Lazy Language Learning
It is confession time: I am a lazy language learner. I was never good at grammar in any language other than English and could never work up the enthusiasm to try to improve in that area. However, I have always wanted to speak as many languages as possible and so I have devised other strategies to allow me to do so with minimal work on the grammar.
My children are half-Dutch but before I met my husband, I had no reason to learn the language. As you all know, the Dutch are excellent linguists and even those who have little or no reason to speak another language can usually get by in English, French, German and Italian. So, I realised that it would be a struggle to get people to speak to me in Dutch. I tried finding a school where I could take a short course but the only courses available were for people living in The Netherlands and in the end I had 5 one-to-one classes instead. Obviously, that was not going to allow me to communicate with family members or to function in shops and restaurants, so I decided to follow a different path.
I acquired some children’s videos and books and set to work introducing my children and myself to the delights of Bassie and Adriaan. Together, we sat and watched the clown and the acrobat sing their way through the most popular Dutch songs for children. I sang along, picking up words and phrases as I went, greatly aided by the fact that many of the tunes are the same as songs in English. At the same time, I started reading to my children in Dutch. The books were aimed at the youngest ages and so were little more than a few words long per sentence. Thankfully, my children were too young to worry about my speaking to them in the ‘wrong’ language (bi-lingual children can be intolerant of a parent who speaks to them in the L1 of the other parent).
Gradually, I made progress and within a few months, I was able to converse a little on the subject of children and to make basic conversation. I was also equipped to start picking up vocabulary during family gatherings whenever I was in The Netherlands. I moved on to books aimed at older children, then some for teenagers and finally, books for adults. To begin with, I read Dutch versions of books I had already read in English. That way I didn’t have to worry about the story because I already knew it. It was a great day for me when I found I was able to read a book by Saskia Noort, a very good modern Dutch author. It was a good book, too.
Learning songs and poems and fixed phrases is a great way to get into a language. It allows you to get something of the rhythm and the pronunciation under your belt without your having to worry about rules. It is one reason why we have Phrase of the Day at International House Bristol for English language learners and Phrase of the Week for foreign language learners. If you learn in this way, you are unlikely to translate in your head as the language will come to you as a fixed phrase and that helps to make you sound more confident and more capable. So, stop worrying about making mistakes and start brushing up on your karaoke skills instead.