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Speed dating in Dutch: 25 completely different conversations with natives, 5 weeks into learning the language

| 69 comments | Category: mission, travel

I’m exactly five weeks into my mission to speak Dutch. While there are major advantages of my German and my English giving me a head start thanks to many linguistic similarities, I have had a major set-back in this mission that has been slowing me down tremendously; simply finding opportunities to converse!

Dutch culture is different to others I am used to; everyone has been very nice and polite to me, and nobody speaks English to me, but after a brief first conversation they tend to disappear, and there is little hope of seeing them again due to their always packed schedules. They are a bit too organised.

Luckily I am finally getting through to some people and starting to socialise properly, hanging out for hours or even almost an entire day, speaking just in Dutch. But for the most part, when I meet people I tend to have a similar first introduction conversation over and over again. This is a terrible way to make progress to be able to discuss many different topics required to be fluent in a language.

While I continue to meet people that I can converse more deeply with, I decided to tackle the problem in a unique different way; I need my brief first conversations (which are easy to find) to be unique so I’m discussing something different and improving my language skills in different ways. So I had a crazy idea:

Speed dating as a tool for language learning!

Speed dating is a relatively new concept, apparently started by Jewish communities in the late 90s to help shy people pair-off. I had only ever seen it on some American TV shows, and not really thought much about it.

I don’t generally have a problem getting dates as I travel; I don’t need any chat-up lines or clever tricks. My secret is that I simply don’t think about it so much. I see someone I like, I go up and talk to her and if we hit it off, I invite her out. No overanalysing about what if she’ll say no or trying to sound clever or impressive. I simply invite people I like to meet again. Not that complicated. I like inviting girls out on dates as it’s a fun way to get to know someone more intimately, and it’s a great way to practice a language and window into the local culture. (And yes, because I just happen to like spending time with a fun pretty girl because I’m a single guy, so sue me).

Only, for the first time in a while (apart from Paris) it isn’t working because of the different dynamic in inviting people out here. You generally don’t meet someone up this week for coffee or lunch; you have to propose a time long in advance and understand the Dutch need to be organised; something which contrasts with my preference for spontaneity. Also, Dutch people have their set network of friends and it’s turning out to be incredibly hard to break into that.

If the majority of my conversations with the Dutch are going to be brief, then I decided to think of a better way to take advantage of these conversations. Speed dating just hit me as the obvious way to test it out, and I found a place that organises it and had a session for 20-35 year olds last night!

It turns out the website I got it through only accept Dutch bank payments (€32), so I knew it was unlikely I’d find other foreigners there, confirming how useful it would be to get to know locals. I got my flatmate to pay for me, and signed up for what I considered simply an excellent and unique opportunity to practice Dutch with 25 people!

To make it more interesting though, I gave myself the challenge that each of my mini dates (lasting only 3-5 minutes) must involve talking about something completely different. (And of course they must be in Dutch). I can’t just rattle off the same introduction and ask the same questions or I won’t learn anything.

I actually had little interest in finding the girl of my dreams (I’m leaving in 3 weeks!) – the idea of experiencing this speed-dating phenomenon is something I had to try once. I don’t have a bucket list (and don’t like the idea of listing things months or years in advance to tick off in my life), but speed dating was certainly on my spontaneous fuck-it (why not) list! Doing it in a language I’m not yet fully comfortable in just made it all the more interesting :)

25 ways to not talk about the weather

I find it incredible when people tell me that they have “nothing to talk about” when they find an opportunity to practice a language, and suggest that all you can do is discuss the weather. So, I’ll actually tell you exactly what I remember talking about last night.

I was going to save this story for my weekly mission update following a language learning tip in the Language Hacking League email list (which you can subscribe to on the right of the site or at the end of this post), but the evening was so much fun that it deserves a full blog post! On Thursday I’ll get emailed if any of these girls actually decided that I was a good “match”, and the answer to that (whether it’s several or zero) will be given in next Monday’s email! [Edit: Actually they already emailed me, quicker than expected! How many and if we met up described in Monday's newsletter ;) ]

However, since my goal was simply to chat rather than convincing them that I’m soulmate-worthy material, and told most of them I was leaving soon, I’m not sure if they would care to see me again. But you never know, maybe Irish charm does work on Dutch girls!

