22 August 2005

Learning languages

My girlfriend and I had an exchange yesterday that reminded me that my knowledge of Dutch (and all other languages besides English) is Paris-Hilton-shallow:

Me, looking at the baseball results on the computer: "Jesus! My pitcher got murdered today!"
Her, slightly alarmed: "Really???"
Me, a bit abashed: "No, not really ... I mean, he gave up a lot of runs today."

The point being, my girlfriend (whose native tongue is German) speaks very good English, and even she still sometimes gets tripped up by expressions like that (although she is picking up the rules and jargon of baseball, so even those won't trouble her much any more). In stark contrast, my Dutch is good enough to get by in many common situations, but is still so poor that even if I understand the literal meaning of an expression, I'm very unlikely to grok the true meaning. The sweet seduction of beer, books, and the X-box leave me with little time or motivation to improve my language skills. My carefully constructed excuse for this laziness goes like this: I don't plan on living in Holland the rest of my life, maybe only a couple years more, who knows, so becoming fluent in a language that is fairly useless outside of the Netherlands and northern Belgium will have a poor payoff in the long-run. Thus, my failure to improve my Dutch constitutes sound long-term planning. See how that works? That's the result of years of convoluted rationalization.

But sometimes I wonder if improving my Dutch would be worth it for its own sake, both to improve my experience while I am living here, and for the intellectual boost of mastering another language. I kind of think it would be.

Here, for your enjoyment, are a few Dutch idioms that I have picked up in my time here:

"Schiet op" -- literally: "shoot up". In English: "hurry up".

"Ik keek met mijn neus" -- literally: "I looked with my nose". That's what they say for the occasion when you overlook something that's right in front of you.

"Lange tenen" -- literally: "long toes". A person with long toes is easily offended.

"Daar zit hij nu met zijn gebakken peren" -- literally: "There he sits with his fried pears". This is my favorite, although I'm not entirely clear on its usage. One plausible explanation I've heard is that it's the equivalent of the British term "Billy no-mates" -- i.e. a friendless person who threw a party and cooked up a dessert and everything, and nobody showed up, so the person is left sitting with the fried fruit.


At 23 August, 2005 00:44, Anonymous Nighthunter said...

don't forget "gaan met die banaan!"

the "gebakken peren" is a good one. it just means that you're in an undesirable situation.

and if you leave someone with the "gebakken peren" it means you let them down

At 23 August, 2005 10:59, Blogger contrarybear said...

Oh, and "Lekker belangrijk!"

At 23 August, 2005 11:05, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 07 September, 2005 00:56, Anonymous Nighthunter said...

man, you're slackin'

more entries, please!

vooruit met de geit


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