One of the hardest things I have ever done is try to learn the Dutch language. It is not easy. It would be a lot easier if I was much younger. By now, I have stored too much useless information in my head. My brain was already crowded with English words, and now I have to learn Dutch.

If I am going to live here, I should be able to speak a little of the native language. It is not only practical, but respectful. And, by the way, the government requires it. Anyone moving to the Netherlands is required to take a language test—within three years of arrival.  

One of the biggest challenges is making sounds that I have never made before. This isn’t just about a different language, this is about having a whole new soundtrack to your life. Americans don’t have to make certain sounds like the coughing up of a hairball. Do you know the feeling of having one hair in your mouth and you are going crazy trying to get it out?  You cough, you clear your throat and move your tongue around trying to catch it. That is what it is like to talk Dutch. You find you are doing things with your mouth that you have never done before. We all have the same body parts, but it does make me wonder if an American tongue is designed differently, because the Dutch can say things with their tongues that simply amaze me. They say words that come from the back of their throats that I am sure are not physically possible (or even legal) in the United States.

When I recently saw the dentist, I was tempted to ask him if he found some words stuck where my tonsils used to be, and if so, could he delicately remove them. Because since I have been here, I believe there are some words that have lodged themselves in my mouth.  The only way to truly remove them from my mouth is to…speak proper Dutch.

Most Dutch words don’t sound like English words, so they make little sense to me. My favorite word for a long time has been winkel—this means a store, but mainly a grocery store. It is just a fun word to say. Winkel.

But it has now been replaced by a new word:  bouwvakker. To truly enjoy this word and understand why I love it so much, you must say this word out loud. The wv makes the sound of an f.  Now say it again. This word makes me giggle and smile.  It means a construction worker. If I see a man wearing a bright orange vest and sometimes pants too, I will say “there is a bouwvakker.” It was a shock to me the first time I heard the children say this word.  In America, their mouths would have been washed out with soap.  Here, it is just a construction worker. 

I have a long way to go and I will continue to share my language adventures with you. This is my advice to you—when talking to a Dutch person, if you feel that you have been spit upon, don’t take it personally. Many times I have had spit in my eyes and I now know it is that amazing tongue action at work. If the hairball is not coming out of there, then a little spit will have to do. 

Tot ziens!  (goodbye)

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  • Sandra  On June 2, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    You are such a good and funny writer. Thank you.

  • Alison  On June 4, 2011 at 11:15 am

    I always feel light-headed after trying to speak Dutch. All the guttural speaking doesn’t get enough air into my system! For a really good giggle, since you’re here in Utrecht, you should try some of the local Vocking worst. 😉 I tried to learn Russian, once upon a time (it didn’t stick), but I remember my friend and I learning how to say “big construction worker” and laughing about it. Maybe there’s just something about construction workers that are entertaining when you’re learning a new language.

  • Aledys Ver  On June 6, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    Funny post!! 😀 Yes, you have to get used to a whole new set of sounds and not just that, but you need to start thinking in Dutch actually, as well! Playing and having fun with words is the right way to go, keep it up!

  • Jane Moore Houghton  On June 29, 2011 at 1:28 am

    You’re hysterical Miss Jane. 🙂

  • Samantha McDonald  On July 20, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    Miss you!

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