So I arrived, asked the hotel receptionist where the speed-dating was going down and found the hostess explaining how it works. She checked my name against the bookings and gave me my booklet of girls’ names. As you can imagine, she was certainly not speaking slowly for the benefit of foreigners! But I managed to understand most of it. She pointed out the tables, shown in the photo above, and said that the girls will stay in the same place they are assigned and each time the bell rings, the guys will move up a table. You can tick off “Ja” or “Nee” for if you’d like to see that person again.

People were still arriving so she said to wait in the bar and get a complimentary drink. I got myself an O.J. and stood there wondering what-the-hell I was I doing, when suddenly two of the girls saw me by myself and invited me to sit with them! I actually had a good 20 minute conversation with them before the event even started! I told them why I was in Amsterdam, mentioned my travels, and the blog, got to know them too a bit and then the hostess called us all in.

Only… there was a problem! Even though the speed-dating hadn’t really begun yet, I had talked about my blog and travels, so I wasn’t allowed to discuss that any more for the rest of the night! The only thing I could repeat were basic things like my name, the fact that I’ve been in Amsterdam a month, and a casual mention that I’m a writer, without necessarily expanding on it. For more interesting conversations I needed to find common ground, or talk more about her obviously.

I sat down to my assigned table, said that my name was Benny and she said she couldn’t see me on her sheet. “Oh, um… actually my name is Brendan sorry!” (I put my actual name in the application rather than the nickname I always go by, in case the speed-date organisers asked to see my ID). Being confused about my own name was hardly the best start :-P I’d make this mistake several times in a row actually!

In later mini-dates, I just started mid-conversation and skipped the boring “Hello, my name is Brendan” intro. They’d ask my name at the end so that they knew precisely where to mark that nee :-P (or perhaps a ja or two somewhere, I’ll find out soon enough!)

It seems like I blew the first date; we talked about how she has to get the train back to Rotterdam so she probably won’t be staying too late. I don’t think many sparks were flying in that conversation!

Next!

Onward, and in the second date I started with a merry “So… [read her name tag] – Why did you decide to go on a speed-date today then?”

Such strange first openers perhaps weren’t helping my Ja-quota, but I had nothing to lose! She told me about how hard it is meeting a man in Amsterdam, and I said that it’s hard meeting people in general in this country, told her about my own difficulties in doing so and said I was seriously thinking of befriending all the canal ducks in the city instead. She got a great laugh out of that and asked me the same question.

“Why, I signed up to this speed-dating for some Dutch practice of course! €32 for 25 intensive chats in the language with a drink included! That’s much cheaper than the going rate for private conversation lessons!” Another laugh – things were going much better! She told me that it’s probably the cleverest idea she’s ever heard for practising a language. Ironically, by saying that I’m not here to meet a girl, I think that she may have actually given me a ja!

The next girl told me how she has always dreamed of going to Ireland so I gave her some travel tips and advised her to go to Galway rather than Dublin, and the next girl was shocked to see that I was speaking Dutch at my current level after just a month. Most of them were very impressed by this, but I tried to change the subject quickly to get the best out of the time I had. She was very curious though, so I said that I got to this stage by speaking as much as I could, every day if possible, from the very first day. I should actually be speaking better than this, but not meeting many people so frequently is slowing me down.

Her jaw had still dropped, so I added that German and English are helping me, and that I was actually doing many things she wasn’t taking into account. I told her to observe my body language and how comfortably I’m speaking, leaning back, nodding as she speaks to confirm I understand, cushioning my speech with normally irrelevant filler words (you know, like etc. in English and eens, maar, even in Dutch), and how this actually adds to an “illusion” of me speaking better than I actually am. I’m not hesitating; when I don’t know a word I’ll use a workaround quickly, whereas most people at my current level will second-guess themselves and give out the impression that they know way less than they really do.

The bell rang and I had a feeling she’d probably come ask me more questions during the break.

The last girl before the pause was very pretty; probably the youngest one there (21 or so). Unfortunately I don’t remember what we talked about :-P I put her down as a ja, but I suspect I’m a nee! haha

The break is always the most interesting part

Something I find is that the best parts of many organised social events tend to be in the breaks between what the event is actually about. In recent conferences I’ve been to, I’ve found that the actual talks didn’t teach me much that I didn’t know already, but I made some amazing connections in the hallways on the way to some talk.

