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
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.