I guess I’d forgotten how difficult it is. Sometimes more than others, of course, but on the whole, learning a language is a hefty endeavour.
In the beginning, it was fun. It was new, exciting, and really not that difficult – or so I thought.
Soon, I knew how to count – een, twee, drie, vier, vijf, zes, zeven, acht, negen, tien – say ja, yes, nee, no, goedemorgen, good morning, and – naturally – Waar is het postkantoor? Where is the post office? This is easy!
I even came to a point where I used to walk down the street with my headphones on, repeating out loud like a madman phrases like Ik wil graag een tafel voor twee, I would like a table for two, scaring passersby in the process. (There are some decent podcasts available for free.) But then: reality check.
At last, I got to practise what I had learned. All those hours of zen-like study would finally pay off. As soon as I got off the plane, I ordered a beer in the native barman’s native language – een biertje alstublieft. Or I thought I had.
The native blinked. A second went by. Then another. Was that a grin? And then, instead of just reaching back to the fridge and getting a well-deserved cold beer, he let out a waterfall of syllables that sounded nothing like the nice lady on the CD. He was asking me something. But what?
Defeat. My cover was blown – if it had ever existed. Spreekt u engels? Do you speak English?
Disappointment settled in. The same scene continued to unfold, time and time again. Nobody told me it would be like this – especially not the nice lady on the CD.
Natives, it turns out, don’t pause after every word and don’t confine their vocabulary to Ik kom uit Brussel, I am from Brussels. Stupid language. I didn’t even want to learn it any more.
But then, after walking around for a week or two, listening carefully, I found myself picking up stuff - and this time, I knew. “Right, so that’s how you order a beer!”
Now, when I order a drink, I get what I want – most of the time. I often still have to ask if people speak English – but at least I do so in Greek.