Thinking in another language

August 9, 2006

I spent my twenties living in the Netherlands. My do people like to ask me why. Here’s why: I wanted to think in a foreign language.

Before I knew the name for my kerjillion-thoughts-per-nanosecond, I knew I was tired. I wanted some distance. Between that and studying linguistics, I thought perhaps thinking with an entirely structure would be a nice rest.

So, I went native, got headaches refusing to speak English, and practiced some of the most challenging diphthongs there are in while taking the showers. After a while, I could order “uiensoep” in a cafe without the waiter responding in English. The Dutch switch to English when they hear a trace of a foreign accent in your Dutch- so much so that a Dutch woman I know was spoken to in English upon returning from many years abroad. It’s been that way for a long time, as evidenced by the 1908 book An Irishman’s Difficulty With The Dutch Language.

Apparently I’m bloody persistent, because after a while people guessed I was from a particular part of the country that has an ‘r’ closest to English, and now… I think a lot in two languages.

Now I think a lot in two different languages. Gek is dat. Jeetje. If you want to do the same, I highly recommend a strict immersion approach to learning a foreign language. And I also highly recommend starting by reading children’s stories in that language. Pick some that have actual stories that make sense. I started with the amazing stories about a girl and a boy called Jip en Janneke, by Annie M.G. Schmidt.

jip en janneke

Jip en Janneke from the Annie M.G. Schmidt site.