When I decided to study Dutch last September, I thought: What the hell, we could be here awhile, I might as well take the intensive class.
As the result of that decision, I spent six hours per week in a classroom learning Dutch for seven months. Outside of class, I dutifully completed my homework, watched Dutch TV and puzzled my way through the local newspaper. I was going to fucking ace this Dutch thing.
In late April, I basked in the warm glow of triumph upon receiving a certificate announcing that I understood Dutch at the B1 level (intermediate).
Shazam! I could read signs! I could listen to the radio! I could eavesdrop on couples in cafes! I could speak really slowly to a very patient Dutch person!
However almost the same day that I received my Dutch language certificate, it became clear that we would be returning to Hong Kong.
In an instant, the scales fell from my eyes: I had studied a niche European language, the speakers of which also mostly speak impeccable English, and I would now be moving away from the tiny country where it was spoken. One might class it all as a colossal wasted effort.
Do I think I wasted my time? I must tell myself ‘no’ in order to keep from weeping over my language books.
Why were Dutch lessons not a waste? Let me attempt a list of reasons:
Formal classes gave a structure to my week that kept me from losing my newly arrived mind. I credit Dutch class with making this last international move the easiest to date. I had a purpose and I spoke to real live people who weren’t part of my family on a regular basis.
The in-class people-watching opportunities were tremendous. My transgendered Thai classmate was far more stereotypically feminine than me and I often wondered how often she could flip her hair about her shoulders during one class period. The young Ukrainian women, with an extremely old-fashioned world view, wore low-cut evening wear at 9 am, but worked harder than any of the rest of us and was sweet as pie. Our Dutch instructor was a fashionable 70-year-old who was kind enough to only show her frustration after I mixed Dutch and English together the millionth time in a row. This is but a fraction of the cast of characters.
Instant satisfaction as the results were much faster than Chinese. Studying Chinese is like eating a whale: one bite at a time and eventually you will eat the entire thing. Ten years of on-and-off Chinese study and I proudly estimate that I’ve eaten the tail fin. Studying Dutch is more like eating a large salmon: you can see a predictable end to the process from the first bite (even if I ate my fill before then).
Hey, if I want to learn German someday, it should be easier, right? Now I’m grasping.
So I have a short list of reasons why Dutch may not have been a total time suck, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t given a passing thought to what I could have spent the time doing: writing the first draft of a novel, building a freelance career, learning Kung Fu, being a more fastidious recycler, studying Spanish, proofreading this blog, yarn bombing Utrecht… further suggestions?