• martaexpatlimburg

Let's talk...Dutch (it's Flemish, duuuuhh!!)

Hello neighbors!!

Here I am, once again...to offer you some delightful content to brighten up your days!

So at the time of me writing this post, we are in January, the month of good intentions and setting up goals for this new year...and what would be a better goal than to learn the language of the place you live in?

But, dear neighbors, we know a new language is a big challenge, and Dutch - Flemish, sorry- is certainly not for the faint of heart. After 3 years of learning the language, I still make a lot of mistakes and do not know how to say everything (ha, I wish...). So here I bring a couple of short adventures during my Dutch -sorry, Flemish ;) - learning experience.

The first steps: nod and smile

So, as you can imagine, my knowledge of the language when I first arrive was null. Actually, the first time I visited Belgium, on a trip with my university, I went super confident to buy a couple of things in Bruges with my very polite French (which I learned at school) and...do you want to know what happened? Well, they pretty much ignored me until I switched to English...yeah, I didn't know Belgium had different official languages depending on the region you live in, rookie mistake.

Many years later, I met a wonderful Flemish man and decided to move in...and that meant learning the language to understand the in-laws, store assistants, friends and in general, anyone. It is true that many, many people can speak English, mainly because of the television not being dubbed (unlike in Spain, where everything is dubbed) and the good education system, and I am sure there are even more people that can do it, but they just don't feel confident enough...thankfully for them, I have no fear, nor shame, to speak whatever language is needed (in a very basic, completely messy manner) in order to make myself understood.

But, certainly, the first months were hard. I joined the Adult School (CVO) and our classes would start from the very bottom, like the alphabet, greetings, and introduction of one-self. In the meantime, my partner and I would go visit my in-laws nearly every week, and my mother-in-law feels very shy about her English, so she would just speak into Flemish - with "dialect" variant to make it even more interesting- and my answer was just nodding and smiling...that is, of course, until I would see her face changing into a not-so-friendly, puzzled look, and then I would turn to my husband to admit how lost I was...I really thought for many months that my mother-in-law had a very bad impression of me because I wouldn't be able to speak with her...but is just that I didn't have enough vocabulary to say anything other than: "Ik ben Marta, Ik ben Spaans, hoe heet jij?" (Woohoo!! I didn't even doubt while writing that, Master of Flemish you may call me from now on)

Step two: Messing things up

So, once I got some more vocabulary, I would feel confident enough to speak a little more, go to stores, etc.

But of course, you make mistakes and very embarrassing ones.

I can vividly remember one of the most embarrassing ones being in a very well-known coffee store, where after your purchase you can get a cup of coffee. So there was I, alone in the world (meaning my husband was not there to correct me), and asking the person in the bar with my perfect Flemish: "Ik wil een Chocolate Cappuccino, met beetje ZOUT, alstublieft".

So, the lesson of the day, my dears: "zoete" is sweet, "zoute" is "salted". What you put in your coffee (sugar) is "suiker"...what I put in mine is "zout" (salt).

I think you see where I am going...

To make it even worse, the guy looks puzzled and asks me "Zout?" and I am that level of confident that I say "Ja, ik wil mijn koffie met een beetje zout graag". In my defense, people order weird things on their coffee, just look at Starbucks secret menu, so the person shrugs his shoulders and serves my drink.

As you can imagine...it was not very good, thankfully it was just a pinch of salt and the chocolate of the cappuccino killed most of it...but after all the fuss, I drank as much as I could and left the store looking as put together as I could. Since that day, I order online and try not to put a step on the store, just in case they recognize me.

Step three: Be natural

Everyone has their perks, and you are not and also cannot pretend to be perfect. So just accept your mistakes and problems.

In my case, it came in the middle of a job interview. I was doing pretty well (or so I thought) for being my first interview completely in Dutch.

But, after 2 years learning the language it reaches some point that you would get lost, there would be things you don't know how to say anymore...

So what did I do in that exact moment? Simple, I just basically said to my interviewer "Excuse me, do you mind if we continue in English? I am my Dutch is running out...".

Thankfully, that person took it as a little joke, and also knew that I had been in Belgium for a little more than two years, being all my previous works just in English, so he laughed and had no issues with switching to a more comfortable language for me.

I didn't ended up getting the job, but at least I learned that is ok to have your limitations and that you don't have to feel shy about accepting them, you are doing your very best to learn a new way of speaking and that should be enough to make you feel proud of yourself.

But, above all, my fondest memory with the Flemish language, was the first time that I could successfully order something at the counter in a store (and this time without confusing salt and sugar). It was merely a year after I started learning the language, and I was feeling terribly sick (with the normal flu, but sometimes even that can be hard), and my husband was working, so I had to go to the pharmacy to get some medicines.

You cannot imagine the feeling of pride and empowerment that I got when I went into that pharmacy and could explain to the pharmacist that I had a pretty bad headache and very bad dry cough, but no fever, and I could understand each medicine she would recommend me, and also when and how to take each one of them (she put also a sticker with that info on it because I was so happy I could understand and make myself understand that I couldn't pay a lot of attention). I was so happy that I texted my mum, my husband, my mother-in-law...and even shed a couple of tears of joy, maybe it was also the sickness that made me extra sensitive, but for me, it was something similar to climbing Mount Everest.

So believe me when I say that Flemish is not an easy language, you see I have had my bunch of issues with it. But do not give up, continue learning and practicing, and you will eventually get there.

But for now, I must leave you here...Groetjes!!

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