Dutch language class
This is the story of my first and last Dutch language class in this little Dutch town. It lasted all of one and a half hours, enough to make me realise that I could do much better studying it myself with the help of a personal tutor and a good textbook.
When I got off my bicycle, I became aware of the chatter and smoke of several young women. The Polish au pair girls reluctantly put out their cigarettes at the entrance to the building. It was the second of 24 weekly lessons, and I had missed the first. The girls continued to chatter and giggle all the way to the classroom upstairs. I made the mistake of sitting next to one of them so that I could share her textbook.
The teacher was late by 20 minutes and attributed her lateness to the fact that one of her friends had died and her entire day had been ruined. After getting situated, she called out the names from her list, never bothering to ask why my name wasn't on her list. I was grateful for being invisible, for I had not registered.
The Polish girls dominated the 14 students who showed up. Their chit chats and giggles have now become as unbearable as the lingering smell of nicotine on their skin. The teacher didn't seem to notice.
The teacher, a woman in in her sixties, used some English words to explain the Dutch lesson at hand. Her English sounded Dutch, and her Dutch was not understandable. I felt the tension in the classroom building up.
A Mexican girl finally spoke out. "We didn't learn anything last time, and we're not learning anything now. I'm sure I speak for everyone else here."
The teacher retaliated,"I am the teacher and I tell you what to do."
Her age and disposition reminded me of my German teacher back in London. She was so absent-minded that she taught the same lesson twice. I wasn't about to repeat this experience again.
One slim young woman sat by herself, staring into space without a book. Others shared their brand new (expensive) language books. After class, I went to talk to her as she seemed distant and sad. Her book was on order, but she's not too keen to take this course. She really wanted to learn English, but the English course was taught in Dutch. So she had to learn Dutch first.
As I cycled home, I recalled those language classes I had taken and all the language textbooks I had kept. It's time to sell them all to the second-hand market. Sadly I am no linguist. But language is the first step to learning about a new culture. And I'm always entering into new cultures. Unless I break the langugage barrier, I will never understand or appreciate a new culture. As the old saying goes, the best dictionary is a sleeping one --- and it's time for me to wake up to it!
6 October 2003 Monday