This past Friday was my birthday. And what better way to celebrate that then taking the day off from work? I am currently in the middle of reading Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commendatore, a novel published over two volumes (about 500 pages each!).
Thus Friday morning was a treat to myself: I went to the central library, ordered an iced coffee, and sat down in the café to read the second volume. In Dutch.
Two reasons that I mention that it was in Dutch:
- For some reason this novel won’t be released in English until October. Part 1 has been out since November in Dutch, and part two has been out since January. It’s crazy (but cool) to know you are reading something — and can read something — that hasn’t even been released in English yet.
- At some point during the morning I realized that there was a conversation going on to the right of me, at another table. Two women were talking in a mixture of Dutch and English, but since I had my headphones in I hadn’t realized right away. After a few minutes and based on the content of the conversation, I realized that it was probably a taalcoach and taalmaatje (language coach and student) from SamenSpraak.
And it was at that moment when I realized I have come a long way in the last five years, from barely knowing any Dutch to being 700 pages into what is effectively a 1,000+ page novel.
Yesterday I decided to try something new. A few months ago I had heard about Samen Spraak (speaking together), which is sponsored by Gilde Den Haag. The first Wednesday of every month they have Samenspraak Café in The Hague’s centraal library. You can go there and speak with other people in Dutch – both with native Dutch speakers and with foreigners who are learning the language.
In addition, you have an intake meeting where they ask what your interests are. Based on that they pair you up with someone who can help you learn the language (and you both learn about each other’s culture). They suggest that you meet weekly but understand if that doesn’t work out. The two speakers need to schedule when they will meet. It’s a volunteer effort but requires some subsidy to keep it running – everyone pays 25 euros.
When I went there last night I lucked out because the same woman who had told me about it a few months ago was the person who spied me standing there looking a bit lost. Although you can arrive anytime between 5:30 – 7:30PM, it was already pretty crowded by 5:45 when I arrived. There weren’t many chairs left to be found, but she sat me next to a lovely gentleman who has been living in the Netherlands for almost 15 years. After a few minutes more people arrived and the table was full.
There was also a few ladies from Russia, a native Dutch speaker who works in parliament as a stenographer, and a gentleman who spoke mostly Arabic and was also keen to learn English. As I had moved pretty recently, my Dutch speaking skills were still pretty rusty. Everyone was patient though, and the woman I mentioned before also slipped in a few English words here and there when she realized I couldn’t exactly follow the subject of the conversation. I ended up staying for the full two hours, although I definitely had a slight headache after that due to the amount of concentration needed to listen to the Dutch. But I did pretty well!