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After a Year Dutch, How Did Dutch Immersion in Haarlem/Amsterdam Go?

After a Year Dutch, How Did Dutch Immersion in Haarlem/Amsterdam Go?

Old Jun 29th, 2012, 04:34 AM
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After a Year Dutch, How Did Dutch Immersion in Haarlem/Amsterdam Go?

**THE PLAN**
My goal was pretty straightforward. I’d studied Dutch for about a year and was hankering to practice my language skills. So, I’d booked my trip: KLM Montreal-Amsterdam June 17th- June 28th, staying in a B&B in Haarlem on the weekdays and a hotel in Amsterdam on the weekend. My first trip ever to the Netherlands, I saw it as kind of like that university “semester abroad” that I couldn’t do since I was a science major, only differences being are that now ONE I’m 40 and TWO I can’t afford that, so this was “eleven days abroad” instead .

So, I’d completed “Living Languages: Dutch (with CDs)” which seemed to broach the language in a systematic manner. I had also listened to a number of Dutch songs and TV shows, in part thanks to some Fodorite suggestions. These didn’t give me any illusions that I would be able to always understand or have deep political or philosophical discussions. A few pleasant small talk conversations period I thought would be fantastic. I even thought that happiness would be me going in a restaurant, ordering, and mutual comprehension occurring.

Well, there was significant discouragement (and some derision) from a number of my friends about this trip. “Everyone speaks English; as soon as you open your mouth, they’ll speak to you in English.” “I’m sure you’ll be speaking in English only by day two.” Even Fodorites shed doubt on how well my plan would go, but I was determined to try anyway!

**Next Installment: How Did Practicing My Dutch Actually Go?**
**Then Trip Report including Haarlem, Amsterdam, Den Haag, Delft**
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Old Jun 29th, 2012, 05:40 AM
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Checking in for a promising gest...
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Old Jun 29th, 2012, 05:45 AM
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Godentag. Me Too!
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Old Jun 29th, 2012, 06:18 AM
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Looking forward to reading about your avonturen.
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Old Jun 29th, 2012, 06:40 AM
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I'm definitely checking back on this TR.
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Old Jun 29th, 2012, 06:46 AM
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Nukesafe - what language is that???

Hoi Daniel, ik ben ook benieuwd. Vertel! Vertel!
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Old Jun 29th, 2012, 09:40 AM
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**Using my Dutch Throughout Holland: What Actually Happened…**

What I’m going to write here is going to go against the grain of conventional wisdom regarding this subject. About 80% of the time when I would speak to people throughout the country in Dutch, locals would speak back to me in Dutch! Many that I met were remarkably ENcouraging, not DIScouraging of my efforts. I was also incredibly lucky in that my Haarlem B&B hostess knew I wanted to practice and consequently would only lapse into her excellent English when I couldn’t understand what she was saying after a few tries.

Ultimately, however, I *do* think the conventional wisdom does hold true in that one needs to reach a certain linguistic threshold for the Dutch to not immediately switch to English upon being spoken to. Where that threshold is, I can’t exactly say, but a week or two of learning some expressions in a Berlitz book prior to a trip I do believe is most insufficient.

Pronunciation of words I think was a major key, knowing how and when to say the long vs. short vowels and knowing the sometimes-quite-different-from-English sounds of consonants, consonant clusters and vowel clusters. If you don’t learn to pronounce words correctly, people simply can’t begin to understand you. For example, for my first two museums in Holland, saying only “een volwassene alsjeblieft” (one adult (ticket) please), I couldn’t understand why the cashiers would immediately switch to English or would look at me perplexed. And then I realized that I’d used the LONG vowel for the A (like the A in Attic) in the word “volwassene” when the A required the SHORT vowel A (which is a bit like the O in Off). Every time after I’d discovered my long vowel error and would state those simple three words in a museum, I was spoken back to in Dutch.

Certainly, grappling with present, past, future and conditional tenses enriched my conversational ability. (Past is particularly challenging by the way, lots of exasperating irregular verb forms. In defence of the Dutch, we really *are* as bad in English though… think thought catch caught seek sought go went see saw etc etc…) I found knowing how to pluralize and what is meant by “declining” adjectives (and knowing when you “decline”) also quite valuable. I think my relative success is a testament to the quality & approach of the Living Language series.

