Learning Flemish: My First Impressions

In Vlaams-Brabant, my home province in Belgium, the Flemish language seems to be a blend of Dutch, French, and English. Here in Leuven, I have become accustomed to hearing all three. Probably more English than usual since my Belgian friends are very accommodating and will switch to English to include me in conversation. I’m so grateful for their efforts that I feel it’s time to make a genuine effort to learn their language as well. It boggles my mind how my friends can switch from Flemish, to English, to French, sometimes in one sentence. I’ve always been jealous of my friend’s language skills since I’ve had a considerable amount of trouble with languages in the past.

My journey towards learning a second language has been a rocky one. I was 16 when I enrolled in French 10 during my first year in high school, which resulted in a C+. Dejected about my apparent lack of French skills, I didn’t take French 20 the following year. Sadly, I made no attempt at a language until I was age 21, living in Finland and needing some language credits for my university degree. I decided to enrol in Finnish. It was very difficult, or maybe the exchange party lifestyle diverted my attentions, but I actually failed this course! Surprisingly, my failure in Finnish only increased my desire to learn a second language. All of my European friends spoke at least three languages and I felt small that I was limited to English. So I went back to French, studied for a year, and passed with a B+. Success!

… Or so I thought. How is my French now? Awful. I haven’t practiced at all and when I do speak I sound like Brad Pitt in Inglorious Bastards. So I’ve taken a French hiatus to learn Flemish/Dutch. I’ve been told the best way to learn a language is to have a boyfriend who speak it. Looks like I’m lucky to have the best learning resource there is!

My friends claim that popular culture has been the driving force behind their English skills. Television shows and films are always shown in their original language with Flemish subtitles. I’ve noticed that Belgians, especially the Flemish, love English humour as it is similar to their own. Dry, sarcastic, and a bit wonky (in a good way!). Because of this, Belgian’s speak English very well, polished with the current lingo. Most can already hold an English conversation before they begin studying English in school, which happens around age 14. Belgians are avid football fans and often read English to get the latest scoop on trades and player stats. Gamers use English in online communities like World of Warcraft and Starcraft. The more I think about it, the opportunity to practice English in Belgium is almost limitless.

I’m blessed that I now have the opportunity to learn Dutch being (almost) completely immersed. Contrary to my previous attempts at a second language, this time I’m going to approach the process realistically and acknowledge that it won’t happen overnight but will take time and patience. To keep my motivation up, I’m going to document my Flemish language journey on ‘curiousmeredith’ in hopes that those who are learning or have learnt a 2nd (3rd, or 4th) language will share their tips and tricks with me.

Current Learning Materials:
Prisma textbook & 2 listening CDS- Dutch for Self-Study
My Fella
Comic Books
Google Translate
Prisma – “How do you say this in… Dutch” mini dictionary
Flemish TV Show with subtitles – Het Eiland – A bit of a vibe similar to “The Office” but definitely with its own Flemish flair.

Initial Observations after completing Lesson 1:

1. Literal translations don’t work, context is very important.
Example: Ga je mee wat drinken?

Initial literal translation: Go you with also drink?
Context: Are you coming for a drink?

2. There are lots of little joining words that are put together to make a common sayings. Those little words and their role in sentence structure are still a mystery to me.

3. There is a big difference between the written and spoken language.

4. Concerning pronunciation, just relax! Flemish is not as “in your face” as English.

I think Flemish is going to give me a lot of mystery, fun, and challenges in the upcoming months, but I’m ready and willing to learn. Bring it on.


12 thoughts on “Learning Flemish: My First Impressions

  1. Wow! You write well. And as I see, you wrote a lot already. About languages, there is two keys: First, get yourself in the language’s environment (or create it). Second, never be ashamed of errors.

    About the first: You are in Belgium, what is great. But you also have been in Finland (great time there, wasn’t it?) and it didn’t work. So create an environment of this language: Listen to the Radio rather than your iPod, the news, the traffic, the jokes it just helps you to get used to the sound of the language as well as you can “search” for word, which you know and try to make a sense out of them. Also why Radio and TV is good: They usually speak rather dialectless.

    The second: Say EVERYTHING you can, for as long as possible. Think of English as an enemy, which will win, when you use it. I am sure it takes you no more then a day to be able to start a conversation with “Hello, how are you?” “Great you” “Fine” in a foreign language. Never say “Thanks” but, whatever it is in Dutch. Use all the words you know. Now about the errors: Grammer is a nasty bitch. DON’T LEARN IT! I mean it. You simply cannot talk thinking about the structure of phrases. You will get it, over time, believe me. In English teachers try to get the 3 English If-clauses into our heads… Or try to explain why it sometimes is pronounced “the” and on other occasions “thee”. In fact what we learned was wrong. So build sentences the way you like, and ask people to correct you. This way you always have a real-life example for a Grammer-thing.

    Hope the above is understandable. If not, please ask 🙂 And a third thing, which will help big time: Start thinking in Dutch. That helps a lot but is probably too early to start that now, because of the lack of vocabulary.

    I still remember how to use “and all that jazz”. Learn to learn Grammer and Vocab from context. Understand three words of a sentence? Try to guess. You will improve this skill. I am sure. Then everything just works out perfectly.

    Enough now. Hope I was able to help.


    • Thanks for all the tips Martin! I’m thrilled to have such in depth tips from an ol’ pro 😉 I really have to push myself to say everything I can; from my past failures I easily get worried about saying things wrong, clam up, and then end up making “grunting” noises. This will be a struggle for me but I think it will be the most effective way to learn quickly.

      I never would have guessed to leave out grammar in the beginning. Now that you mention this I think I became hung-up on grammar when I was learning French. Learning a language definitely gives some interesting insight into my own learning habits! Thanks for stopping by my blog 🙂 Ciao for now!

      • Hey, I just had some time to kill so went into the comment that have be offered you. Martin is terrific, he will be a big help too I think. You learned that trait from me, it’s the process of building from the ground up but I can see how that method could foul you up when learning to speak a language. After-all it’s the speaking that you want to do, maybe not writing so much or any for that matter. Between Billy and Martin you have a couple of good teachers there. Let me know how it’s going. xoxo

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