It was the same with speed-dating. The conversations being squeezed into just a few minutes feel a bit forced; I tried my best to start random and interesting discussions, but in the bar in the two breaks and at the end we were all just chatting normally and this was much more enjoyable. Simply bringing together lots of single people with some interesting twist to it seems to be the smartest part of the whole thing.

I got to know a lot of people, including the other guys. One of the girls I had talked to announced to the small group I was in that my Dutch was at this level after a month (something I hadn’t brought up) and this was sort of a mini-introduction to people I’d end up sitting with shortly after. Apparently this little linguistic parlour trick of mine had been the most interesting thing happening so far in the evening.

I tried to shrug it off as just a natural consequence of speaking somewhat intensively over a month and told them that I’ve met many people who have done similar things. They all agreed, but added that it was more impressive that I was an English speaker doing this. I had to give in and say that yes, generally, English speakers are the laziest language learners in the world, but that we have other redeeming qualities. Although at the time I couldn’t think of any to list…

More dates

Back in, and I continued switching between a few different topics. Some of the times I stuck to discussing the other person’s job, and others I talked about something completely random to really test myself (and likely, their patience). To help break the ice I related something I share about their jobs or interests. One girl was a primary school teacher, so I shared my woes of teaching rowdy 6 year old Spaniards English.

The next one did all the talking. For all she knew I was Dutch myself…

Another one worked in marketing, so I asked her about what kind of psychology is involved in that and shared a story I read once about changing the phrasing in a hotel’s request to reuse your towel by emphasising how others do it too. Her face lit up as I was saying this; it seems like nobody else had anything clever to add about marketing.

Another girl told me that she would love to actually speak English with me, but her level is terrible. I’ve been meeting quite a few Dutch people who confirm that this myth that they all speak perfect English isn’t true. I could have spoken English to her in our mini-date, but instead of losing my momentum I decided to “teach her to fish, rather than give her a fish” so to speak. I gave her a bunch of tips for how she could speak English pretty much all the time in Amsterdam, such as by hosting Couchsurfers and attending those meet-ups.

She told me that my level in Dutch was incredible for the time I’ve spend speaking it. The bell rang before I could retort to assure her there is nothing magical about what I’m doing, and it’s just about applying the right techniques.

Cupid’s arrow

After the last pause and more chatting to people, I could already see some couples starting to pair off, going back to the tables to continue some intimate conversation. This speed-dating thing actually seemed to be working!

Not so well for me though! My first date in the last session was a girl who was totally uninterested in talking to me. I think she thought I was lying when I said I had been learning Dutch for just a month. The conversation was so dry that I actually had to resort to asking “So… any travel plans this summer?” out of the blue. As soon as I stood up, I could see her tick nee for me immediately. (Usually they’d wait until you were gone). Yikes!

I actually had to wait over a minute to sit down at the next table; the guy in front of me was still locked in some incredibly deep conversation with my next date. After several “ahem” fake coughs, the hostess actually had to come to break them up! When I sat down I said “Well, I know two people who are definitely giving one another a yes today!” She found it funny – so I went on to point out who I figure cupid’s arrow has struck tonight. Since my time ran out much quicker than normal, I didn’t quite get to shine myself – but there probably wasn’t much point. Destiny had spoken as far as I could tell!

As I was moving to the next table I noticed a girl I had already sat with make “ugh, no way!!” faces about her previous date to a friend that he was about to sit with. I told her that I saw that, but leaned in and added that I had talked to him at the bar and agree with her.

Back to my last table, and it was with one of the girls who had paired off already. I could tell that her mind was elsewhere, so I asked her how she found the website for this speed dating thing. It was hard to engage with her in conversation – as soon as the bell rang, I almost saw a Warner Brother’s style cloud left from her dashing off so quickly.

While there were some bumps, I actually managed to engage in good and unique conversations with almost all of the women! My level of Dutch was complimented constantly and not even mentioned in many conversations as important. I don’t remember having any difficulty understanding anything that was said to me or asking them to repeat it.

I looked over my paper, thought about who I enjoyed talking to and marked maybe a third as ja and handed in my sheet. Back in the bar I was talking again to several people; strangely enough most of the guys had vanished by now. I casually asked one of the girls how many jas she had put down. I knew I wasn’t going to be one of them, so it was purely statistical curiosity.

