Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Cats, Windmills, Marionettes and More in Dutch Idioms

Scared cat in a treeDutch is spoken by 23 million people as a mother tongue. It's the only official language in the Netherlands, and one of three official languages in the neighboring province of Flanders, Belgium. 

It also holds official status in Suriname (South America) and in the Caribbean countries of Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten.

Dutch is closely related to both English and German, and it's often said that in respect to grammar and vocabulary, Dutch comes between the two. (You'll find examples from the idioms below at the end of the post)

And even if you don't speak Dutch, you're sure to be amused by these 10 typical expressions.

What got me going on this blog post was the idiom "de kat uit de boom kijken". My Dutch mom loved to use it and I, of course, knew what it meant. But I never really understood the literal meaning. In English, the literal translation is "to look the cat out of the tree". Huh?

So when my husband - who is learning Dutch - asked me to explain what that means, I couldn't. But his question did get me to find out what's behind the saying. Here it is. And I've added a few other fun idioms that I grew up with.

1. De kat uit de boom kijken.

Idiom: To see which way the wind blows
Literally: Watching the cat [until it comes] out of the tree  (Photo by Lalita Tretiakova on Unsplash)
Explanation: To wait, not react immediately, but to first look carefully to see what's happening.
Origin: Onzetaal (see link at the bottom) suggests that the saying may go back to the way a dog will chase a cat up a tree, but then wait until the cat comes down again because dogs don't climb on trees. Apparently, the expression appeared already in the 18th century in a collection of proverbs.
Dutch Explanation: Afwachten, niet meteen reageren, maar eerst goed kijken wat er er aan de hand is.
German Idiom: Erst einmal sehen, wie der Hase läuft. (First of all see how the rabbit runs.)

2. Maak dat de kat wijs.

Idiom: Tell me another.
Literally: Make the cat believe that.
Explanation: Essentially, this idiom means: I don't believe you. Tell this nonsense to someone else.
The Dutch phrase "iemand iets wijsmaken" means "to make someone believe something (that may not be true)".
Dutch Explanation: Ik geloof je niet. Vertel die onzin maar ergens anders.

3. Een kat in de zak kopen.

Idiom: To buy a pig in a poke
Literally: Buying a cat in the bag
Explanation: Buying something without having looked at it before.
Origin: In earlier times, merchants at a market would often put a worthless cat into the bag instead of the pig or hare a person paid for. This worked especially well with inattentive customers.
Dutch Explanation: Iets kopen zonder het gezien te hebben.
German Idiom: Die Katze im Sack kaufen. (To buy the cat in a the sack.)

4. De molen is door de vang. Dutch windmill at rest

Idiom: It all went south.
Literally: The (wind) mill has [broken through] the catch. (This picture of a Dutch windmill was taken during our 2016 Canal boating trip in the Netherlands.)
Explanation: Everything is going wrong. The matter is lost.
Origin: The Dutch term "de vang" on a windmill is "the catch" or "the drum brake", which prevents the wheel from moving on its own, even in a storm. When the brake no longer holds, you lose control over the turning of the mill and that can cause problems or even accidents.
Dutch Explanation: Alles gaat helemaal mis, alles loopt fout. De zaak is verloren.

5. Dat is koren op zijn molen.

Idiom: That plays directly into his hands.
Literally: That is grain on his mill.
Explanation: That's useful to him. He'll use that as an argument for what he wants anyway.
Origin: Although windmills in the Netherlands were mostly used to pump water from lower lying areas, they were also used to crush grain.
Dutch Explanation: Dat komt hem goed van pas. Hij zal dat meteen gebruiken als argument voor wat hij toch al wilde
German: Das is Wasser auf seine Mühle. (In Germany there were many more watermills than windmills!)

Cattle eating grass on Dutch pasture near canal6. Over koetjes en kalfjes praten.

Idiom: To make small talk
Literally: Talking about little cows and little calves (Photo by Alwin Kroon on Unsplash)
Explanation: To talk about unimportant things.
Origin: This expression very likely originated in the Dutch countryside where farmers talk about their cattle with each other. But the idiom turns the meaning around: what may be important for farmers, turns out to be unimportant to everyone else.
Dutch Explanation: Over onbeduidende zaken spreken.

7. Een wit voetje willen halen.

Idiom: To curry favor
Literally: Wanting to get a little white foot.
Explanation: Seeking to advance oneself, often through flattery or fawning.
Origin: This curious expression goes back to an earlier time, when you had to pay toll while passing from one region to another. Apparently, if you had a horse with four white feet, you lucked out and did not have to pay. Later, when it became a more general idiom, one little white foot was enough.
Dutch Explanation: Bij iemand in de gunst willen komen, vaak door slijmen.

