Taking the Plunge into a New Language
Contributing Author: Simone Kynaston
There’s no way of getting around it; taking the plunge to move abroad means dedicating a lot of your spare time to learning an entire new language and on top of that navigating a brand new culture. It’s not always pretty. Some days will leave you completely out of sorts. But! It is manageable and dare I say, a little bit magical once your head is poking out the other side.
Language Baby Steps
Believe me when I say: learning a language may not be the easiest thing, but it can be exciting and it’s oh-so worthwhile.In my experience, every Dutch person I’ve met has pretty much been a personal cheerleader for my Dutch language gymnastics. People love it when you can speak their language, and the thing they love most of all is that you try. They don’t care that you get it wrong sometimes. Hell, they get it wrong sometimes.But showing a bit of initiative and learning some words and phrases before you even leave your home country can really get you on the right track.
Before I moved to the Netherlands, I did a few things. Firstly, I bought a good phrasebook. When I realized I didn’t actually know how to pronounce most of the words, I upped my game and invested in a CD lead course (old-school, and probably not cool, I know). As round two of My First Words in this new language blossomed, I became a little bit more confident. So much so that I started listening to podcasts and watching YouTube videos in my target language. OK, don’t just dive into this stage. I actually found it far too difficult, started despairing that ‘I’ll never be able to learn this stupid language’ and almost gave up. Instead of dwelling in this doom and gloom approach though, I simply took a little step backwards and downloaded a few language learning apps instead. This was much better for my language and self-confidence and this way, before I even set foot on Dutch soil, I could in the end at least say my Hallo’s and Tot Ziens’, and order myself a drink in a café.
They say that immersing yourself fully is the only real way to embed and enhance your language knowledge. I’m here to add my own vote ‘for’ this movement. There’s literally no better way than having the language almost surgically filtered into your brain via the everyday babbling that you’ll come into contact with. It’s exhausting at first, and particularly frustrating when you can’t follow other conversations, but I promise you, it gets easier. Mix this with a few language lessons too and I swear you’ll be set to soar in no time.
A year into my new life, I can confidently get myself around the country solo, speaking only Dutch, which feels like being a teenager with that new found freedom again. I’m by no means perfect, and I make mistakes every hour of the day, but I love it. You can get there too. It takes plenty of practice, but it’s worth it to be able to explore your new country freely, whilst feeling kick-ass at the same time.
It’s different for everybody, and of course it depends on which part of the world you find yourself in, but for me, where culture’s concerned, I found the directness of the Dutch jarring when I first made the move.
As a British person, I think my first word as a toddler was probably ‘sorry’. Us Brits are well known for being extra polite, and quite easily offended. This holds so much truth that I’m ashamed to say I’ve shed a few tears over a direct Dutchie or two. I really had to drill it into my own head that just because it’s direct, doesn’t mean it’s rude.
On the other side of the coin, I don’t think I’ve ever met a group of people so kind and generous as I have this side of the North Sea. The Dutch are so hospitable, who cares if they don’t always use their Ps & Qs? I’ve slotted into this way of living pretty easily, and you might say that it’s because the Dutch and British cultures aren’t too far removed from one another. I think you’d be right. We’re all a bunch of pub garden loving, beer drinking, friendly hooligans at the end of the day.
Of course, no matter where you are, it’s really important to infiltrate yourself into the culture one (poorly worded at first) conversation at a time. Push yourself to make friends. Let these people introduce you to their way of life. Just be kind to the people you meet. And be kind to yourself. You are still you. You don’t have to immerse yourself so fully that you forget who you are, but it’s only right that you allow yourself to be a part of this new way of life. You have moved there on purpose, after all.
Just don’t sweat it. You have a free pass to be a little bit lost at the start of your journey. Use it.