CLMN | Not Lost in Translation

CLMN | Not Lost in Translation

19 april 2017

Truth be told, the Dutch language doesn’t exactly rank among the most useful ones. Being spoken in a tiny corner of Europe and some remote specks of land elsewhere coupled with the natives’ fluent English are enough reasons to never learn it. But the real virtue of a language isn’t in how it has spread around the world; ask anyone from places like India, many of us speak multiple regional languages.

A visa may open the doors to a nation, but it’s the language that seeks out the people. I spent several years in a city in India where I didn’t speak the local language. I didn’t attempt to learn, because ‘what’s the point?’ But, in my ignorance, I efficiently bypassed an entire cultural experience. Here in Eindhoven, I am atoning.

There’s more to a language than being able to go Google Translate-free. Certainly one’s vocabulary goes further than the Albert Heijn product labels, alsjeblieft and dank je wel, but for me, it’s more about the experience of learning itself. Attending lessons with people enthusiastic about a language bears a stark yet amusing contrast to other academic lectures in a tech school. And if earlier I was wetting my feet in Dutch culture, now I find myself being slowly immersed into the IJsselmeer. Being able to enjoy Zondag met Lubach or karaoke-ing to Guus Meeuwis, or even struggling to read a book in Dutch, brings a strange sense of belonging. The shouts in the market that once were just a cacophony are now the beacons for the best deals.

And of course, being able to describe the slightest change in weather in elaborate detail is a marker of progress. But the approving nod for trying, from Dutch colleagues, is probably the greatest reward. Some offer to switch to English, but I try not to chicken out. They correct my vocabulary as conversations progresses and we slowly move on to English on a really bad day.

There’s a difference, I now realize with each passing month, a fading uneasiness that was so pronounced before. Bonds with people have become stronger, expressions like alsof een engeltje over je tong piest are no longer shocking, and my curiosity and connection with this place has grown unexpectedly, much of it thanks to an endemic language that I could have chosen to hop over. If the film Arrival taught us anything this year, it was to believe in languages beyond their most obvious function. May be the Dutchies know something that we don’t?

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