8. Van de prins geen kwaad weten.

Idiom: Butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.
Literally: To know no evil of the prince.
Explanation: a) To be totally innocent. b) To pretend you don't know anything about what's going on.
Origin: This is an old expression, dating back to the 17th century. Very likely, it refers to a prince from the House of Orange. You were either totally innocent and knew nothing. Or, you were aware that it was dangerous to speak badly about a powerful person, so it was better to keep such thoughts to yourself.
Dutch: a) Totaal onschuldig zijn. b) Doen als of je niets weet.

9. Nu komt de aap uit de mouw.

Idiom: The cat is out of the bag.
Literally: Now the monkey comes out of the sleeve.
Explanation: When it's suddenly clear what's going on.
Origin: This goes back to the magician's art of suddenly popping a monkey out of his sleeve. It suggests that something that was kept hidden suddenly comes out, for example someone's true intentions or character.
Dutch: Als ineens duidelijk wordt hoe iets zit.

10. Nu heb je de poppen aan het dansen.Dancing Marionettes

Idiom: Now the fat is in the fire.
Literally: Now you have the dolls dancing. (Photo by Sagar Dani on Unsplash)
Explanation: The quarrel or fight is starting. There's trouble ahead.
Origin: Puppet shows have been a popular form of entertainment since the Middle Ages. When the dolls start dancing - i.e. the puppet show starts - it's the beginning of conflict, quarrels, etc. Nowadays, the expression used for the moment when problems arise, when something starts going wrong.
Dutch Explanation: De ruzie of twist is begonnen. Problemen zijn onvermeidbaar.

In these our restless times, the last expression seems to come up a lot. I've heard it several times when listening to the daily Dutch Podcast on NCR Vandaag, and most recently in the one talking about the German Wirecard scandal.

It's almost impossible to find the absolute equivalent of an idiom in another language, because expressions are often shaped by a people's culture. For example, the Dutch idiom "nu heb je de poppen aan het dansen" contains an "entertainment" factor (it's a "show"!), which "fat is in the fire" doesn't have.

To find out more about the above idioms or to look for others, go on these sites 33 Dutch Idioms, Onzetaal, A Taste of Dutch.

You may not speak Dutch, but if you speak English or German you'll find that these three Germanic languages share many cognates. In some of these, the meaning changes somewhat. Here are a few  examples from the idioms above:

English

Dutch

German

the cat

de kat

die Katze

make

maken

machen

the sack

de zak

der Sack

the mill

de molen

die Mühle

through

door

durch

the cow

de koe

die Kuh

the foot

de voet

der Fuß

come

komen

kommen

the puppet

de pop

die Puppe

dance

dansen

tanzen

Our recent posts looked at German, French, Italian and Spanish idioms

Dutch isn't one of our four languages that you can practice on GamesforLanguage.

However, if you want to learn some basics in Dutch: greetings, polite phrases or travel terms, go to our - also completely free - sister site Lingo-Late, where we have 30+ or so Dutch phrases. You can Listen, Record Yourself, and Playback Your Voice, as many times as you want to learn and practice.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Discovering Pennsylvania Dutch with “Speaking Amish”

Amish Horse and carriage in Pennsylvania Dutch countryRecently, after attending a family wedding in Virginia, we drove back to Boston via Pennsylvania Dutch country.

We knew that the Amish and many Mennonites speak German dialects, but otherwise knew little about the history and language of these group.

(If you read our posts about Northern Germany, or Seville Spain, you know that we enjoy learning about dialects.)

Yes, we also saw several of the black Amish buggies (see picture), but we wanted to look especially into the language angle.

Passing through Lancaster county, we stopped off at the Mennonite Information Center to learn about the Pennsylvania Dutch language (also known as Pennsylvania German).

At the Center, we saw a film about the history and culture of the Amish, and we bought a book "Speaking Amish" - A Beginner's Introduction to Pennsylvania German, by Lillian Stoltzfus, which I'll review briefly below.

In her introduction, Stoltzfus explains: "Pennsylvania German is spoken throughout the United States and Canada. Although people from each region can understand each other, each region speaks it a little differently."

What surprised us was to learn that most Pennsylvania Dutch speakers are ethnically Swiss.

A Little History: Why Swiss?