She kind of under her breath told me: ONE. It turns out most girls here put one or two down, while I marked everyone who I simply didn’t find boring as someone I’d be happy to meet again. Whether I do meet them again or not will be seen on Thursday (as I said, I’ll share what happens with email subscribers after the weekend) [Edit: actually I know already, sooner than expected], but I’m not too concerned to be honest. I got precisely what I wanted out of the night! Anything else is just a bonus.

————

Obviously, speed dating is hardly a good universal solution for language practice, but the point is that this is just one of many random things I try and apply to make sure I get practice. It’s important to be open to new experiences; I was sceptical about speed dating, but it turns out most people there were actually attractive, level headed and very interesting. Then there are crazies like me of course :)

Hopefully this rather detailed account of a rather strange Monday night out shows you that there are many ways you can converse with people. Sometimes they will be up for it, sometimes they won’t. Just go on to the next person and strike up an interesting conversation. I have yet to talk about the weather or other similar “conversation crutches” in any of my languages, even in the initial stages.

Think you’d ever go on a speed date (if you are/were single) in the country before you were fluent in the language? If you enjoyed this post, let me know in the comments below!

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  • Anonymous

    Benny. What a great idea! And fun too. And hey, who knows? Great example of “creative access” to the language.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Thanks Aaron! Just one of my many very random ideas to keep me busy on Monday nights :-P

  • WC

    Another highly informative post! I not only learned a technique or 2 to practice languages, but also some dating tips. ;)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Glad to have helped :) As I said in the post, the best dating tip by far is to just not think about it so much and go with the flow ;)

  • Sarah T.

    Sounds like a great evening out! I’d like to point out I was the one who put that brilliant idea in your head (on Facebook)! I shall expect an invite to the wedding, LOL

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Oh yeah, you did mention it about a month ago! That may have inspired me to do the Googling, thanks :D Yes, expect either a wedding invitation, or a photo of me crying into a big tup of ice-cream on Thursday :-P hehe

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Exactly! :D I hope this catches on in other countries; it was a blast! I think the fact that I genuinely wasn’t so pushed to find a girlfriend meant that I enjoyed it way more than most people would have :-)

  • http://profiles.google.com/marion.vermazen Marion Vermazen

    Benny, I really like all the specifics in this post. They make it very interesting. As an aside…. My daughtr is getting married this summer to a guy she met speed dating :-) Thaks for a great and very motivating post!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      That’s so cool! Congrats to her :D I was quite impressed to see how attractive girls at a speed-date were; if I can find them in other countries, you can bet I’ll be there ;) Never know, I might meet the girl of my dreams at one of these! But I’ll stick to simply asking girls out otherwise :)

      My best wishes to your family this summer!

  • http://www.neverendingvoyage.com Erin

    Great idea! Although we are a couple and wouldn’t go speed dating we did a similar thing in Buenos Aires. Spanglish events are not about finding a date, but are especially for practicing Spanish or English. You speak for a few mins in English with a local and then switch to Spanish, before changing to another person. We found it a great way to practice, even if it wasn’t quite as immersive as your experience.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Yes, I remember your Spanglish experience; something I didn’t come across myself in BsAs! It’s such a good idea, especially since you remove the romantic pressure from it (which technically I just mentally removed out of traditional speed-dating with a simple decision).

      Very clever – great for learners! But what can I say, I like getting thrown in the deep end with one or two merciless impatient sharks pressurising me to improve quicker :-P

      I’ll have to recommend Spanglish speed-language-exchange to people moving to BsAs though! Good reminder!

  • Craig

    Well done Benny! You’re a brave man.
    I’m sure you charmed a few of those ladies with your Dutch Blarney. 

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      I’ll find out soon enough if I charmed them or if they were just being polite :-P

  • http://www.travelnlass.com/ TravelnLass

    Brilliant notion, Benny – a fine example of “thinking outside the box”. Though at my (dodderin’) age I’m not likely to try speed-dating when I move to Vietnam, nonetheless I’m now inspired to think of similar situations where I could have brief practice w/ a wide number of different people.

