Friday, March 7, 2014

Speaking like a four year old.

One of the biggest adventures of moving to this country has been learning to speak Dutch. I've mentioned it on this blog mostly as a struggle, but I should say that it is also becoming a joy. Here are some examples.

While nearly all adults in the Netherlands speak a bit of English, and most are fluent, the children are another story. In our church there is sunday school during the service and there's a big rotation of who helps out with teaching the children. At the start of the service, sometimes they'll ask for someone to help with the kids (not to teach, just to help), so I have twice now joined the "Kingdom Kids" aged 4-6 with their Bible Lesson. I figured I knew a little Dutch, I would be able to help walk the kids to the bathroom or whatever else needed doing. The kids spoke no English, and though the teacher was fluent in both, the class was conducted entirely in Dutch.

I was delighted both by how much I could understand and by the excitement children can put in little activities. When telling of their weekends, the kids were bright with stories of "oma en opa," (grandparents), "ijs met hagelslag" (ice cream and sprinkles) and "pannenkoeken" (pancakes! often eaten as a meal any time of the day). I felt silly that if I had been able to cram together sentences they would have been dull and lacking interest after such a string of treats. What would I have said? "I have now a dehumidifier. Now is my apartment not wet. I find this nice." So boring! And what kid cares about the humidity?

At one point however I was astonished to discover secret English lurking in one of the children's storehouse of knowledge. After coming back from the bathroom with two of the kids, I saw another waiting. I tried in Dutch, "Wil je ook te ga naar de WC?" or "want you also to go to the bathroom?" to which she blinked, smushed her knees together and blurted out in perfect English, "I need to pee!"

When asked what they were going to do for their "krokus vakantie" or spring break, one of the boys mentioned he was going to England with his family. So they had a whole discussion about how were they going to get there? Because England is an island you can fly over the water (complete with whizzing hand motions), go under the water in a tunnel,  or go on the water in a boat! They were very disappointed that I didn't come from England. The teacher tried to make it sound amazing that I came "uit Amerika!" but they were having none of it. When having these conversations, I am continually struck with fun things to say if I had the words for it. I could have made a joke about there still being boats that go across the ocean, and that I came on a plane, but that there's no tunnel to go all the way to the US. Instead I contemplated saying that I had lived in England for a bit in college, which I could nearly say, but I'm just now getting a firmer grasp of past tense, so I held off and said nothing. Don't worry. I soon won them over with my papercrafting.

It has been a real joy to learn a language with a friend. And learning with Owen has been like having an in with the TA. Although Owen professes to know "not that much" German, he has been top of this Dutch class since we began, despite the other members of the class knowing so many more languages than we do. I do fine most of the time, and both my pronunciation and grammar are improving. Early on, it was a bit overwhelming to have a complicated grammar rule laid out for us entirely in Dutch, as I watched completely not understanding what was being said she looked around and asked in Dutch if we understood, followed by the only English sentence she'd uttered the whole class, "It's very important." So Owen has helped explain the grammar a great deal, and after I had struggled on one of the tests, Marleen (our teacher) came to our house to tutor me on the grammar. We recently had our end of first course exam, and I passed just fine. Owen scored a perfect 10.

We laugh a lot, sometimes over choosing the wrong words and sometimes because we mispronounce them. Recently at the end of a long day I said, "I am very tired," only to have Owen laugh out loud, kiss me and agree. My attempt at "Ik ben heel moe," had sounded more like, "Ik ben heel mooi." I had announced not that I was very tired but that I was very "beautiful." And so it goes.

Note: If you go to the Netherlands and think that people are calling you a "whore" all the time, don't freak out! When it first came up in Dutch class, someone asked what "hoor" meant and our teacher said, "It's just a thing you say to put someone at ease." So "gaat u gang, hoor!" means "oh, go ahead" in the grocery line or whatever. There were some snickers from the Italians at the table. But now, I use this phrase all the time. See how much I've acclimated.

Let me conclude with some Dutch words and phrases that I love.

"gezellig" - This is a wonderful word. It means something like cozy, but also means happy, intimate, and is perhaps best translated as full of "WARM FUZZIES." A class can be gezellig. An old shop. The bustle of the market. Being reunited with friends. A party. A chair with an afghan and a mug of tea nearby. Pronounce it: he-SELL-ik. But those Gs are pretty tough, and sound a little throat-clear-y if you're not careful.

"graag gedaan" - This is the best of all possible responses to "thank you." It means literally, "happily done."

"alstublieft/alsjeblieft" - It's like "please" except you can also use it as a "you're welcome" or "here you go." I think it means something like "as you wish."

"winkelwagen" - grocery cart.

"cacaopoeder" - It sounds really cute pronounced. And it means cocoa power. Win-win.

1 comment:

  1. Languages are wonderful. Glad God chose not to have human beings communicate by ESP. Otherwise, the delight of "winkelwagen" would not exist.


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