2017 is the year that Protestants are celebrating the 500th anniversary of Luther posting his 95 Theses in Wittenberg, Germany.

It was in Switzerland that the Anabaptist movement originally began in the 1520s, as a radical offshoot of Ulrich Zwingli's Reformation in Switzerland. The movement slowly spread through western Europe.

In Switzerland, the Anabaptists were persecuted for their beliefs. Many fled to the Palatinate, a region in the southwest of Germany. The Palatinate (historically, "die Rheinpfalz") lies west of the state of Hessen and northwest of Baden-Württemberg.

As time went on, Anabaptist followers pickedup the name "Mennonite" after Menno Simons," Mennonite & Amish migration mapa Friesian religious leader, who was active as a religious leader from 1537 to 1561. The "Amish" were named after Jakob Ammann, a Swiss leader of the Anabaptist movement from 1680 to 1712.

From the late 1640s on, numerous Anabaptist families (who first called themselves "Swiss Bretheren") arrived in Pennsylvania as a result of William Penn's experiment in religious tolerance. Amish and Mennonite families followed in the early 1700s.

A large number of Anabaptist followers came from the Palatinate (to where the Swiss had fled), and a smaller number from Alsace and Switzerland.

The map above from the Mennonite Information Center shows the migration of the Amish and Mennonites through the centuries. (Black lines: Amish to Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois, other colors: Mennonites' migrations.)

The Palatinate Dialect

The German spoken in the Palatinate (i.e. "Pfälzisch") is the linguistic ancestor of the Pennsylviania Dutch dialect. Palatine German belongs to the West Franconian group or dialects.

Pennsylvania Dutch (i.e. Pennsylvania German) is the primary language of most Amish and conservative Mennonite communities living in the United States today.

Why Pennsylvania "Dutch"?

A possible explanation for the use of "Dutch" (to mean German) is that in the English of the 18th and 19th centuries, the term "Dutch" included what we now call Dutch, Flemish and German.

At that time, you distinguished between "High Dutch" (German) and "Low Dutch" (Dutch, Flemish). Germany did not become a country until 1871. There were only Hessians, Prussians, Bavarians, etc. , citizens of the many kingdoms and duchies that eventually became part of the German nation.

For English speakers they were all “Dutch"!

Quick Review of "Speaking Amish"

Speaking Amish Cover photo Lillian Stoltzfus' book is a delightful introduction to Pennsylvania German and includes suggestions on how to best study.

The book is made up of 25 short lessons, each with five to ten new words that are shown together with a picture to help memorization. In the lessons you get clear and practical Phonetic, Grammar and Culture Tips.

There are also short exercises, with the answers given in the back. The audios for each lesson are between one and two minutes long and spoken naturally by two children and as well as Lillian Stoltzfus herself.

At the end of the book, there are several Verb Charts and a Phonetics Chart for reference.

The Pronunciation of Pennsylvania Dutch (PD)

Every dialect of a language has its characteristic pronunciation. The CD that comes with "Speaking Amish" is really helpful. But for me it's hard to describe pronunciation without audio.

Still, for anyone who knows some Standard German (SG), here are 3 characteristics of Pennsylvania Dutch (PD).

1) PD has no umlauts: no "ä", "ö", "ü", and also no "äu"/"eu".
To produce the equivalent sounds in PD, you "unround" your lips (pull them apart): For example:

• SG "dünn" - PD "dinn" (rhymes with "thin")
• SG "Löffel" - PD "Leffel" (vowel as in "left")
• SG "Deutsch" - PD "Deitsch" (vowel as in "hi")

2) In PD "ch" usually has a "sch" sound. For example:

• SG "ich" - PD "isch"
• SG "du bist" - PD "du bischt"
• SG "richtig" - PD "rischtisch"

3) Sounds at the end of a syllable or the end of words are often dropped. For example:

• SG "haben" - PD "hann"
• SG "Hunde" - PD "Hunn"
• SG "müde" - PD "miid"

Daily Vocabulary

The vocabulary lists below are all taken from "Speaking Amish". As Lillian Stoltzfus explains in her introduction, the words she teaches in the book are all from Pennsylvania German spoken in Lancaster county, or even more specifically from those spoken in her family.

Speakers from other regions in the U.S. or Canada, may have different words and various pronunciations.

