Flexing your language muscles


I go to the gym a few times a week to keep myself sane and healthy. Another benefit of going to the gym as an expat is that most of the time, the classes are taught in Dutch. Words that you might not otherwise encounter in daily conversation “buikspieren” (stomach muscles), “sleutelbeen” (collar bone), are delivered up in short instructive sentences, combined with physical movement. This combination lets the words seep into your body and brain in a way that vocabulary lists or passive conversations can’t. But lately, there have been more expats than natives in the Body Balance course and the teacher has been switching to English.

My 8:15 a.m. sloth-brain appreciates the English, but the part of me that wants to get the language acquisition part of my brain in shape feels cheated. Please speak in Dutch! I want to say. But this morning, our Body Balance instructor also had a case of sloth-brain, and admitted she was too tired to translate the whole class in English today, despite the number of expats in the room. 

“It’s good for our Dutch!” I encouraged. And she set forth in her native language. My inner sloth-porcupine  prickled at the switch, discouraged that it had to work harder, but by the end of the class, not only were my muscles stretched, but my mind as well.

On my way out of the gym, with another expat of French origin, one of the trainers asked us in Dutch if we had “zin” (interest) in a group training. 

“Nee. Dank je wel. Ik heb zin in de bakkerij.” (No thank you. I have interest in the bakery.) I responded. The trim fitness coach with long blond hair and perfectly sculpted buikspieren laughed at my response and patted me on the arm in camaraderie. Usually, my sense of humor is lost on the Dutch, but this morning, a Dutch person not only got my sense of humor, but laughed in response! Now that is an accomplishment!

Published by kristininholland

I believe in living with integrity and in choosing a lifestyle that shows respect for our environment. Although continually attracted to the idea of imminent success with the publication of my two novels, I am also greatly drawn to living simply and living well: loving my family and friends, and being aware and present for those moments in life--a spontaneous hug from my son, a smile to a stranger, moments of insight--that define real connection and success with peace, love and happiness.

5 thoughts on “Flexing your language muscles

  1. I loved this little peak into your dutch-learning world! We recently put my son in a Spanish immersion preschool and my husband and I are starting to dig deep and recall our 4 years of high school Spanish. It’s hurts my head but it is very rewarding at the same time! I totally understand how learning a second language is a workout for the brain!

    1. Hi Crystal! I wish my parents had put me in a language class so early! Great way to expand his horizons and Spanish is perfect for where you live! i love spanish, and as soon as i have my Dutch down, it is next on my list senora!

  2. Great way to think about it. Though I’ve taken several dutch courses I also found that learning “in real life” was much better – for example by having a baby here, I learnt a lot of pregnancy-related terms. It was quite funny when I went back to my native australia and had my 2nd baby there, I then naturally was thinking of a lot of the pregnancy and birth related works in dutch instead of english! Another tip I learnt was using a song, here’s a post I wrote a while back you might like:
    http://dutchaustralian.com/tip-1-for-learning-dutch-use-a-song/

  3. Thankj you for your comment Renee. It’s amazing how our minds adapt, and then let go, and then adapt again. I think we’d be perfectly synched for every language if we traveled just by our feet. But its those jets that speed us from one reality to the next, and the internet with even a faster rate of propulsion that make it difficult for our minds to catch up between worlds. Looking at your tip now . . .

  4. Great story! It’s funny how something as simple as humor can be lost in translation. Any hands-on experience that immerses you in the language is great for helping you learn it. I speak German (lived in Dusseldorf for 5 years), and when we took day trips to the Netherlands I was often able to translate the written language — sort of seems like a cross between English & German (the Dutch hated this reference). The sound of the language? Forget it. It has a very lyrical quality, but I could never follow along. Probably just didn’t spend enough time there to ever catch on.

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