Learning to speak again

We pedal through trees
search for Vincent’s starry night;
the moon as waxy as those
weighed by the cheese carriers

England, 2019.

It’s taken nearly forty years to start speaking Dutch again. There have been half hearted attempts to learn, but I’ve never stuck the course.

When people find out that I spoke Dutch as a child, the usual response is ‘it’ll be there somewhere’. I think of a door opening in my brain and all the unspoken words tumble out. A coma victim who wakes up fluent in a foreign language they previously were unable to speak.

Learning Dutch as an adult is slow and clumsy; like learning to speak again. The words look and sound familiar, but my mouth is full of marbles, trying to read the text.

tja, tjonge 

de eeuw, de leeuw 

I am most at home with the shape of the Dutch sound, remembering where words or consonants are stressed in a sentence. I realise my approach to languages is not dissimilar to writing poetry. Ten percent paid to the ‘rules’ and the rest done intuitively through sound. No wonder the French teacher despaired.

By the end of week two, we are able to have a conversation about where we live. 

Tutor: Waar woon je?
Me: Ik woon in ____
Tutor: Nee! Ik woon ook in ____! 

It turns out we have lived in the same village for years, but our paths have never crossed. It is one of those moments when someone has given my strings a jerk. I offer to give the tutor a lift home, meaning there’s no excuse to skive off the classes.  Even better, she’s not set fire to my homework.