Commonly used Nouns

Pennsylvania German uses three articles for "the":

• der (with masculine nouns), die (with feminine nouns, es (with neuter nouns)
• die Schprooch - SG "die Sprache" (the language/dialect)
• es Ess-sach - SG "das Essen" (the food)
• die Kich - SG "die Küche" (the kitchen)
• die Schtubb - SG "die Stube" (the room)
• der Gaarde - SG "der Garten" (the garden)
• die Arwet - SG "die Arbeit" (the work)
• der Nochber - SG "der Nachbar" (the neighbor)
• der Bu - SB "der Bub" (the boy)
• es Meedel - SB "das Mädel" (the girl)
die Gmee - SG "die Gemeinde" (the church)

Commonly used Verbs

Pennsylvania German has these pronouns that combine with personal verb forms:

• ich (I), du (you), er (he), sie (she), es (it), mir (we), dir (you pl.), sie (they)
• hawwe - SG "haben" (to have)
• gewwe - SG "geben" (to give)
• schreiwe - SG "schreiben" (to write)
• gleiche - SG "mögen" (to like)
• schaffe - SG "arbeiten" (to work)
• laafe - SG "laufen" (to walk)
• duh - SG "tun" (to do)
• hocke - SG "sitzen" (to sit)
• butze - SG "putzen" (to clean)
• wuhne - SG "wohnen" (to live)

Words similar to English

Not surprisingly, English words have become part of Pennsylvania Dutch: 

• die Schtori - SG "die Geschichte" (the story)
• der Boi - SG "der (Obst)kuchen" (the pie)
• der Daett - SG "der Papa" (the dad)
• schmaert - SG "klug" (smart)
• die Dallbopp - SG "die Puppe" (the doll)
• der Pickder - SG "das Bild" (the picture)
die Gwilt - SG "die Steppdecke" (the quilt)
der Schtor - SG "der Laden" (the store)

Do Native Germans Understand Pennsylvania Dutch?

In Germany itself, there are a large number of dialects, and not every German speaker understands all of the other dialects of Germany really well. It generally depends on where a person is from and what experience with German dialects he or she has had.

Under the YouTube video: Lillian an Daniel Stoltzfus Lancaster County, which shows some interviews in Pennsylvania Dutch, there are a few of comments by native German speakers.

• "I am from the south-west of Germany and I understand the most. It is more the dialect of this part of Germany where I live.
(Ich komme aud dem Süd-Westen Deutschland und ich verstehe das meiste. Es ist mehr der Dialekt von diesem Teil Deutschlands wo ich wohne.)"

• "Sounds almost like Palatinate German mixed with American English. Many Pennsylvanian families come from the region here. So, it wouldn't surprise me.
[In Palatinate dialect]: (Klingt fascht wie Pälzisch mit Amerikanisches Englisch gemischt. Viele Pennslyfaanischi Familien kumme aus der Geschend hia. So es werd mich nit überrasche.)"

• "I speak German and Dutch fluently. I understand them perfectly as weird as it is, a funky old Swiss German accent mixed with yank English. None of it sounds Dutch."

Is Pennsylvania Dutch a "dying language"?

According to a SwissInfo article, it is estimated that there are about 300,000 to 350,000 speakers of Pennsylvania Dutch in 31 states of the U.S., mainly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin, and in Ontario, Canada.

There are also some Amish groups that speak Alsacian German and Swiss German (both Alemannic dialects). These number about 14,000 together.

Experts such as the German linguist Guido Seiler and Mark Loudon, a professor of German at Wisconsin-Madison, claim that the Pennsylvania Dutch and Alemannic German dialects spoken in the U.S. are anything but "dying languages".

In fact, the number of speakers is constantly increasing because of large families and because 90% of the youth stay in their traditional communities.

I have not touched on the religious differences between the Amish and various Mennonite groups. Those interested in finding out more can find ample information on the web or by contacting the Mennonite information Center.

"Shunning" is one of the differences. "The Shunning" is also the title of a book by Beverly Lewis and a 2011 movie. 

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.

Posted on by Peter and Ulrike Rettig

European Travels 3: Dutch Language & Canal Boating

Pénichette 1020FB layoutIf “fietsen” (bicyling) is a Dutch favorite, “bootjevaren” (boating), which includes “zeilen” (sailing), is certainly another.
 
With about one third of the Dutch mainland BELOW sea level and another one third very close to it, it's no wonder that the Dutch have a special relationship with water.

Yes, Italy has Venice, which has romantic canals but also more frequent flooding. Venice also needs to worry about its future as it is slowly sinking into the Adriatic Sea.

