I’ve written previously about language barriers and the difficulties of living in a place where you don’t speak the language but I was recently reminded of this all too familiar feeling. Although my lack of fluency in Dutch has become a reality of my daily life, there are still times where the all-consuming frustration and isolation is almost unbearable.
Now that I have reached the point in my Dutch where I am able to follow a lot of the conversations around me and even take part a bit, people often assume that I am able to follow everything, or more often, fail to notice seamlessly switching between English and Dutch.
It’s exhausting concentrating on every word you hear, trying to interpret, translate or make sense of the few familiar sounds… Sometimes it takes every ounce of energy in me to follow a conversation only to realize they are talking about soaring gas prices or last nights Ajax game. Really? I feel like I just ran a marathon and for this? And off to my happy place I go…
While sometimes it really is easy to simply tune out the conversations around me and go somewhere in my mind (usually home), sometimes I just want to be present. I want to participate. I want to laugh and joke too. I just want to fit in.
While I know that it will take time for me to become completely fluent in Dutch, it’s time to pick up the effort a bit. I don’t always want to be the outsider or the one that forces people to speak another language. So much of the experience of living in a different county is getting to know new people, a new culture and sometimes even a new language.
I’m not certain how much longer I will be living in Amsterdam but I would hate to leave after a few years and not be able to fluently speak Dutch, not to mention, how much I think it would mean to Sebastiaan. I so badly want to be able to speak Dutch to his friends and family (and of course our future kids) 🙂
So I’m going to try to take this on in baby steps… I’m going to read the Dutch newspaper on the metro in the morning, watch more TV shows in Dutch, force myself to speak it as much as possible and of course I will keep reading my favorite children’s book, Jip en Janneke, which never fails to crack me up. I can see Sebastiaan rolling his eyes now… I guess reading children’s books together isn’t his idea of a good time but he’s been a good sport. As with anything else I pursue, Sebastiaan supports me in my efforts to learn his native language and helps me any chance he gets. It definitely helps knowing that Sebastiaan is always there to lean on and, most importantly, always the first one to notice that lost look in my eyes…