My husband’s experience learning Dutch

My husband moved from Germany to the Netherlands in the nineties to study drums at the Artez music academy in Arnhem. Before he moved, he learned a few Dutch words from a Dutch acquaintance and he familiarized himself with Dutch grammar and phrase structure rules using a Langenscheidt course book. He still remembers that one of the first phrases he learned from that book was ‘Zoals vaak het geval is, regent het een beetje in Nederland.’ (as is often the case, it’s raining a bit in the Netherlands). Quite true. It is in fact raining while I’m writing this, so I can imagine he remembered it.

Upon arrival in the Netherlands Flo had to follow a two-week course at Artez to learn Dutch, because it’s the official language at the academy. In those two weeks he had to search fifty new words around a specific theme every day. Those words were then exchanged with another student the next day in order to grow vocabulary in a very short period of time.

An issue often occurring when learning a language from textbooks, is that you learn to speak very formally and miss out on colloquialisms and informal language. My husband experienced this too. It sure must have been funny to hear a drummer of a rockband use old fashioned and formal expressions. It is completely normal though, when you’ve only just started learning or using a language. And only by using the language, people can point out the mistakes or in this case, provide you with more fitting alternatives to use.

On the other hand, learning a language by using it can sometimes result in too informal or even coarse and unrefined language use or using slang in inappropriate situations. This also is completely normal and part of the process. Native speakers might frown upon certain expressions at first, but usually they will understand that you’re still learning and help out by explaining when something is appropriate and when not.

Flo had been living in the Netherlands for nearly twenty years when we met and on our first date I didn’t recognize he was German until he told me. I did notice an accent, but to me it sounded more like the local Arnhem accent than German. Or perhaps I was just too distracted by his beautiful smile to notice anything else.

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