It's time for a new language mission! DUTCH!
I've just arrived in Amsterdam, and I plan to speak fluent Dutch by May 31st (so technically not even 2 months; actually in 8 weeks). There's many ways to define fluency and I'm very precise about mine.
There are some obvious advantages I'll have and some big challenges in this mission!!
Since Dutch is in the Germanic language family, actually about half way between English and German, I had to give myself less time if I was aiming for fluency! As it stands I can recognise quite a lot of words in the little Dutch I've been exposed to, mostly thanks to my German. So even though I've never studied this language before, I do indeed have more of a head-start than usual.
This would be a similar head-start as you would have moving from Spanish to Italian for example. Less work, but you are still taking on an entirely different language.
Saying that this will be easy is a huge exaggeration! Reaching fluency is an immense challenge no matter what the circumstances, and doing so in the ridiculously restrictive timespan of 8 weeks will put me under quite a lot of pressure!
As well as this, the Dutch have a reputation for having excellent English so I may have my work cut out for me (especially at the start) to simply even convince them to not speak English with me! These social challenges are way more important than recognising some vocabulary ever will be.
Luckily, I have plenty of tricks up my sleeve to make sure conversations will be in Dutch!
The core of speaking from day one explained in more detail
Readers of the blog have requested more day-to-day specific updates about how I am progressing in these missions. You would have seen me give such an example when I detailed my first week speaking German.
I'll attempt to give a weekly update (the first one will likely be on the blog, but all other weekly updates will be sent only to the Language Hacking League, which you can sign up to on the right of the site or at the end of this post), as well as trying something much more revealing!
The core of Language Hacking in my eyes is not based on “how much” you know (number of words learned, amount of grammar rules revised etc.), but on how you apply the little you do know, and being confident enough to realise that you can do way more than it seems at first. Social dynamics, the ability to read people, body language, extrapolation, and even charm are essential skills for a language hacker. These are the tools that really let you communicate, especially when combined with traditional vocabulary & grammar based learning.
People who just learn languages with books are blissfully unaware of any of these aspects of real communication, and usually rely on nothing more than a count of their words learned as their excuse for not being “ready” yet. This is absolute rubbish.
I'll try to demonstrate this by recording videos of some of my first conversations in Dutch and analysing the content to explain what I'm doing. I'll present this in a way that makes it easier to follow to show people how it is DEFINITELY possible to speak a language from day one, no matter what that language is. It will be easier for me to apply these in Dutch obviously, but I've used the same techniques in languages unrelated to anything I had learned before like Czech and Hungarian.
Hopefully I'll find people who don't mind being recorded to converse with me on camera. Since I'll be putting a lot of work into making everything clear, it'll be several weeks before the end result is ready, but I'll otherwise write updates every week, with what's working and with the biggest challenges I'm facing.
In the next post, on Thursday, I'll talk about the kind of materials I tend to use for studying and what I'll be using during this mission.
Once again, I want to emphasise that I don't travel to learn languages.
I learn languages to enhance my travel experience. Dutch in itself doesn't interest me at all – every language is a means to an end. To me that end is people.
Making Dutch friends does interest me. My experience when living in a place is always enhanced much more by spending my time with locals. Of course, I could do that in English this time, but that wouldn't allow me the kind of flexibility I usually have when out with a group of people talking with one another.
It's lazy to expect everyone to speak English for my benefit. I want to have friends that I communicate in their language with.
So the question for me shouldn't be why Dutch the language, but why Dutch – the people; I've met many Dutch in my travels and found them to have interesting humour, and to be incredibly open minded. This is something I would like to investigate further as I make friends while living in Amsterdam.
The challenge would have perhaps been easier if I had chosen a “less touristy” city, but that aspect of the challenge just makes it all the more fun 🙂 Amsterdam tends to be on many people's lists of most interesting cities to live in, and such recommendations tend to be why I choose my destinations, not linguistic ones.