Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Dutch Course

It's been so easy to put off the learning of Dutch for past 18 months. Who in the world would bother to learn a language that is only spoken in a square area the size of a postage stamp that also makes you hock luggies with every "g"? Add to the fact that everyone here speaks better English than I do, and my motivation to learn Dutch has been on par with dental work. It certainly doesn't help either that, knowing full well they speak better English than you, the Dutch will immediately switch if you brave it and try your rudimentary "Ik wil een witte wijn" and will respond with, "Would you like to try the Sonoma chardonnay?" This is most discouraging.

However when my colleague, another American and dear friend who has lived here for over 12 years with a very well established lab forwarded me the email solicitation for Dutch classes with following text in the body: "A-hem!", I finally felt obliged to go.

Class is once a week with a guy, Mickeal, who is a shaggy blond 27ish year old teaching this for the first time voluntarily for reasons I can't figure out except that maybe it's community service for a drunk driving incident. Tonight was the second class, held at his flat instead of the lovely academic building on the cobblestone street with canal running along the front. I had forgotten to do my homework, which I managed to weasel out of by emphatically agreeing that we study pronunciations for the class and do double homework corrections next week.

There's 8 of us in his living room, your typical partitioned shoebox with steep steps and no heat. We've got lists of words with common vowel combinations -ee, -ie, -oo, etc along with a mishmash of vocabulary examples. So now do I not only know that the Chinese restaurant down the street Leen is not pronounced "lean" but "lane" but I also know that "kukeleku" is what a rooster says.

I just can't wait to work that word into polite conversation.

The fact is that listening to Dutch is so close to American English I often mistake conversationalists to be from New Jersey when in fact they're from Rotterdam. The accent is practically the same, and so many of the words sound the same. Although they do spell them in a very silly way...we played Scrabble in a pub once and the most common letters after E were J's and Z's. Still, it's been getting easier to understand people, and I can definitely feel for the tantrum-ridden two year old who can get what's being said and still not be able to speak a word.

Some of the other vocab words on the work sheet which I'm sure to use daily include "luik" (shutter), "zeis" (sickle) and two words "luk" and "lak" which apparently were so arcane the teacher didn't even know them.

This is not to say that no relevant words were taught, I now know how to say I ride on my bike ("Ik rijd op mijn fiet") and that the weather sucks ("het weer is rot").

We'll see how the rest of the course goes. Rumor has it that there's a convent in the country where they lock you up for two weeks and you emerge speaking fluently. Despite the fact that this course method may well consist of kneeling on bricks and self flogging, it would be worth it to be able to say back to the bartender, "Nee, geef mij een biertje, ik haat chardonnay".

1 comment:

  1. I learned that the song "Old MacDonald" in Spanish goes:

    "En la granja de MacDonald, ee ah ee ah ohhh.
    Y en su granja había un pollo, ee ah ee ah ohhh.
    Con un cacarac aqui, cacarac álla,
    Aqui un cack, álla un cack, siempre con un cacarac"

    But the real onomatopoeia of it is "quiquiriquí." I guess it's the same as "woof, woof" and "ouah, ouah" in French.

    Crazy foreign languages...