In the autumn of 2015, I hope to receive my Dutch citizenship. It is a long and significant process, and am one sixth of the way through. Five sixths to go! I know we will have a party, and if you’re in town, you’re invited.
Before I married Frans and entered into our cross-cultural marriage, I thought of immigration in terms of bescarved women and children carrying small boxes entering Ellis Island. Leaving Old (name your country) behind to begin anew in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave is a part of almost every American’s history; at one point or another some ancestor of yours made the change. But what strikes me is that for the first time I sense the tension my own great-grandparents must have felt leaving Old Europe for the wide open opportunities of the United States. New land, language, new way of life.
Well, Dick and Sophie Hobbie, I’m back. And I’m aware that receiving Dutch citizenship does not mean that I must wear a scarf (although sometimes it’s fun to), clomp around only orange clogs, tear up my American passport, and tearfully forget about ever singing ‘God Bless America’ or saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Or having a cookout with cokes, hamburgers, and hotdogs. O contraire.
But I will—we will—be changed from this. For one thing, I hope to have a good foundation in the Dutch language (Nederlands) by then.
Actually, I have to, in order to become a Dutch citizen. No ‘I’ve lived here for fourteen years and can’t speak or understand or read a lick of Dutch’ for these people. These people don’t mess around. I admire that.
I am currently enrolled in language school. I had hoped to be a Nederlands genius, as I am guessing others hoped I also would be. I thought that maybe deep within this ‘words’ person would also be a ‘language’ person. I have quickly realized (as someone not sober realizes when his face is dipped into an ice cold bucket of water) that learning Nederlands will take work.
Thus I am thankful for my school, the Pace Taleninstituut. It’s paid for by the government, which is in itself a gift. The government stopped paying for language schools two weeks after I signed my contract. Thanks, God.
The institute’s objective is to push me and the ten others in my class through the language in a year. Thus, I am going to kindergarten, first grade, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades this year. Yep, that’s why I’ve been neglecting my blog a wee bit.
I am no Nederlands genius. It will take good, old-fashioned hard work and hours of study. This also has to do with my age.
The first five years of life are essential for language learning. That’s why children in bilingual families can pick up two languages in one shot. Their little brains are just soaking in every bit of language they can handle. (Yay for our future children! Your hypothetical mother is a bit jealous already of her hypothetical children)
After that, learning a new language becomes harder, but still very possible through the teens. After nineteen, the language compartment in the brain begins to shrink, so to speak. It does this a bit more every decade, making language learning at 31 quite difficult, but not impossible. That language component in my brain needs to ‘grow back,’ so to speak. And it’s hard work because first I must nurture the soil (my brain) and then I must plow, plant, fertilize, and water this new language. It is a labor of love; I must pursue this new challenge with blood, sweat, and tears in order to see any growth.
In a few minutes I will grab my gray PaceTaleninstituut book bag (which I wear with pride), jump on my bike, and fiets myself the 30 minutes to my Nederlands class where I hope to, one day, Nederlands spreken heel goed.
This is a prayer. Can I get an ‘Amen?’