    Furthermore, as I plan to teach EFL in Southeast Asia, I’m now thinking that setting up a similar “round robin” exercise might be a good teaching technique.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Yes, it’s a great teaching technique! Add a little fun to language learning! :)

      Obviously, I don’t expect people to try this particular technique (since it would be too hard to come by in many countries), but I hope people do appreciate thinking outside the box and looking for less typical ways to practise!

  • Anonymous

    Hilarious! One of my friends suggested I read a book about a women who went on a bunch of dates worldwide to find her guy. She thought I could do something similar.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      I would say going on thousands of dates is actually a terrible idea to find your prince charming. I go on dates all the time because I genuinely like going on dates. I travel because I like travelling (not because I expect to find something specific) etc.

      I think doing something and expecting something different will just lead to endless frustration. I don’t know how it’s best to find your soulmate, maybe going on dates around the world is.. but I think you should just live your own life and be open to going out with the guys in social groups you like being active in.

      I’ll definitely find the girl of my dreams, and the reason I will is because I’m not forcefully looking for her ;)

      • Anonymous

        Benny, I think you’re right. You often find things when you’re not looking for them! SUSANNA

  • Sieler

    Nice dude. Totally going to try this out sometime.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Best of luck!

  • Jon

    This reminds of a passage that i read in the luck factor . Where so called lucky people use uncanny methods to overcome setbacks . I would diffenatly try this.

  • Hansmeijs

    The dutch flag is different than the one u use:

    http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vlag_van_Nederland

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      I don’t see how that is different at all. Do you mean by dimensions? I force all flags to be the same dimensions for stylistic reasons since the icons are small anyway.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Dank je Marjolein :)
    Jammer heb ik niemand ontmoet op Koninginnedag :-S Maar de dag was leuk!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Well, the Dutch aren’t so much “hard to meet”, as I say here, it’s hard to get them to meet you a second time. I maintain that they are very friendly and open to brief chats. But yes, I could do with some proper deeper relationships. I’ve got my work cut out for me in the last 3 weeks!

    Glad you otherwise enjoyed the post!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Roommate is American English. To me this is a totally illogical term because you almost never actually share your room with that person. I know they don’t say “flat” in the states, but at least apartmentmate or homemate would make more sense to me. There are some differences between dialects that are just simple differences in spelling and terminology, but to me this word goes in the same category as the phrase “could care less” of being just plain silly.

    Glad to see you enjoy the blog post ;) I can see that people like the narrative style! I’ll have to have more like this in future.

  • Katie

    Brilliant, but I’m more impressed that you could even remember all those different conversations. :)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      I wrote this within 12 hours of it happening :-P I probably got the order of conversations not exactly right, but remembering who I met and what we talked about was easy while it was fresh in my mind :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Yeah, more narratives on the way! Would love to have shared a video of the speed dating, but asking a girl I’ve just met if I can record our date probably would have led to a very different set of non-conversations :-P

  • http://www.moveonmoveforward.com David

    Hi Benny – now I gotta ask – do you go ‘day gaming’ during the day?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      No. No gaming. I met some PUAs and hung out while in Montreal, but don’t like that lifestyle. As I said here, I just talk to girls as the opportunities present themselves and I don’t overanalyse it. However a few things I learned from those guys do help me in general in my social interactions.

      I meet people all the time; afternoon or evening, or on social media sites in ways I’ve explained in other blog posts. There is little intention or structure involved as in gaming. That’s quite alright if people do that, but it’s not for me.

      • http://www.moveonmoveforward.com David

        Hi I didn’t mean it like that. By ‘day game’ I meant the term for going out + meeting (cough, cough) girls. I definitely think the best interactions – whoever they’re with – are when you are totally genuine. Not all PUAs are faking it + using lines, though I admit a lot of them have a chip missing. Lol. I think you’d be good at coaching it though ; )

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

          The answer is still no ;) I don’t ever go out with the purpose to meet girls as day gaming implies. As I said in a previous comment, this doesn’t seem to me like a useful goal, but I can understand why it would be successful for other men.

          Even speed-dating for me didn’t have that purpose. I go to nightclubs to dance (in fact, I’m not sure if I’ve ever met a girl in a nightclub that has developed into anything, but I still go to them because I genuinely have fun), I go to supermarkets to buy food etc. If an opportunity presents itself I’ll take advantage of it, but to be honest most girls I meet are in social events, private parties or via social networking sites (like meetup.com ) etc.

