Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Het begint met taal* - (It begins with language)

When John and I decided that we wanted to be together and that the place to actually do it (at least initially, we thought) would be in the Netherlands, lots of questions and doubts starting dancing in my head. Would I be able to leave my country behind? How would I feel being separated from my parents, my family in general? How different would life be in Holland? How long would it take for me to adapt, to feel at home in my husband's country? What were the tribulations and trials I would have to go through until I could feel all settled down and content with my new life?

Those were rather big questions and at the time, I didn't want to give them much thought for I preferred to stay 100% focused on more practical matters: getting all the paperwork done for my visa, quitting my job, preparing for the wedding and for the trip to Holland.

One thing though, that I didn't really worry about at that point was how I was going to learn the Dutch language or communicate in this country. When I arrived in the Netherlands in April 2003 I didn't know one word of Dutch - not one! I knew that once my residence was granted, I would have to start an official adaptation programme or inburgering and that this would include Dutch lessons. At least in that front my mind was at ease and I didn't feel I needed to learn any Dutch prior to my coming to the country. Besides, I was convinced that my English would be enough for me to get around and communicate with people for the basics at least, until I could speak the native language.

During the first few months before my official inburgering or integration programme started, and as I happened to find myself alone at home a lot (for my poor husband had of course to work for the both of us) I slowly began getting acquainted with the Dutch language through television, newspapers, street signs, leaflets and brochures; picking up isolated phrases and words, paying attention to the recurrence of sounds, noticing pronunciation and intonation patterns and of course, comparing it to English and even Spanish.

My first impressions weren’t very positive, though: the gruff accent, all the gurgling I heard, the sounds coming from the back of the throat – it all sounded too guttural and hard to my ears used to the softer and sweeter sounds of my native Spanish and familiar Italian.
Things didn’t look any better in the written form either. Even though I could pick up the meaning of words through their similarities in spelling with their English equivalent, or though I could discover in other words some similarity to Spanish through their common Latin origin, the incredible length of Dutch words and the strange combination of consontants looked too daunting to me.


Still, I patiently waited for my course to start. I began attending regular classes in a “college”, five days a week and four hours a day at first. I was pleased with the level of teaching at the school since the course followed the guidelines of the CEFR or Common European Frame of Reference (a guideline used to describe achievements of foreign language students in Europe), the teachers were friendly and the whole environment felt familiar of course, due to my background in the TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) world.

I soon got sucked into it and because I was making fast progress (was I probably “cheating” because I knew how to learn a foreign language?) I felt quite satisfied with myself. After a couple of months I was able to express my needs and keep relatively complex conversations and write short compositions in Dutch.
In order to move even faster and improve my skills, I decided to spend extra time at the lab every day, and ended up dedicating at least six to seven hours a day to learning the language.

At this stage of the process I was also getting pats in the back all around – from my husband, my in-laws, neighbours and friends. New acquaintaces would ask “how long have you been in Holland?”, and when the answer came, they would look impressed and exclaim things like “you speak it quite well already for such a short time!”
I would glow with satisfaction at every compliment - all the hard work was evidently paying off and I was obviously learning to speak Dutch.

Ten months after starting my course, I sat for the dreaded NT2 exam, level 2 (Nederlands als Tweede Taal or Dutch as a Secound Language) and passed all four tests with flying colours. Like Leo DiCaprio in Titanic, I felt I was the king of the world of inburgering.

I had done it!!!!
But Had I?

to be continued....

*Het begint met taal is a campaign launched by Postbus 51 (a governmental organisation) to promote the integration of newcomers into Dutch society through the learning of the Dutch language. If you have recently moved to the Netherlands, or if you have been living here for a while but you can't yet speak the language and therefore can't fully take part in Dutch daily life, I recommend you take a look at this site, Here you'll find information about what to do and where you can sign up for Dutch lessons.


A Touch of Dutch said...

What a great entry! Thanks for sharing about tihs too!

By the way, I love the graphics too 'de of het'? ;-) I still have troubles with de & het to this day...

And I agree, it does help to feel a better part of things here by learning the language. Nearly everyday I have an example, but even yesterday at work, I spoke Dutch the whole time. Even though I am not perfect with it yet, everyone was so patient & understanding.

Presépio no Canal said...

Hello :)

I have done already the level A1. Good teachers, a wonderful class.
I worked a lot, but it was difficult to me. The sounds of the words, the order of them in a sentence, is like to think in the opposite way...

In the otherhand, sometimes, on the same sentence, when I begin to speak, I put words in portuguese, english, french and dutch...

I felt so confuse: my brain has got to adjust to the new dutch words and it was so much to catch...

In Portugal, I did`t speak english (I learnt it at school, but in my daily routine I did not use it, it was not necessary) I need to remember it...certain words were forgotten...

After A1, for personal reasons, I haven`t done next levels, but in september, I will return to do the B1...

So wish me luck!! ;)

Aledys Ver said...


Thanks a lot for your visit!
The whole "de" and "het" business is rather confusing, is it not? I'm never sure which goes with what and most of the time, I correct myself on the spot, in the middle of the conversation ;o)

Learning the language and trying to speak it is essential if you really want to take part in everyday life. Even when most of the locals speak English, I think it's seen as a positive attitude when we, foreigners, make an effort to address others in Dutch. I think it shows our interest in the local culture and our intention of blending in, becoming a part of this country.

Great that you get to practice your Dutch now at work!

