Learning Flemish: Positivity, Equality, and Empowerment

After two full weeks of Flemish classes, I have made a few more observations and conclusions about the Flemish from their language. I realize that these are wide, sweeping generalizations but they are observations that have I had since my first month in Belgium as a tourist in 2011.

1. The Flemish are “glass half-full” people
My proof: This week I learnt how to tell time in Flemish. To my surprise, the half hour is expressed to the upcoming hour instead of the one just passed. For example, 1:30 would be “half two” instead of “half past one”. I’ve analyzed this and concluded that the Flemish have a forward thinking mentality that doesn’t focus on the time lost but rather on what’s to come.

2. The Flemish are progressive thinkers and value gender eqaulity
My proof: This week I learnt all about personal pronouns and noun articles. Flemish is not gendered like say, French. For example “Zij”, the female pronoun, is also used for the general ‘they’ pronoun. Noun articles are gender neutral using “de” and “het”. Since coming to Belgium, I often find hints of gender equality and female empowerment in art, folklore, law, and in the mentality of the men. It’s common for women to be the breadwinner in a relationship and this has no reflection on their partner’s masculinity.

I’m taking my Flemish classes though a course at CVO Leuven, the local community college. I like to think of it as my Belgian version of “Community”.

I must clarify that my instructor is not this crazy. But, I enjoy how “Community” exaggerates the stereotypes of community college with its crazy personalities, ‘special’ instructors, and grown adults finding themselves in a strange dimension of responsibilities and adolescence. It’s not unlike relocating to a new country; suddenly finding yourself in a new city at age 25, feeling sophisticated and adventurous, then looking like a twat trying to put a 5€ bill into the bus ticket printer during rush hour.

I really enjoy getting to know my classmates because they too are in a new country and trying to learn the ropes. Originally, during my search for Flemish classes, I first considered the eminent educational institution of Leuven, the Katholic University, otherwise known as KU Leuven. But when I went to the Huis van het Nederlands Leuven, I was advised to take my course at CVO for a blend of practical and academic teaching at a fraction of the cost.

KU Leuven offers numerous Dutch courses that would cost around 180 € + books and my course at CVO was 60€ + 20€ for my book and photocopies. It was an easy decision, although I was a bit worried about who my fellow classmates would be and if I would relate to them. It was a case of the “first day of school jitters” because I found out the first day I had nothing to worry about.

The majority of my classmates (the men skipped out on photo time… go figure) photo courtesy of my classmate Airene

My classmates are a diverse set of people who come from all over the world; Colombia, Mexico, Morocco, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, France, Estonia, China, Hungary, United States, Poland, and Nepal. They all have different stories about why they came to Belgium. Some have lived here for 10 years already, whereas others have been here a mere 3 weeks.

I love chatting to the other students during breaks or after class because I learn crazy stuff about them! Honestly, in this course I’m not just learning about Flemish. I’m also getting a few lessons about globalization, cultural studies, adaptation, and a little here and there from the school of ‘hard knocks’; all from the stories my classmates tell me about their personal lives. It’s fascinating!

I have a large class of 21 people, but our instructor still manages to give attention to those who are struggling or need extra clarification. She’s from the province of Limburg and her happy-go-lucky attitude is in line with that of people from Limburg, or so I’ve been told by my friends from Vlaams-Brabant. She’s an exuberant and enthusiastic teacher, who doesn’t make me dread going to class and makes lessons quite fun.

So all in all, I’m very satisfied with my classes at CVO. Thankfully, I don’t dread doing my homework anymore unlike other language courses I’ve taken, ehumh… French. I’m really happy to have finally figured out that learning a new language can be intellectually and emotionally rewarding.

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