Translation: I am learning Dutch. Language classes started this week and I’m determined to give it my best shot. Most people agree that there is a certain amount of futility in this quest, because pronunciation will always be critiqued (or it will just never be correct) and attempts to speak Nederlands will typically transition into English. I doubt that I will ever be able to converse in Dutch beyond a phrase here and a phrase there. That’s fine. I most want to increase my comprehension of the language. I want to be able to read signs and understand more of what I hear spoken around me. I’ve had many awkward situations where someone makes a comment or asks a question to me in Dutch and I have to make a quick decision. Do I smile and nod? Do I say sorry or I don’t understand (in Dutch)? Or do I reply in English and hope they understand me? I’ve responded in all of these ways depending on the situation. 

Scenario 1: A delivery van stops me as I pass on my bike and asks me for directions. I take a second to consider if I know the way (haha fat chance) and then reply “sorry, I don’t know” in English. (I could have said that in Dutch! Oh well, better to reveal all of my ignorance at once.)

Scenario 2: I’m biking along and a kid on a really loud little motor bike passes me. Right after that, a woman on a bike passes me and speaks a few sentences of Dutch. I catch the word “luid” in the first sentence and “verboden” in the second sentence. So given the context and the head shake, I guess that she’s complaining about the loud motor bike and that they shouldn’t be allowed. I respond with an exasperated “ja, ja” commiserating with her. 

Scenario 3: I’m waiting at the bus stop and there are dark clouds rolling in. The woman standing next to me looks at the sky and says something in Dutch. I don’t understand any of it, but I’m pretty sure she’s making a comment about the weather. I give her a knowing smile and nod as I quickly get on the bus. 

Scenario 4: I’m at the bakery and the woman at the counter asks if she can help me in Dutch. I reply with a mixture of Dutch and English, “can I have a loaf of bruin brood?” She responds in English and I breathe a sigh of relief. 

 Dick is eager to help me practice Nederlands, but of course like a true Nederlander he wants to correct my pronunciation. The Belgian guy who works in my building is the same way. I appreciate that my language teacher isn’t concerned with correcting sounds right now and instead is focused on comprehension. She knows that novices have to keep listening and trying. I really like her approach!

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