It turns out many readers have had similar experiences with the bizarre English of Dutch speakers when they translate something all-too literally. Like Lucienne Van Hout from Puurs, whose colleague once told an English gentleman: “I am going to put out the flowers this evening!” Ik ga vanavond de bloemetjes buiten zetten means something like: I am going to go out and have fun tonight. It has nothing to do with daffodils or geraniums.
Or Catherine Purdie, an English-speaking Canadian married to a Fleming, who called her up one day and announced: “Well, the bullet is through the church!” After assuring her that nobody got shot in a church, her husband explained that their mortgage had finally been approved. De kogel is door de kerk means that a decision has been made, it’s a done deal.
Ah, the fun you can have speaking more than one language. I feel bad for those who don’t – almost half of all Europeans, according to new EU statistics. Their lives must be boring. Imagine the fun you could have speaking even more than two. I hereby estimate that the amount of fun doubles for every foreign language you manage to tame. If that is true, however, it would mean that Belgium is slowly becoming a less fun place.
The same new statistics, published two weeks ago, show that the number of people living in this funny little country and speaking at least two foreign languages has dropped by 16% to exactly half of the population. (As it is with EU statistics, this goes for Belgium as a whole. It is likely that for Flanders alone things are less dramatic.)
But there was also good news. Belgium is among those countries with the greatest proportion of people intending to start learning a language in the next year – 13%.
Of them, 60% said they were doing so in order to use a new language at work. That same proportion cited the reason of improving job prospects – often the case in Flanders. If you are among them, more power to you and veel succes, good luck!
Oh yeah, before I forget. My old colleague Natasja from when I used to teach Dutch in Brussels wrote me an email saying that last week, when I wrote about zin hebben in iets – feeling like doing something – I forgot to mention het o zo mooie Vlaamse woordje “goesting”, the oh so beautiful little word goesting, which is similar to zin. I stand corrected.