**Proud Moments**

While I was in a charming pub “de Blaffende Vis” (the Barking Fish) in the Jordaan, some 20-something guys asked in Dutch something relating to whether the table next to me was available or not. I somehow managed to spit out “er..ze zijn vertrokken” (“they left”) and they said “ahhh ze zijn vertrokken!”. Now, while saying “they left” might seem like a pretty pathetic victory to you, it was an enormous victory for me (LOL); I must have been happy for a good half-hour over that one. The verb “to leave” is “vertrekken” in Dutch. In a common past tense form, one very commonly uses the form “hebben + ge+root+t (or d)”; this means if I’d been bad and used the common form I would have said “ze hebben gevertrekt” which probably sounds like “they been leaved” or worse. But instead I remembered every single irregular thing about the verb “to leave” in the past tense and was understood! Hooray! I’m even happy just remembering that moment!

I also was proud how my confidence generally improved as the trip progressed. While I was too shy to request my meals and drinks in Dutch on the KLM flight to Amsterdam, it was only after a few days in Haarlem before I ordered in Dutch without worrying in restaurants. First time renting a bike, I did it all in English as I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle the sorts of things they might ask. The second time I went to rent a bike (of course this time I knew the routine, which helps), I did the interaction exclusively in Dutch “ik zou ‘n fiets met handremmen willen verhuren, alsjeblieft” (“I want to rent a bike with handbrakes, please”) and the teenager told me at the end of our exchange that he thought I spoke Dutch well! He may have just been polite, but it felt rewarding.

Equally proud moment when I perfectly followed the directions given by the hotel clerk to his favorite Indonesian restaurant (multiple steps too!: left by the police station, over a bridge, past two stoplights and a left on Bilderdijkstraat!) .

**Not-So-Proud Moments**

I tended to do reasonably well placing my order in a restaurant or café and understanding prices spoken back to me. What would throw me off sometimes is the barrage of questions one periodically gets asked in this day & age. I tried to foresee these, but sometimes I just wouldn’t understand anything that had been said. And my first several days, what would I do? Would I say “kan je het langzamer zeggen?” (can you say it more slowly?) or “ik heb je niet begrepen” (I didn’t understand ) or even “kan je het in engels zeggen?” (can you say it in English?) as a quick thinking person would do? No, no, no. What I did instead was just stand there for several painfully awkward seconds as if rendered dumb, mouth slightly contorted grasping as if scrambling to find some ilk of meaning, eyes wide, blink blink blink and the servers would just look at me. English thankfully would usually ensue in these apoplectic moments .

My B&B hostess was remarkably patient when I would muck up the grammar (I’d smile at the end of these sentences, because I *knew* I’d mucked it up) or when I would wend my way through a sentence sometimes in an excruciating, belaboured fashion. For example, my poor B&B hostess quite graciously suffered through my stammering when I realized mid-sentence that I’d forgotten to place the verb at the end of a sentence when I should have. Despite this, she & I had some delightful discussions but I was not proud of some of my sentence structures.

**Next: Was It Worth It to Learn Dutch?**

Dutch is not “required” for a visit to Holland. In the restaurants of the Leidseplein Amsterdam, I almost felt it could have been West End London, so much did English seem to predominate there; it surprised me that service staff would interact with customers in English *first* in these locations. When I arrived at Schiphol airport, I was amazed how many store/instructional signs were in English only, which was a fascinating contrast with the French-English dynamic in Montreal. So, ultimately, many can & do have a terrific visit without a word of Dutch, taking in the terrific museums, enjoying the Indonesian rijstafel and meandering the often picturesque streets. But a part of me, having dabbled in this historic tongue, wonders if visitors aren’t missing out on a fascinating aspect of their chosen destination by not learning even an iota of the language. Most people I noticed visiting Holland (Amsterdam particularly), regardless of their language of origin, did not seem to have learned a single word of Dutch. Not “good morning”, not “thank you”, nothing.

Do I think Dutch people were appreciative of my efforts? I don’t know truthfully if anyone felt one way or another, although as I mentioned quite a number were encouraging. I think a few found it interesting and in some cases surprising that I’d chosen to learn the language.

