Monday, December 20, 2010

First Tongues

just born

After almost a year of Dutch classes, I can: hold a telephone conversation in Dutch (not very well, but the other person usually understands what I want to say), read the KNMI website, and socialize with my Dutch teacher. Last week there was a sort of borrel for international staff members at my work place (not a real borrel, because it ended way too late and had seating—not a lot, but there were chairs there), and one of the little “mixing games” they had was where they gave you a lanyard with a picture, and you had to find the other 4 people with the same picture. Turned out my Dutch teacher and I were two of a kind.

So we had a brief conversation—we both knew other people there, so it really was just small talk as we parted ways to join our friends—but what surprised me was how surprised I was that she spoke English when she greeted her other students. I mean, I know she speaks English—most Dutch people do—but up until that night 99% of my interactions with her have been in Dutch. She conducted her class almost entirely in Dutch, and when we answered and socialized with each other in the class, it was also in Dutch. As a matter of fact, when I bump into another fellow student, I also speak to him in Dutch (mostly). So to hear her speak English was something like a paradigm shift—it rewrote my world in a very small way. I'd never really considered how much our first impressions of a person can stick with you; I'd never realized before how much the first language can determine the sort of impression that gets made.

I had a little taste of the weirdness last weekend, when we joined our friends for a small celebratory dinner. By now, my main difficulty in speaking Dutch is figuring out the vocabulary to express super-complicated ideas (followed closely by “is ______ a regular or irregular verb?”), but they were good sports about my botched pronunciations and didn't interrupt. I imagine it was a little weirder for them, that I could join in, than it was for me.

I'm now writing a tour of Maastricht for Rama and most of the pages that I'm gleaning my information from are in Dutch. And it's quite an interesting sensation, not to care whether a page is written in Dutch or English.

1 comment:

  1. I've had a similar thing happen but for me it was when I bumped into my teacher in the street that she started talking to me in English. I guess she was off the clock.