A Dutch word a day

One hopeful Indian woman embarks on a journey to learn Dutch – alone. Before landing in Delft five weeks ago, I knew I’d be shocked by all the new sights and sounds, but never expected to feel the strange sense of déjà vu I felt from moment I landed at Schiphol.

I pushed this thought away, though, because I’d never been outside my home country before. Later I felt that déjà vu feeling again, although this time I knew the reason: I was back in a country where I couldn’t understand the native language.

Anyone who has travelled in India knows that it’s easy to move into lands-of-unknown-languages, with different scripts and syntaxes, simply by travelling about 300 kilometers in any direction. Such was my childhood that I never learnt any Indian language well enough to escape ridicule from my cousins, some of whom spoke fluent Tamil and others Kannada. So I stuck to the easiest language, English, my first language.
But growing older, I felt the need to learn these Indian languages, at least for a sense of belonging, so not to feel like a foreigner in my own land. Tamil was easy to learn, but Kannada really tested my abilities. When I got a job in Bangalore, learning Kannada became a necessity, because I couldn’t read the script at all, so couldn’t even take a public bus confidently. Learning Kannada was difficult, but by the time I left Bangalore two years later, I’d taught myself to read Kannada like a native.

During my first weeks in Delft, I realized our guides had been right: I’d never really need to learn to speak Dutch. Storekeepers, tram drivers, friendly cyclists…all spoke English. But again, the written Dutch lettering troubled me. Being a vegetarian, I need to read lists of ingredients on attractive-but-foreign eatables at the supermarket. I’d also want to know if I’m breaking any traffic rules when I pedal past big yellow signs with strings of Dutch words on them.
Recently in Delft city centre on a Sunday afternoon, I saw many interesting shops that I planned to visit later when they opened. I took a photo of some of the lettering I believed was the shop’s name, but then I saw this same word on another shop and then another. Suddenly, this word was all around me! I then realized that gesloten must mean ‘closed’. Unfortunately, this incident didn’t occur in time for me to enroll in the TU’s Dutch courses, so instead I’ve decided to try my Kannada learning method here.

After just two weeks of this experiment, I’m on the snelweg to learning Dutch! My language-learning method is very simple and slow, but effective, only requiring an active curiosity and interest, as well as some creativity to figure word meanings from their context, like melk, kaas and sinaasappel on obviously familiar food products.

I read the photo captions in newspapers. I listen to Dutch radio channels to catch some words I’ve never heard before. When I see instructions or messages in both English and Dutch, I compare them, trying to match a Dutch and English word or two. Of course this also means that the confused-looking girl peering at bottle labels, ignoring the growing line of irritated people behind her at the supermarket, is probably me.

My method also requires lots of time reading and memorizing sequences of letters, eavesdropping on conversations and bugging Dutch-speaking friends for help. But it’s all been worth it: in just a few weeks my new Dutch vocabulary is up to about 50 words!
I’ve also discovered that there are several connections between Indian languages and Dutch; for example, kamer (room) in Dutch is the same as Hindi’s kamra. Zaal sounds similar to Hindi’s shaala. Suiker (sugar) is sarkkarai (in Tamil) and shucker (in Hindi). The Dutch word for name (naam) is exactly the same in Hindi.

Learning a language can be an exciting experience, especially when you’re in the lap of the place where it’s spoken. For me, learning Dutch is opening my mind to new ways of thinking and forming associations, as well as helping me to understand a different culture. 

Munt slaan uit de armsten van de wereld en tegelijkertijd de economie in de derde wereld vooruit helpen. Dat beogen de aanhangers van de Base of the Pyramid-theorie. Van 16 tot en met 18 november vindt hierover een internationale conferentie plaats in de aula van de TU. De theorie stelt dat de vier miljard armen in de wereld een enorme consumentenmarkt vormen waar koplopers uit het bedrijfsleven op in zouden moeten spelen. Er komen 250 ondernemers, maatschappelijke organisaties, bedrijven, wetenschappers en ervaringsdeskundigen uit meer dan twintig ontwikkelingslanden, aldus de organisatoren van de conferentie. 


Redacteur Redactie

Heb je een vraag of opmerking over dit artikel?


Comments are closed.