Conversation Group

Kostbaar. The Dutch word for expensive is (acc. Google translator) kostbaar. I had to look this up this morning because something I was not able to say last night was still driving me nuts.

In December I tore a little slip off a homemade (huisgemaakt—blast—I typed this 3 different ways wrong before I got it right….) sign in a shop advertising Dutch conversation lessons in an informal group setting, one evening a week, for €5 per person. Yes: it’s 2012 and we are making another charge at learning Dutch (Nederlands leren).

The new arrangement (two weeks in) is about the right level for us in terms of time and financial commitment. An expensive (that’s right: kostbaar), lengthy, course with homework was really just not going to happen, whatever our best intentions might be. So now on Thursday evenings we go to a local cafe and sit with one teacher and two or three other learners. The teacher asks us questions (in Dutch), such as: “Who is in your family?” and we all butcher our ways through answering.

Ik heb een zus en een broer en een moeder en een vader… 

Linguistic chaos strikes quickly. Everyone in our beginners’ group has a different level and vocabulary. (Tim and I are on the low end, but in our defense the other people in our group have lived here more than twice as long as we have. I have, we have discovered, an extensive written vocabulary, but my pronunciation is awful and I don’t always recognize words when I hear them.) Our original languages are different: English, Italian, Hungarian. We all drift into broken combinations of multiple languages when our vocabulary fails us. It’s kind of crazy, and when I leave my head is really swimming, and I have a sheet of paper with all kinds of words and phrases hastily scrawled on it.

Somehow, last night, we got to the question of “Do you prefer European or American fashion?” (I’m going to be frank: this topic is not one of my immediate conversational needs.) And what I wanted to say was: I like European clothes, but clothing here is expensive. I think what I actually did was stare at the ceiling for a while concentrating really, really hard, and then say “My sister works for Calvin Klein,”* because I knew all those words.

*Technically, she works for the company that owns Calvin Klein, but guess what: I don’t know how to say that.

Now, I love the Oxford English Dictionary. I am always learning stuff from it, and I don’t mean how to spell. The other day I wanted to clarify use of the phrase “under way.” I always hesitate on if it’s “under way” or “under weigh.” The OED firmly tells me that “under weigh,” though common, is “erroneous” because the actual phrase comes from the Dutch onderweg, literally “under way.”

Add it to the vocabulary list.

With honkball — baseball. And breien — knit. And wetenschapper — scientist.

Then next week when my teacher asks, “Wat lees je?” I can say: “Ik lees het woordenboek.”

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Filed under Our Dutch Adventure, Words

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