In 2011, I want to read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell in Dutch. Or try to. And at least reread it in English. When I write, I often sit at a table in the front-of-the-alphabet fiction section of the library, and I am always inspired (except for when I am discouraged) to look up and see the cover of this book peering down at me from the shelf. In Dutch.
Is it a secret that I love this book? No. It is not. Did I lobby strongly for my book club to read it in epic segments? Did I recently finally convince my husband to read it and did his reading of it strengthen our marriage? Do I give this book as a gift to people for all occasions? To all of the above: yes.
I’m working at my Dutch but I’ve been flagging on Rosetta Stone. I’ve been trying harder at practical applications: reading a cooking magazine, reading a newspaper. A while ago I had the idea of checking out a book I already know well from the library (in Dutch) and trying to use it as a long language lesson.
On New Year’s Eve we were talking with some international friends about learning Dutch, and a couple of them were surprised we had turned down the free language course that would have monopolized our lives for a year. “You could have become fluent!” they said. I’ve realized my language-learning goals have changed since we got here—six months ago this week. When the plane landed, I think I fully believed all I needed was some lessons and a CD and I’d be speaking Dutch by Christmas. It’s been a lot harder than that. I can read quite a lot; I still speak very little; and I’m frequently discouraged by how little I seem to know of the whole language. It is weird how we’ve gotten used to not understanding what’s going on around us: an announcement on the train; a conversation by the people sitting next to me; the lyrics to a song on the radio.
I can answer questions in public based on picking out a few words. When a someone says something to me I hear basically this:
Sales clerk: “Dutch Dutch Dutch GIFT Dutch Dutch?”
Me: She’s asking me if it’s a gift. I can reply “no” in Dutch.
Helpful man on street outside my friend’s apartment complex: “Dutch Dutch Dutch Dutch INSIDE?”
Me: He’s offering to let me inside the gate, which I don’t have a key for. I can reply “yes” in Dutch.
This is how my interactions more or less go. But I’ve modified my expectations a bit after six months. We’re slated to live here for the vicinity of three years, give or take. I may not become fluent in Dutch in that time, and if we’re going to move back to the US afterward, I’m OK with that. I want to learn more, though, and I want to speak it to people in public. So my resolution to attempt the impossible (?) is really a resolution to make progress on that front.