          Amsterdam presents a problem in that I don’t get invited to such events as openly as I normally would with the amount of socialising I’ve been doing so far. So in this city perhaps day-game would be more effective. Still not for me though!

          • http://www.moveonmoveforward.com David

            Fair enough. I think as a result, the girls you speak to would be more interested as you’re genuinely having fun.

            I’m a teacher too – for any teachers out there, there’s a great Speed Dating activity you can use in the classroom:

            In short get the class in pairs, and rotate everyone after 3 minutes. You could role play a Speed Dating activity, where everyone has different characters to play.

            Alternatively you can assign a task for each table + change the tasks with each pair.

            I know that’s brief but whenever I’ve done this the class has been really into it.

  • http://languagebubble.com/ Andee

    I don’t comment too often Benny, but have to on this post. Fantastic idea of using speed dating; I’d never considered it but will try to give it a go in the future… slight problem I can foresee for me though – I’ll have to convince my wife first…

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Glad everyone enjoyed today’s idea! :-) Good luck convincing your wife!!

  • Annette

    What a fun idea! I think I’m going to do this when I’m in Germany or Italy! Assuming I’m still single, of course. :)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      I’d be very surprised if they didn’t do this in Germany!
      In Italy just leave your house and you will be showered with praise and affection by an army of guys.

    • ephrem

      hiiii

      this ephrem

  • http://twitter.com/saratran Sara

    That was a really great idea! I especially like how you challenged yourself to switch things up with each new lady. I also like the reminder about the fillers and the talk arounds. We have fun fillers here, and I try to make the workarounds sound intentional, to match my quirky personality. :P

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Excellent! Keep up the good work :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    As I said at the end, this post was not about telling everyone to go on speed dates.

  • http://mooncountry.wordpress.com/ Aidan

    That’s a really great post and idea! Really entertaining.
    Dutch people are always amazed at English speakers speaking Dutch. It’s really strange because I regularly hear people with English accents on Dutch television. There may be lots of English speakers who don’t speak Dutch but equally there are many who do. I have been at meetings conducted through Dutch where the English speakers outnumbered the Dutch speakers. It’s not that unusual ;-)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Glad you liked it! :)

      Are you sure those are really English accents? A few Dutch people I’ve met have a way of speaking that uses the English R so much that almost does sound like they are English speakers not speaking the language fully well :-P

      But yes, I can see how there would be plenty of exceptions and English speakers who do inded learn the language!I haven’t met any yet, only foreigners from other countries who have learned, but I don’t doubt there are, and I’ll admit that my social exposure has been much more limited here in Amsterdam than it usually would be.

      • http://mooncountry.wordpress.com/ Aidan

        Well I’ve lived in Holland a long time so I can tell the difference between most native Dutch and Belgian regional accents and I can normally hear a non-native speaker straight away. English speakers who speak Dutch very well sound a lot like Afrikaans speakers or people imitating standrd Flemish.
        I have to say though that most English speakers do not seem to try to improve their accent so it often sounds like they are speaking Dutch with English sounds. That can even be the case where their Dutch is perfect grammatically and they have an extensive vocabulary.
        That is often because Dutch is their first foreign language. For Irish people that is often better as Dutch might be their fourth language. The Irish people I know who speak Dutch all speak Irish and French (to some level) too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=61011700 Bryce Miller

    This is the single greatest idea in the history of language learning.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Haha, a *little* exaggerated, but thanks for the sentiment ;)

  • http://LifeByExperimentation.com Zane the Experimenter

    Nicely done Benny – I’m looking forward to seeing your results ;) Already after just a couple days in Sweden I have had a couple friends tell similar stories about how nice the people are here but how hard it is to get to be (good) friends with them and develop a network. I don’t plan to start on Swedish for at least another few weeks and am currently otherwise occupied, but I think I shall have to keep this in mind for when I do ;)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Yes, I’m hearing similar stories about the Swedes. I won’t crack this nut in just a two month experience, but hopefully my end conclusions help those trying to make friends in northern Europe!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    I don’t learn the amount of vocabulary needed for every possibly conversation. It’s an application of the 80-20 principle explained here: http://fi3m.com/80-20-rule/

    Also, to understand them I focus on the words and not on understanding the entire sentence. Sometimes there will be a word I don’t understand; many people would give up in this situation and say the whole sentence is un-understandable, but I think a bit more to extrapolate what they mean based on the context of the situation. Looking at a printed sentence with a gap saying “fill in the missing word” you would never really get that appreciation you would in person.

