A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Back in the day, people often asked me why did I decide to go study Japanese in Wales, considering English is not my mother tongue, and I could have instead gone directly to Japan itself. Then I moved around some more, and at one point ended up studying German as well (in Germany!).
Nowadays, I find myself in beautiful Holland, continuing my quest to learn Japanese, and facing an interesting question: should I also try to learn Dutch?The little voice at the back of my mind is asking what will I possibly do with the combination between those languages?! And is it really possible, as an adult, to learn a new language all that well? Is it worth the time? The effort? And also the financial investment, as unlike Germany, the Netherlands does not offer free (or cheap) Dutch language courses. Many of my international friends are facing the same question.
Why deciding whether to learn a new language was such a tough choice for me to make, nearly 2 years after I moved to the Netherlands:
1. The “what for” question
I hear often, what is the point in learning Dutch? Here everyone knows perfect English, and is happy to speak it with you. I hear this mostly from my Dutch friends, and, in fact, they are more than happy to indeed prove their words in practice. They have been amazing, and are always speaking English around me, oftentimes despite the fact I might have been the only non-Dutch speaking person in the room. Many of my international friends have lived here for years and most of them never learned Dutch.
2. The “I am too busy” factor
I have to write my dissertation, to work, to study, and on top of all that, try to have some social life – when will I possibly fit in more classes? And additional homework, and tests, and the stress those inevitably bring along… The university itself recommends to hold on the Dutch lessons until at least the second semester, if not the second year of (under)graduate or even postgraduate studies – until students are more used to the sometimes overwhelming academic workload.
3. The “value for money” issue
Yes, the courses are expensive. And surprisingly short. The last time I checked, there was a disount offered by Leiden University for current students and employees of the university. There are many private schools as well, with the schedule often adapted to accommodate for all kinds of time availability. Despite that, however, it is still an investment for many of us, and let us not forget also the potential commuting costs.
4. The “what will I do with it if I leave the country” concern
So, say that I make that choice – to learn a new language – what next? What if I leave the country right after my degree, and never come back? This is another comment that I have heard often from those around me – the Netherlands is such a relatively small country, and the language is not spoken nearly as widely as English, German or Spanish….
Yet, before I knew it, I had signed up for a Dutch course! What now??
I am still not sure whether I made the right choice back in April. The 6 week course that I took helped me a lot to improve from “ground zero” to a place where I can now have a basic conversation on various topics (including, but not limited to, discussing whether bubble-shaped underwater dwellings are a sustainable option for an overpopulation-facing word). Due to aforementioned German lessons (where I reached a B1 level), I have now the pleasure to also speak the little Dutch that I do, with German accent. Not to forget , I seeem to be using Dutch words whenever I try to speak in German… to mind comes a recent incident, when I wished “eet smakelijk” to an old German lady while she was reaching for her newly-acquired herbal tea. When she didn’t reply, I looked up to meet her gaze, expressing a mixture of surprise, confusion and wonder….
It is so easy to get lost in translation, in any new country you visit or move to.
I did find myself really wanting to give the Dutch language a shot. Actually, I have my final test this upcoming Monday, and I am a little scared what the outcome would be. Yet, seems that I am still in one piece.
Did I make the right choice? I am really not sure but it seems that (1) I do enjoy learning languages, (2) I have more time than I originally thought, and (3) I will apparently not be moving back to Wales – where, admittedly – I never actually studied Welsh!