In a previous article for the Huffington Post I went public about my language shame; well I am pleased to announce that I am (hopefully) on the course to rectifying this rather embarrassing situation. I have decided to start taking language classes so I should be able to speak something other than English, or rather broken French that has consisted of much guesswork and nodding of the head.
I was spurred on by recent statistics from Eurostat which showed that two thirds of working age adults in the EU claim they know a foreign language. The statistics were released as part of the annual European Day of Languages which celebrates the diversity of the EU and the languages that are used within its borders. Somewhat unsurprisingly English remains the most popular language for school pupils to learn, but I was very surprised to see that a whopping 94% of upper secondary pupils learn my mother tongue. This had certainly made me really appreciate having a fluent command of English, but it does have its disadvantages of making us speakers become a little lazy. But I calculated that in my office alone, there are 13 languages spoken amongst my colleagues and sadly 'Franglais' isn't a recognised means of communication so I wasn't able to add to the list.
So, now living in Belgium I have decided to fully embrace the bilingual status here and learn Dutch and enhance my French. Adding to my French knowledge has been really enjoyable and I've been using audio tapes to increase my vocabulary. The only faux pas I have made it unconsciously repeating the audio in public, this resulted in me asking out half the European district for dinner when I was walking to work. I'm also listening to French radio every day and what was unidentifiable rambling by a chap in Paris, is now starting to make a little sense.
Learning Dutch has been a completely different experience for me. As I had no absolutely no idea about the language I had to start from scratch. Thankfully in their efforts to get more Dutch speakers in Brussels, the Flemish government offers heavily subsidised languages classes. My first class was certainly a true learning experience as much to my surprise the entire lesson was conducted in Dutch. This is in stark contrast to my former French classes at school where teaching was mostly done in English. However after the initial shock and panic passed, I was able to grasp what the Dutch teacher was telling us to do. I am not sure what this linguistic magic but it really fills you with confidence.
Within my class there are several people who cannot speak English so the only way to speak to one-another is through Dutch. This can make for some rather awkward moments when you are both confused about a word containing several j's and a's as it common in the language. But it is none the less a very good technique for getting learners to pick up a new skill very quickly.
I have been able to use my limited Dutch outside of the classroom too and used it on a recent trip to Antwerp. The locals seemed to understand me, or rather they were smiling in a sympathetic way as I butchered their native tongue. But this is one thing I have learned; in order to relate to a language, it's vital to go somewhere it is spoken all the time. For me, books and audio tapes will only go so far in developing my skills, having the confidence to speak a language is what counts.
I can only wish that I had given some serious consideration to learning a language earlier but hearing people go seamlessly from one language to another has made me even more determined. Who knows, maybe someone might get back to me on my kind offer of dinner - although I'm still waiting.