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I’m Learning Dutch Super Quickly (And You Can Too)

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This post has nothing to do with sheep

When we met, I thought there was something a little odd about Boyfriend’s accent.

To the untrained ear, it sounds like a perfect example of Queen’s English. But when he admitted to the other pub quiz members that he’s not British, I got it. He was Dutch, and I’d spent enough time around Dutch people at Nintendo to know that “more-perfect-than-perfect” accent anywhere.

As a person who loves languages, I love any excuse to start speaking something new and so I started studying Dutch in secret, with the plan to just come out with a load of it one day and amaze him.

Here’s a thing – I am terrible at keeping things quiet when I’m excited about them, so of course I let de kat out of de zak way too soon.

But luckily, I am learning pretty quickly, so it now means that I can drop Dutch into normal conversation pretty easily. The Boyfriend says I am a genius to be able to learn so quickly. Ha. I wish. I just have a winning method for picking up languages, and I would like to share it with you now.

You can use this method on a whole range of languages (though there are limits, as I’ll explain).

Step One: Get Dutch into my brain.

When I was studying Japanese, I found that sitting over books all day got me absolutely nowhere. It was only when I started to use the podcast Japanesepod101 every day that things seemed to fit into place. Walking to university took about 30 -40 minutes, and I would listen to the podcasts during this time.

It made a huge different to have the language going into my ears passively. When I went to Japan and had Japanese all around me the whole time, it was even better and my brain turned into a sponge.

The languagepod101 series are quite good, but I have found something even better: The Michel Thomas series. This is how I learnt German when I moved there.

Michel Thomas was an absolute dude of the highest rank. Being Polish, he escaped the Nazis eventually after being captured and tortured a bunch of times, and then after the war he escaped to the US. You should totally read his wiki page because he is really awesome.

His language tapes aren’t the traditional kind where you’re repeating after the teacher, who, without hearing you (since they are a recording, of course) says that you’re doing well. He has two students in the room, and it is to them that he teaches. I swear they choose really simple people to play these roles (maybe to make the listener feel better about themselves?)

The languages are built up brick by brick. For example:

Do you want

Do you want it

Do you want it to eat

Do you want it to eat or drink

What do you want

What do you drink

And so on…until you think to yourself “hang on, I think I might be speaking a whole new language!”

I listen to the Dutch tapes (which sadly doesn’t have Michel himself as the German ones do, but this real “mumsy” kind of woman who sounds like she’d give you a massive hug, a glass of milk and a cookie when you make mistakes) in my car either to or from work. Each CD has about 15 tracks on it, and I get through them in a week, with me listening through it at least twice before moving on.

Step Two: Get Words In My Eyes

When I studied French at school, I hated it. Up until GCSE (16 years) I remember mainly making posters and memorising a small speech about my work experience (a lot of which I can still recite to this day). After GCSE I took it up at A Level, and the difficulty jump was massive. Even though the class had just 6 of us in it (because that’s how many people were stupid enough to take A Level French), the teacher was tired and gave us lists and lists of words to learn, so we could understand the books.

I did really badly at it; I had zero motivation (I only took it so that I could take Japanese at university) and sitting memorising loads of stuff just is not my bag.

My teacher told me that since I “could not grasp French, you should just give up on Japanese since you’ll get nowhere with it”. 10 years later, I am fluent in Japanese, conversational in German and can also get by in Chinese, Korean and now Dutch. I wouldn’t even try to use French.

Unless you have the type of brain that loves lists of stuff to memorise, then this is not a good method to learn a language. But you need to know loads of new words, right?

There is another way. Let me introduce Duolingo.com to you.

duolingo

Duolingo is a free, online, language learning programme which is nothing short of awesome. It works with you translating lots of sentences which get progressively more difficult and are split up into categories like “prepositions” and “clothes”.

You can see above there’s the sentence in Dutch, which looks a bit intimidating. But you can hover over the words to remember which each one is. They used to penalise you for this, but the website has changed over the years and it doesn’t anymore.

It gets you to do sentence after sentence and slowly, you’re learning grammar, vocabulary and word order without much effort at all. What’s more, there’s a points table and you can connect with friends on there. I have a friend in Germany who, apparently, is learning every language under the sun right now and so I always try to keep up with her.

Dutch is quite hard visually because it’s not said as it’s written. “Goed” is said something like “hhuuid”, with lots of throat-usage while you’re at it (steady, sailor). So if you want to properly learn the language, you need to be using something to learn to read and write it.

 

There are, of course, more steps to this method. But frankly, I’ve not got there yet. I plan to use memrise.com to build on my vocab when I get better, and also to speak with the boyfriend when I can. There’s a Dutch manager (quite high up) who I had to give some documents to the other day. In an email to him today I tagged onto the end that I am studying Dutch and he told me that when he’s in the office next time we can chat in Dutch. EEEEK. I think bullying myself into Dutch situations is the best way to improve; it’s how I got to be good at Japanese, after all.

Lastly, you can follow these two steps and learn languages super fast as long as your language is listed in both Michel Thomas courses and on Duolingo. The listening course is a little limited and sticks to European languages, but Duolingo has an ever-growing range these days (including Irish and Turkish and other cool things like that!)

If anyone has awesome language-learning tools to recommend to me, I’d love to hear them!