On the other hand, Amsterdam with its many “grachten” (canals) is a vibrant international city that has well adapted to the challenges and opportunities of the ever present water. (See also European Travels 1 and European Travels 2)

And, the canal network in the Netherlands is nothing but astounding. It's a great way to explore the country.

For the fun of it, we'll sprinkle in a few Dutch words. Because Dutch is a Germanic language just like English and German, you may find some cognates.

Dutch Words

• het land - the country, land
• de stad - the city
• de fiets - the bicycle
• het water - the water
• de gracht - the canal (in a city)
• het kanaal - the canal (outside of a city)
• de rivier - the river
• de zee - the ocean, sea 

Dutch Canals and Rivers

Traveling by boat on a canal or river lets you experience the countryside in a different way than driving through it. At 7 to 8 miles per hour, you can observe your surroundings in a leisurely way.

You'll notice the different designs of houses and various building methods, admire beautiful gardens, wonder what crops are growing in the fields, what type of cattle is grazing on the pastures.

Often the canals are higher than the adjacent pastures, as water is pumped continually from the lower lying fields into the canals.

While most pumps in the Netherlands are now electrically operated, there are still old windmills that are doing the job. We certainly observe more and more of the modern wind turbines every time we visit.

The ABC of Dutch Canal Travel

Operating a motor boat on Dutch canals is not really difficult, although sometimes when in tight quarters, you have to keep calm and go slowly. 

You don't need a license. If you haven't sailed or operated a motor boat before, don't worry. The charter company will instruct you in how to handle the boat.

Obviously, prior boating experience helps, not only for operating a boat, but also for knowing a few basic facts:

• Boats have no brakes
• Boats are affected by wind and current
• Boats have various electrical and plumbing systems
• The forward/backward gear of boats is operated with a throttle
• Larger boats respond more slowly to throttle and steering commands
• A “bow thruster” greatly helps maneuvering in tight quarters
• “Locks” connect waterways with different water level elevations
• The lower the boat, the more bridges you can pass (without their opening)

Our 2016 Charter Choice

For our previous three canal cruises in the Netherlands, we had chartered from different local charter companies. This time we selected Locaboat, a multinational charter with locations in France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Poland, and the Netherlands.

Pénichette 1020FB layoutTheir location in Loosdrecht, just north of Utrecht and close to the Dutch family reunion we attended, as well as our good experience with them during a charter in France a few years earlier, made them an easy choice.

“Péniche” is the French word for a barge. A “Pénichette©”, Locaboat's trademarked name for its motorboats, is therefore a small barge.

We selected a “Flying Bridge Pénichette© 1020FB,” which had two cabins with toilets and showers, just right for our American friends and us.

The “Oude Rijn” (the old Rhine), as our mini barge was called, had inside and outside steering – perfect for either rainy or sunny weather – a bow thruster, and the two bicycles we had reserved.

With its 10.20 meter length (about 34 feet), it suited us fine.  The midship saloon and steering station provided a great view during any meal. The compact kitchen (galley) had a refrigerator, a two-burner stove and oven, and all the pots, pans, and dishes we needed.

I noticed several improvements since the last time we had chartered from Locaboat:

• The bow thruster
• Electric instead of pump toilets
• No switch to change from inside to outside throttle operation
• A spacious refrigerator working well either on motor or shore power
• An easily operated diesel heater for the hydronic heating system

Dutch canal chartThrough the charter company we had ordered some basic supplies from the local grocery store, such as water, beer, etc. These arrived shortly after we boarded.

After reviewing our intended itinerary, (see map) learning about the boat's systems, and a quick test-outing into the canal with me backing into the slip, we started our trip.

While Locaboat reportedly makes WIFI available on its boats in France, we had to arrange for internet access ourselves in the Netherlands.

After some research I had selected my-webspot.com. The Paris, France based company had shipped the portable WIFI to our hotel. After an easy set up on the boat - it just plugged into the 12-V charger - we were connected. As we also had guests, with phones and iPads, the ability to connect up to 10 devices worked great for all of us. 

It was late afternoon and we had to pass one lock and bridge before starting our round trip as shown on the chart.

Dutch Words

• de winkel - the shop
• de boot - the boat
• de sluis - the lock (on a waterway)
• de brug - the bridge
• het dorp - the village, town
• het huis - the house
• de tuin - the garden, yard
• de boerderij - the farm

Locks

In a lock adjusting lines - Gamesforlanguage,comShortly after leaving the Marina, we encountered the Mijnden Sluis, the first of the few locks that we had to pass on our trip.

