03 March 2014

The Expat Experience: The Unexpected Challenge

Moving abroad brings its own unique set of challenges no matter where you go. Even "serial expats" find new challenges in each location - many of which center around language. Our move to the Netherlands has been no different, and language continues to be a daily challenge.

Dutch is a difficult language to learn - this is something that almost every Dutch person I have met will tell me, and I can't help but agree with them. To me, the words are totally unique, related to German, related to English, or related to French. The pronunciation is hard - there are sounds that do no exist in American English that I'm now training my mouth to make, and I often feel like I'm walking around with a giant question mark hovering over my head. But what may surprise you (and it's certainly surprised me) is that the main part of my "language challenge" is that many people simply speak English to me.

The Dutch are amazing with their English. The schools teach English and other languages, and some high schools even teach all subjects in English, the idea being that in a country with a relatively small population in an ever globalizing economy people will benefit from knowing more languages. Because of this very forward thinking attitude, most people I come in contact with are minimally "conversationally fluent" and are often keen on speaking English when my Dutch takes a turn for the incomprehensible. It's an act of kindness, and often I feel better to be relieved of the embarrassment, but it makes it harder to learn Dutch.

I need to force myself to keep speaking Dutch, even when I struggle, and not fall back on the reliance that everyone speaks English. It's an unexpected challenge in the language learning process, but I'm up for it. So here's to keeping up the motivation and powering through.

Today's post is part of the Expat Experience Link Up hosted by Molly at The Move to America. Please be sure to check out the other great posts on today's topic.

The Move to America


  1. Danica Bridges-Martin03 March, 2014 19:36

    I also had that problem when I first started speaking Dutch, I found that if I just kept on in Dutch they would eventually get the point and speak Dutch in return. I've been here over 10yrs and still struggle with the language... even though my friends say I'm basically fluent I know they're just being polite, ha-ha!
    :) Danica

  2. Haha, guilty as charged, ive changed to english to help someone in a conversation. Its pretty much a hit or miss situation, sometimes people are relieved, other times they get frustrated or angry. In hindsight its pretty rude, because it says 'right...your dutch sucks...lets try this instead'. On the other hand, sometimes people really want the help, but are too stubborn to ask....
    On the language learning subject... Have you tried posting in dutch? Or do you read dutch books? Its a great way to learn. Not sure if watching english movies on dutch tv is a good idea, because often the subtitles are horribly wrong.

  3. I struggle finding the motivation to learn German. I think it comes along in waves. Good for you for keepin on!

  4. Thank you so much for joining in with the linky!

    i must admit, I think anyone who moves to a place where they have to learn the language is really brave and I take my hat off to you - it must be tricky to keep motivation (something I would struggle with).

  5. That's interesting - I feel like continuing to speak in Dutch often has no effect, but there are kind souls out there that let me bumble through. It's certainly not an easy language, but if you can get your points across, then you're probably winning =)


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