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.
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.