I passed!

Some joyful news: I received word in the mail yesterday that (drum roll, please) ... I passed my Dutch exam! Remember, the one I took exactly 7 weeks ago today and tomorrow?! I wanted to share the good news with all of you. It's a good feeling ... and a time of transition for me. Last year I was half student, half urban ministry worker. This year I am transitioning into full time urban ministry worker. The fact that I passed my exam gives me a sense of closure I was longing for. I need that bit of "finished-ness" in order to feel able to move on into full time work. So I am grateful ... grateful that I passed, but even more than that, grateful that I have been given this opportunity to live and work and study in another culture, a culture that I am finding to be rich, full, and beautiful as well as challenging and perspective-shattering and just utterly different.

If you remember, the exam I took consisted of four parts: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. In order to pass, I needed to score 500 points per part. My results were as follows:

Reading: 632
Listening: 556
Speaking: 574
Writing: 564

I was not surprised that Reading was the strongest: that is the skill that has always come easiest for me. What did surprise me was that Speaking wasn't the weakest, for that was the section of the exam that I dreaded and feared the most. Speaking a new language is one of the scariest things I've ever attempted, especially in the first few months, when it's a big struggle just to come up with a few words to construct a simple sentence. Later, the vocabulary comes easier, but the grammar remains thorny. And the more you learn about grammar, the more you are aware when sentences you utter "just don't sound right." The more you speak a language, and the better you are able to speak it, the more you realize just how far you have yet to go! At least, that's been my experience.

Such is my journey with language learning. But the joys are well worth the struggles it takes to get there. It was exhilarating these past four weeks to travel through Africa with a group of Dutch young adults, to switch from English (the languge with which we spoke to most Africans) to Dutch, and to be able to function adequately in both languages. After awhile, I began to realize that all the English I was speaking was slowly but surely corroding my Dutch grammar ... but I have faith that my return to the NL will have the opposite effect!

In any case, language is powerful. And learning another one is something that has changed me in ways that I am just beginning to understand. When I am speaking in Dutch, my personality is slightly different, I think: more reserved, less gregarious. Part of that is the hesitation and lack of surety inherent in functioning in a second language. But part of that is also Dutch culture rubbing off on me, shaping me, influencing me. A famous Dutch proverb is: "Act normally; that's crazy enough." And this cultural value of sobriety and anti-extravagance shines through the language! In Dutch, it would be exaggerating to say that a sunset is "amazing" or "wondrous" or "fantastic" or "breath-taking." Instead, the sunset is simply "beautiful."

I've read lots of articles and heard lots of sermons about the virtues of simple living. I wonder what we North Americans can learn from the Dutch about the virtues of simple talking?