About My Emotionally Abusive Relationship

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For years I have kept this post in the blogging bank section of my brain. I’ve always wanted to write about this experience but have never really thought that I had enough distance from it all to be able to post something like this. After my friend Kate posted something similar, I thought I’d take the leap and finally write this up.

I fell pretty much as soon as I met him. Though we were completely different, in age, looks, background, I found his charm irresistible. He was a person who had done things with his life, who had really interesting interests, who knew things I didn’t know and would tell me with great passion about everything. [Read more…]

10 Twisted Myths about Japan – Debunked!

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When I tell people I’ve lived in Japan, people usually reply asking me if something about Japan is true. Usually, it is not. I’ve written before about how frustrated I get when people think Japanese culture is all about weird sexual preferences, but I thought I’d write again about 10 things that just aren’t true.

  1. Japanese men are not all perverts.

Nope. I mean, some of them, sure. But no more than any other place, I bet.

“But Charlotte, what about those weird pervy manga comics? Don’t they even read them on the trains?” Yeah, but come on, in the UK we have a topless woman on the 3rd page of one of the (sadly) most popular papers. And then there are lads’s mags, which are full of semi naked women posing between articles. These things may be very different to dodgy manga, but they are still on a similar level of perviness.

  1. It’s unlikely you’ll be molested on the trains.

“Wait, don’t they have to have women’s train carriages in Japan because the men can’t keep their hands to themselves?!”

If you’re a Japanese woman, the sad fact is that there is a chance of you being touched on a busy train. I once tried to ask Japanese friends about it, so I could understand how often this happens, but they weren’t very keen to talk about it. If you are a foreign woman, Japanese men would probably be way too scared to lay a finger on you.

And anyway, if you’re worried about this, you can always use the women’s carriages of trains. It differs from city to city but the Nagoya ones at least ran as female-only from 5pm – 8pm on weekdays, since that’s when the rush hour was (and having lots of people squeezed next to each other makes it easy to grab someone). If you are a man, be aware that if you are in a women’s carriage when the clock strikes 5pm, you’ll end up being pretty embarrassed.

  1. You won’t be finding used underwear machines.

They are illegal. It is a myth.

  1. Japanese women don’t need you to save them.

When I went to study in Japan I was at a university for women. It’s one of the most prestigious women’s universities not academically but for producing young ladies of the highest quality – fit to marry any politician or high profile, high earning business man.

One day, I said to the Japanese guy I was dating that I felt sorry for my classmates since they have no choice in life but to work in a meaningless job for a year or so, then find a guy to marry, then quit their job, have a baby and then be a housewife for ever more. He told me that they don’t need me to feel sorry for them, that they are perfectly happy with this situation.

True enough, in speaking with my classmates, they really did just want to have lovely families. Sure, there were probably some of them who probably wanted to be career women, but in the same way that in the culture I grew up in it’s common for women to aspire to have jobs, it’s common for Japanese women to aspire to have families.

Japan has one of the largest gender gaps in the developed world, but it seems there are women fighting for the gap to be closed. Whether they are close to doing that or not, I don’t know. But what they don’t really need is for the west to look down on them while they work this out, and they don’t need rescuing because that’s just patronising.

  1. Japanese people cannot automatically speak Chinese, and vice versa.

English is like German. Just because you can understand English doesn’t mean you can understand German. Oder?

  1. Japan isn’t all skyscrapers with busy streets.

The Japanese countryside is gorgeous. Hills and fields and trees…ahhh I swear Japan is one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

  1. Manga doesn’t equal porn.

Just like how novels come in all kinds, manga (Japanese cartoons – NOT anime which is animation) also comes in all kinds. There are kids’ manga, girls’ manga, boys’ manga, women’s manga…and dirty old men manga!

Before you start judging manga, do a little research. There’s so many great titles that have been translated into different languages today and many chain bookshops stock manga these days. I love girls’ manga from the late 80’s…like Tenshi Nanka Jyanai¬†and Itazura na Kiss.

  1. Japanese people DO know English…

Japanese adults have learnt English from junior high school to high school, and Japanese young people have probably learnt it from elementary school. BUT, especially from junior high on, they learn grammar so that they can pass tests. They don’t learn how to have a conversation. So if you are lost in Tokyo there may be a brave person who wants to use their English on you but a lot of other Japanese people will be scared that you’ll ask them something and they won’t understand.

  1. Japanese isn’t that hard.

“Oh, you speak Japanese, that must mean you’re clever!”

Haha, I wish. Here’s an awesome link from Tofugu explaining why Japanese isn’t that hard at all.

  1. Gaming isn’t making Japanese people forget about sex.

Late last year the BBC was craping itself over having created an amazing story to tell – that Japanese guys prefer 2d girls to sex with real women. Only, that story wasn’t true. Some Japanese men (and women!) like to play dating gaming but it’s no more worrying than men who like page 3 girls in Britain. There may be men who like to spend a lot of alone time with pictures of the topless models, and in Japan there may be men who prefer to spend all their efforts on fictional girls in games. But neither country is suddenly sexless because of either of these things.

Around the time the BBC’s documentary and article came out, a Japanese speaking friend went through and tried to find the Japanese sources of all the BBC’s facts. Guess what? Most of them were greatly misquoted and some seemed to be made up. So even with the BBC, don’t believe all you’re told!

 

So there we have it! Do you know any myths about Japan that need to be debunked? Let me know in the comments!

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