Did I think trying out my Dutch improved social interchanges there? In some ways, yes, in some ways, no. I think when I was muddling through grammatical structures or too shy to speak, my attempts in Dutch were not especially helpful. On the other hand, sometimes when a few sentences flowed out well in the right context, my learning Dutch was a conversation starter.

In the end, I was glad to have learned Dutch as I felt it gave me some insight into the countrymen that I would not have gotten otherwise. Into their daily expressions, the sometimes creative back & forth. As an example, I think about the breakfast server at my hotel in Amsterdam, who spoke English with all the guests in a polite and formal fashion. However, when he spoke Dutch with me, I found a playful humor appeared that I never would have imagined or observed otherwise.

One final thing: despite the year or so of intense study, more than anything what left me overwhelmed is how immensely rich the vocabulary is in the Dutch language. The Living Language book completed was indeed the tip of the iceberg... while I got better at reading signs on the streets as the days progressed, looking at the Volkskrant newspaper that my B&B hostess left out each morning, so many sentences had words I didn’t know.

**Coming Up: Haarlem Was My Base For 7 Out of 10 Days. Was I Glad to Have Chosen It?**
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Old Jun 29th, 2012, 09:56 AM
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You seem to have done very well. Now you have to keep speaking it or you will forget it. Try going to another area next time - with completely different accents and dialects just to confuse you further .
When you dream in Dutch you know you have "got" it .
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Old Jun 29th, 2012, 09:57 AM
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well, kudos to you Daniel for attempting this, and also for your trip report. your approach is refreshing and very readable.

thanks!
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Old Jun 29th, 2012, 11:20 AM
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bardo, nukesafe, mathieu, tarquin-- Thanks for checking in!

annhig-- thanks for your comments as well as your advice planning this trip!

hetismij-- "benieuwd"... I love it; that was one of the words I learned this trip! It's funny you mention the importance that I "keep speaking" as I felt kind of sad when I wished the KLM stewardess "heb je een fijne dag" when disembarking the plane in Montreal. I thought when am I going to find the opportunity to use my Dutch next?
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Old Jun 29th, 2012, 11:34 AM
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Actually if you don't leave it too long much of it will come back to you next time you come, especially if you keep reading it - www volkskrant.nl for instance.

My brother learnt Dutch just for the sake of learning (yet) another language, long before we moved here, and he copes quite well even though he'd never actually used it before we came here.
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Old Jun 29th, 2012, 11:51 AM
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Hetismij2, that was meant to be "Good Day" in Dutch. It has been so many years since the winter I lived in Amsterdam, I turned to Google to be sure, and that is what came up. Actually, I only remember saying, "Tag" as a greeting when meeting friends.
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Old Jun 29th, 2012, 12:42 PM
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actually Daniel, we were in Holland just before you i think, and it is one of the few places [in Europe] where i don't experience a strong desire to learn the language, because virtually everybody you meet as a tourist speaks some english, and most speak almost perfectly. for example there was a lad on reception in our hotel in Maastricht who i could have sworn WAS english, until i used a colloquial expression he didn't understand, and he was by no means the only one.

so even though I will take absolutely any opportunity to practice my German/French/Italian, I feel that there is simply no point trying to speak more than the odd word of dutch.

which is why I admire you so much for your determination in learning and practising your dutch.
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Old Jun 29th, 2012, 01:58 PM
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nukesafe - tag is German - it is dag in Dutch.

Goededag is what you meant to say, though Ducth people tend to specify the time of day rather than using just god day - so they will say goedemorgen - good morning (or more usually just Morgen) same with middag avond and nacht. Goedenavond is also said when you leave in the evening, whereas dag - or daag! is both hello and goodbye. The intonation tends to tell you which it is.
It also tends to become goeiemorgen so the d isn't sounded. They are very good at "swallowing" certain sounds.
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Old Jun 29th, 2012, 03:37 PM
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Hetismij-- Thanks for the goeJemorgen explanation! My B&B hostess said it that way when she brought my breakfast; I’d say “goeDemorgen” back typically as I wasn’t sure if it was a speech impediment or a Haarlemmer dialect. Also, I noticed that on the “vous/tu” post you wrote that one should use “U” until invited, but it seemed I was never “alstublieft”ed but always “alsjeblieft”ed; I pretty well exclusively used the “jij/je” with people after listening to my hostess’s advice to use only with older people (she was in her 60s and seemed to want me to “je/jij” her, so I gathered she meant maybe late 70s or more?) or formal situations. This is kind of like in Quebec; rare are the occasions one uses other than “tu” for an individual “you” these days, so I pretty much did as I do here… let’s hope I didn’t offend anyone!

