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Back in mid-January, I started a Dutch class. This course is basically proveded by the City of Haarlem, virtually free of charge. I say virtually because Arno had to put down a small deposit of $278, which will be refunded to him when I pass. The 18-month course in its entirety costs the city about $3100, so this is a bargain! Arno had let me know that I may have been offered such a course, and he said, "If they offer it to you, TAKE IT, because they're not going to do this for free for much longer." I think it surprised his mother and the agent who was helping us when I piped up and said immediately that Arno had insisted on me taking the course if offered. "Do you weant to think about it and talk to Arno about it?" Nope. Already did that part, let's get on with it.

My colleagues at the course are all very nice. Most are near my own age, though a couple are older. I am the only American in the class, though our docent, Nelleke, lived in California for seven years, so she understands where I'm coming from at least. I have two classmates from Morocco, three from Romania, and one of each from the following: Spain, Poland, Argentina, Brazil, Iraq, Syria, Thailand, and France. Just about everyone knows at least some basic English, so we communicate back and forth using a mix of Dutch and English. I sit between the Spanish and Arabian-speaking contingents. I'm occasionally able to translate a word into Spanish if my neighbors on my right don't fully understand, and occasionally reword things for the Iraqi man (who is in his 50s, methinks) if he doesn't understand.

The language course is unlike courses I have had for Spanish or Japanese, as they take a whole-language approach. That is to say, we get a chunk of text to read and a word list containing vocabulary we have not yet encountered. The language is presented more naturally, as relevant conversations. The method relies on a lot of listening to the lessons being read on CD, which helps us get the sound and cadence of the language in our ears. This reminds me of the listening I had to do for my piano lessons; kind of the same concept. This method starts with listening several times without the book, then reading along with the book and CD, then self-reading. After we have read over the text enough to recognize everything, we read through a text with blanks to "fill in" the missing words from the text... meaning read through it without pausing. The gaps aren't meant to be written in, but spoken. Then we are given practice questions to answer aloud, and a short writing assignment. It's a lot of homework, and usually takes me the better part of a day to complete everything. My classes, by the way, are on Tuesday and Thursday for 3 hours; I study copiously Mon and Weds.

Arno says I'm progressing really fast, and that my Dutch is getting steadily better. I kind of wonder if my English isn't suffering a bit from it at times. It's becoming difficult to grasp certain words I'm looking for. I think I have it easier than most of my classmates for two reasons though: I live with a Dutch speaker, and I'm a native English speaker. Because of Arno, I get more exposure to Dutch language than I would otherwise... ane while HE doesn't speak Dutch to me often (sometimes we just want to understand each other, rather than struggling for words..), his parents and relatives use a lot of Dutch on me. The English helps because I can see the roots of a lot of words and the structure of the language easier than the others. Dutch and English are both Germanic-based languages; either Dutch branched off in one direction while English went another, or they lie in a continuum from German to Dutch to English. In any case, it makes it easy for me to parse the meanings of a lot of words.

I really don't have much to add to this of any interest. I find the whole class fascinating. All those people from different cultures: who are they? Why are they here? What are they like?

Of all the people Beedoo! describes, there is one that I can now easily remember and place, and that would be Taleb, from Syria. Apparently, he is a writer, and this has aided him in writing some pretty... Original writing assignments, like cows that get married and go to the doctor, solely because those were the topics covered so far. He also congratulated Beedoo! on the death of Osama Bin Laden: "I really hated that guy!". Sadly, things are kind of nasty in Syria right now. I'm sure that bothers him.

Anyway, Beedoo! is progressing well with Dutch. A week ago I started speaking Dutch with her in the supermarket and I was stunned how much she already knew. Her biggest problem seems to be our grammar, which deviates in many ways from English grammer, and has wacky rules about switching words and such. I can't possibly explain succinctly enough, but fortunately Dutch has many similarities with German, and German has been well described by one of America's greats, Mark Twain:

There are ten parts of speech, and they are all troublesome. An average sentence, in a German newspaper, is a sublime and impressive curiosity; it occupies a quarter of a column; it contains all the ten parts of speech -- not in regular order, but mixed; it is built mainly of compound words constructed by the writer on the spot, and not to be found in any dictionary -- six or seven words compacted into one, without joint or seam -- that is, without hyphens; it treats of fourteen or fifteen different subjects, each inclosed in a parenthesis of its own, with here and there extra parentheses which reinclose three or four of the minor parentheses, making pens within pens: finally, all the parentheses and reparentheses are massed together between a couple of king-parentheses, one of which is placed in the first line of the majestic sentence and the other in the middle of the last line of it -- after which comes the VERB, and you find out for the first time what the man has been talking about; and after the verb -- merely by way of ornament, as far as I can make out -- the writer shovels in "haben sind gewesen gehabt haben geworden sein," or words to that effect, and the monument is finished.

The Awful German Language

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