. And other languages, usually, as well. I can’t help noticing that the main immediate life benefit of knowing some Dutch appears to be that I can show off that I know some. It seems to shock the Dutch visitors and is therefore moderately fun for me. It doesn’t happen often for them that an American is learning their language rather than the other way around.

Still, it is kind of dismaying to feel such a dent in my German, which is in fact very useful—especially with older German tourists, whose English is negligible more frequently than that of the younger German tourists. My German participles are just all messed up.

What I would like to do is add another month to the Dutch schedule, because I feel I am making reasonably good progress, but there is a voice inside of me that has been getting louder and louder and saying, “Be practical, Ellen.”

For once I have decided to listen to it. My new plan is to focus for a bit on reviewing languages that I need for this volunteer gig: French, German, Spanish, and Italian. (Listed there in descending order of importance, based on how much I need each one.)

I haven’t visited enough Dutch-related places around town, so I will do some of that still while I undertake my general language review.

But first, a few parting observations on Dutch and my experience studying it:

  • I find it funny how Starbucks has infiltrated language studies. I remember learning how to say “I like Starbucks” in a Pimsleur Korean lesson. In my Intermediate Dutch book, I have been given the following sample sentence: Erik liep met een dampende kop koffie van Starbucks naar zijn geparkeerde auto. Meaning, “With a steaming cup of coffee from Starbucks, Eric walked to his parked car.” Funny intermediate sentence, no?
  • This is a word, according to the same book: irreëel. Meaning “irreal.” Now, “irreal” is not in fact a word I ever use in English, but I am thoroughly impressed by the sight of all those e’s in the Dutch version. 
  • Dutch sometimes uses apostrophes in possessives. I find the sight of a possessive apostrophe in a foreign language amazing, because I am so unused to them in non-English contexts. Lydia’s moeder ligt in het ziekenhuis means “Lydia’s mother is in the hospital.” But the apostrophe looks funny to me in Dutch. I have grown accustomed to having to say the equivalent of “the mother of Lydia” when I translate things into other languages.
  • Houden van is “to like” or “to love.” I have encountered this conflation of liking and loving in other languages, too. I always find it mysterious that the same word can be both “like” and “love.” I mean, in English, confusing the two could really mess you up. Tell a brand new romantic interest you “love” him after the first date and see how that goes. Okay, fine, I’m being silly. I’m sure Dutch has ways to deal with such situations. But seriously, it is a little perplexing to encounter words like that that seem to encompass such a broad range of…passion. If you wink when you say it, is the houden less serious?
  • This is the kind of a grammar sample sentence, from my Essential Dutch Grammar, that I don’t think I would have been likely to encounter in, say, my Arabic or Hebrew studies: Het vak waaraan ik de grootste hekel had op school, was godsdienst. I will leave that untranslated, something special for the Dutch readers.

All right, I am officially signing off with Dutch. Next stop: a systematic review of those four European languages.

Post a Comment