Learning a closely related language

Ken writes:

It must feel funny to be a German speaker learning Dutch. To me it would feel strange to learn a language very closely related to my own. Danish and Swedish are mutually intelligible (at least some dialects are), so someone from Copenhagen and someone from Gothenburg can hold a conversation in which one person speaks Danish and the other person speaks Swedish each with their usual accent. I’ve witnessed that.
If the other language is mutually intelligible or almost mutually intelligible, then taking that step further and learning the language would feel like putting on an accent that you don’t normally have. It would be like putting on an American accent to speak to Americans or a Scottish accent to speak with the Scots. I think I would find that embarrassing and kinda like being phoney or fake.

I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s what occurred to me on my walk this morning.


3 thoughts on “Learning a closely related language

  1. Mairi Jay

    I’ll be interested to read any comments. Perhaps for me, the occasion that presented the nearest approximation was my first encounter with broad Glaswegian. I simply couldn’t understand it. And then my ear became attuned and I learned the words and expressions. Otherwise, the grammar was pretty much the same.

  2. cartside

    I’m German and learned Dutch. I don’t understand Dutch when it’s spoken at speed, but I can read and understand 85% and deduct the rest – but I’m a linguist. Yes, it’s like putting on an accent, but I feel like that with any language. I also put on an accent when I speak Irish, or Russian or Spanish. I like accents and trying to get pronunciation just right (when I read to my kids in English, I try to emulate the accent that goes with the book, so for Scottish fairytales I put on a Scottish accent which I don’t have when I speak English, and I love to read with an Irish accent). However, learning Dutch is more than that accent, the grammar is hard to remember because it’s so close to German, and it’s hard not to slip into German and to remember the slight distinctions. I found the same to be true when learning Italian (as a fluent Spanish speaker), and ended up just speaking Spanish with an Italian accent which worked better than applying grammatical knowledge and having an impatient interlocutor. The main thing that annoyed me about learning Dutch was that I’d speak Dutch in the Netherlands and got a response in perfect German…

    1. ken

      Thanks for the comment. I admit I was hoping you’d have something to say. It must be annoying when native speakers don’t acknowledge your attempts to speak their language. Maybe they are just using you as an opportunity to practice German…although if their German is perfect, they must know that already and know they don’t need to practice it.

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