Deutsch or Dutch?

March 16, 2018
  Now looking back at it two months later, my “younger” self seems to be quite naive or maybe even a little bit dumb. I attended a language course in Germany as well, but it was quite easy and up until this point I did not fully realize what it means to live in another country with a different language.

Borders and Barriers

Stop roadsign while train passesWhen I came here I realized what the real border between the countries is: Language. Even though it may be easier to learn a similar language to your own, you cannot live as a part of a nation without speaking their language. In the first weeks I did not understand very much and I felt left out; when I walked the streets, I saw a silent movie which I was not involved in. For me the language was silence, because I could not gain anything from what people were saying. Language is the biggest difference between countries and so many other things depend on it. Learning a new language means getting to know a new culture with different traditions, another worldview or even reality and especially a different focus in life.

Words and Culture

You also learn more about your own first language and how some things can be described differently. For example, the word fietsen; in German there is no fitting translation for this verb. You can just say “I ride my bike”, but this would be a completely different sentence. The Netherlands is famous for their biking culture and it is logical that they have a different set of words to describe it. In Germany or other countries, you also have bicycles, but the people have a different focus in life and language. When you learn a new language you will change as a person and you get a completely new view of your old and new culture. It is by learning the native language of a country that you can feel more at home in a new country.

Same But Different

German dictionary open to letter SHow can I learn a language which is similar to my mother tongue, but also not? To be honest, German people have a big advantage over other people learning Dutch. For me, even the word “Dutch” sounds so Deutsch that I have to think twice if it is German or Nederlands. The first thing I learnt about the Dutch language is that it is a mix of German and English. That is another advantage for me, because I can speak both of those languages, more or less. The structure of a sentence is the same as in German which may be the biggest similarity, however it does not make it easier when the spelling of the words is the same but the meanings are unfortunately completely different. My biggest problem is the pronunciation of the Dutch words. The scratched “g” and the sharp “s” - it´s like learning speaking once again and I am quite sure that this “g” cannot be good for my throat, because I, as a German, do not have the physical precondition to make a sound like this. Nevertheless, I try my best and the most important thing about learning a new language is exactly that. Do not be afraid of getting something wrong, try and try again, listen to other people, music or films, read and when nothing else works: Just say some German words like you are Dutch.  Sounds funny, but Dutch is more Deutsch than I ever thought before!

Lisa Sternemann, Kickstart Student