lundi 6 septembre 2010

Utility Italian, Utility Dutch

As I mentioned previously, when in Rome I did as the Romans did: I spoke Italian. Or rather, what little bits I had managed to pick up. My wife had gone through BBC's Italian travel course so she was a little more comfortable in her interactions with waiters and ice cream servers. Her take on the BBC's course was that she learned more useful Italian in the week or so she did the 6 lessons than in all the time she had spent with Assimil. Looking at the first few lessons of a number of courses, they all seem to have the same problem: small talk ("hello my name is..") isn't useful if you're a tourist or if you're living in the country. The waiter doesn't care what your name is, but he'd certainly want to know that you'd like a table in the shade and two iced-coffees please.

Goal-driven learning based on a set of common tourist (and other basic-living) tasks I think is the way to get started with a language if you're actually living where it's spoken. Only the FSI FAST courses seem to have this goal in mind. Oh, and phrasebooks. Leaving phrasebooks out of your study materials (like I had been doing -- oops) will leave you lapsing back into your common language in situations where you-as-an-expat are likely to use it the most: stores and restaurants.

I've also been having motivation problems with Dutch. At the start (january/march-ish) my studies were more forced labour. The intrinsic "Yes I want to do this" feeling wasn't there -- just the obligation that now that I was in Amsterdam I should speak Dutch. I expected to fall in love with the language as I learned more about it, as I had with French. That didn't happen. I was hoping I'd find materials in Dutch I wanted to read. That didn't happen either. I've had Dutch people tell me not to learn Dutch. Recommendations for good Dutch TV and movies are met with blank stares. "There isn't any. That's why we watch American shows instead." Most of the best-sellers are translations into Dutch.

So, do I reframe my goals to eliminate "dutch fluency" and replace it with "utility dutch"? Enough to get by in a restaurant and deal with bureaucracy, but not to bother with deciphering slang in movies and word play and humour and novels? My answer for the moment might be "yes". Hopefully with smaller goals that I _can_ be motivated to accomplish, I'll at least get somewhere. "Utility Dutch" I see as useful. Full fluency, for the moment, I do not.

The Polyglot meet up was fun and I'll probably go to more.

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