**Haarlem as a Base**

I think Haarlem is as easy as Amsterdam from Schiphol Airport, with the Zuidtangent 300 bus for 4 Euro leaving frequently and making stops in Haarlem Centrum and Haarlem Train Station. I also was incredibly lucky that my B&B in Haarlem by Sint Bavo’s Cathedral was 2 minutes walk from #80 bus stop, whose terminus was 4 minutes walk from my hotel in Amsterdam on the weekend!

Well, Haarlem was a lovely base, with narrow streets, flowerbox-ridden nooks & crannies, appealing architecture and canals. The Grote Markt and the Botermarkt were delightful public squares where I enjoyed sitting, having a coffee or beer and listening to Dutch conversations around me, while admiring the almost story-book-like ambience.

As far as things to do are concerned beyond general exploration, the Grote Kerk was my favorite tourist site. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the painted and sculpture-surrounded organ inside was and even more so, that Mozart and Handel had played on the very instrument my eyes were observing. I equally enjoyed the portraiture at the Frans Hals museum of 17th century Haarlemmers, kicking myself that I rushed through unnecessarily (I’d taken too long a nap and arrived at 4pm; I’d heard a chime go 5 times, so I assumed it was closing…hurried to the exit and saw on a clock after I’d left the building that I actually had another half-hour until closing).

To get exercise on two separate days, I rented a bike nearby the train station in Haarlem. This was a definite highlight of my trip… since from Haarlem with a pleasing amount of exertion one can reach some nearby North Sea beaches. One day I took something known as the “Parnassiaroute”, a surprisingly scenic “fietspad” (bike path) through the Kennemerduinen… with gorgeous, rolling dune land that reminded me more of Cape Cod than what one thinks of as Netherlands scenery. I loved watching the bulls sitting in the water in the distance as I’d cycle. At the end of the path is Parnassia Strand in the National Park, with a self-serve restaurant/café (with surprisingly healthy food options!) that overlooks the beach and sea! The second day, I thought I’d check out the beach at Zandvoort aan Zee for lunch, but this latter spot seemed more honkytonk boardwalky, so I ended up returning to the café at Parnassiastrand that was so peaceful & idyllic to me.

Some friends advised against my staying in Haarlem, stating that I’d be bored staying 7 days there. They were wrong on that account not only because of the cycling & day trip opportunities, but perhaps in part since they underestimated my commitment to improving my Dutch. On evenings I felt a little restless, I would walk around with my “VanDale Woordenboek” & play a game of finding words I didn’t know in Dutch on signs and looking them up, so as to improve my vocabulary. I’m sure more than a few Haarlemmers found it weird that some guy would spend minutes looking at signs like “vergunning houders” (“permit holders”) for parking.

Perhaps my friends were thinking that there’d be nothing going on in the evening since restaurants/cafés on the main streets like the Grote Houtstraat closed up shop early? While certain streets indeed did become remarkably quiet after 6pm, pockets of activity remained alive in the later hours. I always found somewhere good to eat (Indonesian or Surinaams restaurants near the train station tended to be my choice) and a place to have an evening beer. Wilson’s, a Gay bar I went to on the Gedempte Raamstraat, had only 3 customers on the weekday night that I went. However, in some ways, having so few around was better, as the barman and clients and myself shared an enjoyable international conversation (barman Dutch, two customers German, Polish and moi Canadian), exchanging life experiences. I’m certain there was far more conversation and real exchange of thoughts & ideas than if I’d been alone in a jam-packed bar on a Saturday night. There, as at another live music/drinking/eating spot “Storing” on Tempeliersstraat, there was a certain amount of sociable “gezelligheid” (coziness) at the night spots that I appreciated.

**To come: Amsterdam: I was very undecided as to whether I liked the international city or not the first few days. I did come to a decision. What was it?**
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Old Jun 30th, 2012, 12:22 AM
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I've never been to The Netherlands, but your report is very enjoyable, it's so nice to read someone who's actually keen to learn and practice a language instead of going "what's the point?"

