Why I Don’t Speak Dutch

I’ve hit the three year mark of living in the Netherlands. And it would appear that this is the magical time when people expect you to start speaking Dutch. Not that they are going to do anything to help you accomplish language fluency, they just want to voice their dismay that you aren’t.

I actually did take six months of language lessons. You know what’s worse than working fifty – sixty hours a week? Coming home after working a ten hour day and going to three hours of Dutch lessons. And then there’s homework. And studying. You work sixty hours a week and add ten hours of staring at a textbook and sitting in class for six months and see how you feel.

The Environment
Everyone here speaks English. Everyone here switches to English the second you struggle with the language. Most Dutch people aren’t exposed to non-native Dutch. This is a country that bitches about the accents of the people in the next town over. They can’t handle your slight (or incredible) foreign accent, thus offering you little to no opportunity to practice.

I don’t think Dutch is an especially hard language to learn. In fact, it’s not. It’s easy. But learning a language in general is hard. Even the easier languages take an average of 600 hours to learn. At eight hours per day, that’s three months. At a more reasonable one hour per day (every day of the week) that’s a year and a half. And that assumes that one is a typical learner. If you find languages hard, like I do, you’re looking at even more time.

I don’t want to live here forever. Dutch isn’t an especially widely spoken language. Is investing the time and energy in learning to fluently speak a language that I’ll never use again worth it? Dutch won’t help me much outside of South Africa and a few Caribbean nations.

At this point, I’m stubbornly refusing to learn because I’m so goddamn annoyed at people asking me if I have learned. It’s pretty much the first question of any Dutch person I encounter. And then they inevitably ask “Why not?” when I answer in the negative. As though my lack of language skills is a personal affront to them.

If you haven’t taught yourself a new language, as an adult (a real adult, with a real adult job) then your opinion on how hard or how difficult that process might be is irrelevant. And even if you have, the only lesson you can learn from that is how hard that process was for you. Since we’re all different, your experience is not especially relevant to mine.

And more importantly, I don’t really care what you think anyway.

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