    I think the problem is something you said yourself: “I have been STUDYING Spanish for about four years”. Doesn’t matter if you’ve been studying it for 80 years; how many conversations have you genuinely tried to have? I’m not smarter than anyone else, I’m just speaking a lot more so I *have* to improve my speaking abilities quickly. No amount of studying will help with that if little or no practice is involved.

    • Justin

      That’s good advice, thank you!

  • Anonymous

    Fortune favours the Bold!
    Sounds like a fun time you had.Hope you get a Dutch Bang out of it :)

  • http://lettersofgreenfinland.blogspot.com/ Ekaterina

    It’s not a crazy idea. It’s genius! :) Really very enjoyable post :)

    I remember in our first days in university they’d make us talk to everyone through different ‘exercises’. For example, we could talk to someone for only a minute or so, then we’d have to switch partners and so on. That way I talked to much more people in my group than I probably would in first days. Another thing was to interview three persons on a particular topic (questions were provided), so no need to think of what to talk about ;)

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    Very interesting, and a very clever solution to your problem, very creative. I like whatever-works improvisation that like :)

    Cheers,

    Andrew

  • http://pelochalivingabroad.blogspot.com/ Pelocha

     Hey there! It was nice to see you yesterday, and to speak you some spanish :) I guess now you know who I am! 

    From now on, you have one follower more!

    P.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Thanks Pelocha. Hopefully you’ll like my conclusive post about the Dutch! ;)

      Q tal después de la fiesta? Cómo es la marcha del sábado en Utrecht?? Si estás en Amsterdam antes de junio, dimelo para quedar!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mendy.nieuwenhuis Mendy Nieuwenhuis

    Hoi Benny,

    Ik kwam een tijd geleden je website al tegen maar ik zie nu dat je Nederlands leert en wilde toch graag een comment achterlaten. :)

    Als Nederlandse wilde ik even zeggen dat ik het erg leuk vind dat een buitenlander onze taal leert, zonder dat het ´moet´. Complimenten heb je al veel gekregen maar ik moet ook zeggen dat het erg indrukwekkend is dat je al zoveel kan in zo´n korte tijd!
    Bovendien schijnt het Nederlands een relatief moeilijke taal te zijn, al valt het voor jou blijkbaar wel mee.

    Jammer dat ik niet bij dat speed-daten was, ik heb al een vriend maar het lijkt me erg boeiend om met je te praten. Je klinkt wel gezellig. :)

    In ieder geval veel succes verder met alles!

    (I hope this was understandable for you, It wasn´t the most basic of Dutch but I thought you´d figure it out.)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Dank je wel Ellen :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Dank je wel Ellen :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Dank je wel Ellen :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Dank je wel Ellen :)

  • http://bodeswell.org/ BodesWell

    really clever idea and excellent write-up. Just found your site and will try to figure out my new excuses for not learning Spanish after a bit more reading!  Idea for a future topic – learning a new language as a family. Our current excuse is that we spend all our time speaking to *each other* (in our native language)…

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Ask and imitate or look in different sources depending on the language ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Glad to help :) Best of luck!

  • http://aislinnemma.tumblr.com/ AislinnEmma

    Such a great idea! very impressive!

  • http://aislinnemma.tumblr.com/ AislinnEmma

    They actually started this in Dublin but as part of a language exchange. People learning (for example) Spanish and English come and spend the first half speaking spanish, the second speaking english but It’s done in a speed dating way – I’m hoping to try it out soon!

  • Lucas Coffee

    Is there any chance to have the conclusion of this wonderfull article? I truly want to konw what happened.

    PS: Tu es mon héros.

  • Sofie Couwenbergh

    Such a great idea!
    I wonder if you’d have more or less difficulties learning Dutch in Belgium (where I live) than the Netherlands.
    I’m guessing more difficulties. We’re pretty closed off people and we have a tendency to adapt what we speak to the language of the people we’re speaking with.