I can absolutely relate to the gaping fish moments, well put! One of the proud language moments that still sticks with me 5 years later is being asked for directions in Prague in Czech AND being able to provide them, really made me feel like a local (even though it was only "where is x street", "over there"). It's the little things!
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Old Jun 30th, 2012, 01:54 AM
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I too am recently back from Amsterdam and have realised with embarrassment that I did not say even thank you or good day in Dutch. At one point long ago I embarked on learning Dutch but found the language tapes beyond my resolve, but next time I will at least use the polite minimum!
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Old Jun 30th, 2012, 04:46 AM
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Before I get to my impressions of Amsterdam, I thought I’d mention the two non-cycling day trips I did out of Haarlem, Den Haag and Delft. From Haarlem station, nothing was easier than getting a round trip ticket “een dagretour naar Den Haag alsjeblieft!” to Den Haag Centraal or Delft. Direct trains were at least every half hour to both towns.

**Den Haag**

Den Haag (The Hague) feels tall and utilitarian compared to Haarlem as you first walk out of Den Haag Centraal train station. On first sight I was thinking, ok, this is not the most charming-looking place, but that’s fine because I’m going to see the Mauritshuis, with the work of the Dutch Masters! *Caveat Emptor* You can imagine my disappointment when I discovered that the MAURITSHUIS was CLOSED due to renovations!

As it turned out though, while the area near the train station was modern and not particularly captivating, the central square (Plein) near the Mauritshuis had some charming outdoor seating. Ultimately however, it was when I saw the Binnenhof, home of legislative activity in the Netherlands and the Queen’s yearly speech at the impressive turreted Ridderzaal, that my gladness to have visited Den Haag was cemented as the Binnenhof was one of the most regal, awe-inspiring public squares that I’ve ever seen. It was here that my perception of the country was nuanced… or better stated, I was reminded of something that I knew on some level but seeing buildings first-hand jolted ideas to the forefront of my mind. While I have this tendency to think of the Netherlands as this peaceful, charming northern European nation, the grandeur of the Binnenhof reminded me that the Netherlands has been a power, with extensive colonies and winning decisive battles against the English and Spanish.

Given that the Mauritshuis was closed, I opted to go to the Museum Escher in Het Paleis instead. I’d seen Escher prints before, so it was lower down on my priority list… and after going, I can say I should have prioritized it higher! Well, not only was it fantastic to see an extensive collection of Maurits Cornelis Escher’s unique artistic, mathematics-inspired genius first-hand with accompanying explanations describing the method behind his technique, but interesting from another unrelated historic vantage point, as each room of the museum was also a room in the former home of Koningin Moeder (“Queen Mother” ) Emma! In fact, I wondered how the Koningin Moeder (d. 1934) would have felt about my snarfing down a Ham-Kaas sandwich in the café downstairs in HER home .

Leaving the Escher Museum, the paths in an adjacent park had some fantastic modern sculptures (bus built out of wire, man made from soil/clay). It was a long walk to the Vredespaleis (I’m embarrassed to say that not knowing what I was looking for and getting a little lost, I for about 15 minutes thought the “Peace Palace” was a handsomely built high school several blocks away), the grand turreted building with stately, flower-filled grounds where the trials of Slobodan Milosevic took place.

All-in-all, the Binnenhof and the Escher Museum combined with the joy of discovering generally made me glad that I had chosen to spend a day in The Hague.

**Delft: Over-rated?**
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Old Jun 30th, 2012, 06:49 AM
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gwan-- I'm impressed that you were able to give directions in Czech! One reason I thought tackling Dutch would be possible/worthwhile is I felt there was a lot I could latch my brain on to; words similar to English, French and (my one semester's worth of) German. Slavic languages intimidate me as I feel I'd be starting from scratch.
tarquin-- "Dank je wel" ("Thank you") for reading!
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Old Jun 30th, 2012, 06:50 AM
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Daniel - we stayed in Delft for 3 nights on our recent trip so I'm interested to read what you thought of it from a day-trippers point of view; from the point of view of someone who wants somewhere to stay in that area, it was very good, with plenty of cafes, shops and restaurants, as well as some interesting buildings and museums.

I actually think that Haarlem would have been more convenient for where we wanted to go, but as we couldn't find any suitable accommodation, Delft made a reasonable 2nd choice.
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