Aledys Ver said...


Normally when you speak other foreign languages, you have some degree of interference when you try to speak the new language that you're learning. But on the other hand, I think it's a great advantage, too. Even if you learned the other languages as a child, you still have incorporated a number of unconscious strategies that help you with the new one. ;0)

All the best and a lot of patience hehe for the course you'll be starting next month!

thamarai said...

That is incredible progress!! You must be speaking perfect Dutch now....having a Dutch family though must have been a strong motivation...:)..Oh, I love you picture formation..very creative...It tells a story of its own..waiting for the next part...

Aledys Ver said...

Unfortunately, I am not even close to speaking perfect Dutch!

I actually wonder if I will ever be able to speak it considerably well... But you'll read more about this in Part 2 ;o)

Thanks for stopping by!

Anita said...

I have to confess I still cannot guess properly of a word is "het" of "de". Until one day a teacher clarified it to me: "Well, it commonly does not appear in dictionaries either. It is something you only know if you were born here." Ahhh, the Dutch sincerity... It makes you so confident after hearing that !

Aledys Ver said...

Actually, the Van Dale does give you the "de" or "het" article for nouns! But of course, in the middle of a conversation there's no way to check "de dikke Van Dale", so you have to take a plunge and hope you've made the best choice! :o)
Thanks for your comment!

Alejandra said...

Hola!! Gracias por tu visita, comentario y seguimiento!!! Mi inglés es super indio, pero te seguiré así practico, cualquier cosa que necesites de Argentina, podés contar conmigo, Enjoy Netherlands!!
Te mando un saludo porteño con acordes de bandoneón...

AggieLap said...

Hola nueva amiga mía!! It shows how commitment pays off at the end: your dedication to learn and master the language was such a good example to all expats, and I do agree to your comment to Isabella with regards to our effort to address the local population in their own language. I think that the least to do wherever one lives. It's already hard enough to meet people and make friends in smaller cities outside Amsterda, Rotterdam or 'Den Haag', thus changing our approach with at least a few (broken or not) Dutch sentences to the neighbours or in shops, is already a brave first step. Well done to your NT2 exam, my friend! Well deserved :)
BTW I love this scrapbook pics you've put together!!

Aledys Ver said...

Muchas gracias por tu visita también! No importa que tu inglés sea estilo indio, aquí vale todo mientras yo entienda y además puedes comentar las fotos que vendrán en español sin problema ;)
Gracias por los saludos porteños, cómo extraño Buenos Aires!!

Thanks a lot!!
Yes, I suppose it's quite different over here in the east compared to the area where you live, in the west. There you meet foreigners all the time - either tourists or expats that work and live there. Over here it's different. People speak English but then, they don't have to - it's -you- who has come to live in -their- country after all.

A Touch of Dutch said...

Had to stop by again! Wanted to say it's looking great ;-)

Aledys Ver said...

Thanks, Isabella! I appreciate your support!

Anonymous said...

Sencillamente me ha encantado, muy muy difícil hacer lo que hiciste, me fascinó el título: "De Argentina a Holanda, por amor" jajaja, muy poético, además de real.
Seguiré esperando el resto de la historia aunque gran parte ya la conozco.

Aledys Ver said...

Gracias, Anamari! Sí, tú ya conoces cómo sigue la historia :o) Gracias por entrar, beso.

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Hi there! I've just popped over from Hello from Hispania and saw you are in the Netherlands too. I'm an American who just moved to The Hague in June... and I'm starting my Dutch lessons next month! Congratulations for passing your exam. Very well done!

Aledys Ver said...

Well, thanks!! In Den Haag - nice city! Good luck with your lessons, I hope the teachers you have are as good as mine, they really helped a lot and were very professional.

Mimi said...

Me gusta mucho como estas componiendo el Blog !!!
Felicidades !!!
Sigue así que esta preciosooooo !!!
No sabía que te gustase el Scap Digital, jeje !!!
A mi me gusta muchísimo !!!


Aledys Ver said...

Qué alegría que pasaras por acá. La verdad que no tenía idea del Scap Digital :o)Pero me pareció que hacerlo así es un poco más divertido, no?
Gracias por tu visita!

Leti Locatelli said...

Ale (te dice así la gente)?
Podría escribirte en inglés, pero voy a usar nuestro idioma materno así recordás un poquito tus raíces.

Mi nombre es Leticia, soy porteña hasta la médula (aunque vegetariana a ultranza) y me enamoré locamente de un joven holandés que viajaba por Buenos Aires. Este joven seguía su viaje por Australia, pero tanto nos extrañábamos que compró un pasaje a Buenos Aires y está ahora conmigo hasta principios de octubre (seguramente está ahora en su clase de español)...

Como verás, mi historia perfila similar a la tuya, porque él aún está en Buenos Aires y yo estoy googleando "argentinos en Holanda" y otras combinaciones que remiten a trasladarme a los Países Bajos.

Es un placer esta primer entrada de tu blog. Voy a continuar leyendo pero quería dejarte mis saludos y afecto desde Buenos Aires.

Aguante el mate y el dulce de lecheeee !!!

Aledys Ver said...

Hola Leti! Me alegra que encontraras mi blog. Efectivamente, tu historia es similar a la mía, espero que sigan adelante el holando y vos!
Si necesitás saber algo de acá, un poco desde nuestra óptica, o datos - ya sabés dónde encontrarme.
Gracias por tu comentario!

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