I just found out, for example, that the US State Department estimates that it should take a native speaker of English no more than 24 weeks (or 600 class hours) to reach “general professional proficiency”. If that throws you off after years and years of faithful practice and having not much more to show for than dank je wel, alstublieft, then I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. I meant to say: Don’t give up, it’s possible.
The best way to learn a new language, I’ve always found, is to fall in love. Love is a language in itself, so to say, but, at some point, you are going to have to talk to each other.
But if that strategy isn’t working out, then try watching TV. Commit yourself to tuning into the news on VRT, everyday at 19.00 (or online). Even if it is all gibberish at first, soon enough you’ll start to distinguish words from coughing.
Also, go to Teletext page number 888 and adjust your settings to enable the subtitles for the hard of hearing. Then, after a week or two, try to watch without them. You’ll see the progress you’ve made. Watching TV with subtitles is a great way to learn languages, since you get all this extra visual aid. The star of the movie points at a horse and says: “Paard!” Now you know.
It is not a coincidence that people from places that always use subtitles – Flanders, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries – are better at speaking foreign languages (though mostly English). Portugal also uses subtitles but has only been an open democracy since 1974 and until now hasn’t had much foreign-language programming. At least, that’s my train of thought – please correct me if I’m wrong.
I’ve always been of the opinion that the EU should impose the mandatory use of subtitles. In one or two generations, we’d all do a much better job at understanding each other. And then there’s radio. It doesn’t have the visual extras but will help you to get used to the sound of the language. In the car to and from work, for example. Do that every day, and you’ll see.
The last thing I want to say is: Ik ben blij om weer terug te zijn – I’m happy to be back.
VRT news (DON’T click on English!): www.deredactie.be
Contact Talking Dutch at editorial<at>flanderstoday.eu or on twitter @philipebels