When approaching a lock, you'll know from the position of the gates (open or closed) and the red or green lights - whether you have to wait (red) and possibly tie up, or whether you can enter (green).

Once in the lock, your crew loops a couple of lines around the bollards and holds on to them. But they should NOT TIE UP.

As the lock gates are closed and the water level rises and falls, the crew adjusts the lines so the boat glides along the lock walls, protected by its fenders. (In this picture our friends are adjusting the lines in the biggest lock we encountered, behind a large commercial barge.)

As the lock gates open again, you motor out the other side to a different water level. In the Dutch inland canals, such level differences are often only a foot or two.

(In French canals, we had encountered a level difference of 10 feet or more in many locks. Also, in an earlier blog post, we describe how the boat lift in Henrichenburg, Germany, overcomes a 42 feet level difference.)

Bridges

We had chartered a motor boat for the first time in the Netherlands, over 20 years ago in Utrecht. Our teenage sons loved it right away. At that time, a few of the bridges still had to be opened manually. The boys had to jump ashore, open the bridge, let us pass, close the bridge, and then hop on board again.

This time, we were told that we would not have to open any bridges ourselves on our trip.

The moving bridges we encountered, called “Beweegbare Bruggen,” and labeled “BB” on the chart, were operated as follows:

• By an operator at the bridge or a person who monitored it remotely via cameras
• By a push button, typically located on a piling before the bridge
• By phone call to an operator or on an automated line

Many bridges opened as we approached, adding a yellow light to the red light before it turned green. Sometimes we called. (Telephone numbers were on a sign at the bridge. In addition, nearly all bridges had a telephone number listed in the boat manual or in the chart app on my tablet.)

More instructions were provided in the boat's handbook, but Ulrike's command of Dutch was clearly helpful for the third option.

There are only very few bridges left where the operator collects a fee with a wooden shoe on a long pole. We passed only two.

In towns and cities, operating hours often consider morning and evening traffic rush hours. Commercial vessels always have priority over recreational boats and you learn to be patient.

Your chart tells you the passing height of each bridge. Our “Oude Rijn” was listed as 2.92 m. Passing under a 3.00 m bridge left only 8 cm or a little more than 3 inches – and when steering and sitting outside on top of the upper deck we certainly had to duck. (In the above picture there were only a few inches to spare...)

Mooring Sites

The waterway chart (as well as the Dutch app for my tablet which I had downloaded earlier) not only shows all the locks and bridges, but also the marinas and mooring sites that one can tie up to.

Some of the mooring sites in small towns are free. At others, you can replenish your water or hook up your shore power (for a fee). We only did this a couple of times.

However, you're not limited to the designated mooring sites. Especially in the countryside, you can just hammer in two steel spikes ashore and tie up your boat along the canal bank.

No Hurry

After passing through the Mijnden lock, we turned north and were immediately faced with our first challenge.

The bridge operator of the first moving bridge we were to pass in Loenen, informed us that the next bridge had mechanical problems and could not be opened. He thought it could be fixed in an hour or two and suggested we should just tie up. 

We did and explored the little town of Loenen, with its narrow cobble stone streets and its two picturesque bridges across the river Vecht. We also found a bakery and stocked up on fresh bread and pastries.

Bridge opening in LoenenThis short delay taught us again not to be in a hurry. Canal traveling has to be done leisurely.

Yes, we would not get very far this first day, but no matter. Waiting for bridges or locks to open is as much part of canal travel as finding a nice restaurant for lunch or dinner or a good mooring spot for the night.

Indeed, when the bridge operator told us that the problem was fixed, we continued north on the Vecht. (see picture above)

As it was soon going to get dark we made fast near the small town of Overmeer.

After a 10 minute walk we found a very pleasant restaurant for our first dinner ashore. Returning a few hours later to our “Oude Rijn,” we were glad that we had not forgotten the flashlight to unlock the door.

We had a quiet and peaceful night and the next morning greeted us with sunshine and ducks and other birds in the water around us.

Sightseeing

The Netherlands is very densely populated country. In traveling along the small rivers and canals, we passed through cities and towns, as well as commercial and industrial areas. But we also came through long stretches of farm land and pastures.

In addition to the many small towns and villages we came across and explored, the major cities on our itinerary were Amsterdam, Gouda, and Utrecht.

We've written a blog post about Amsterdam, as we stayed there before getting on the boat. But visiting Amsterdam by boat is even more fun.

You can easily get to the marina in the center of town from where you'll explore the city on foot. There are a few more marinas in the outskirts, but then you have to find a way to get into the city.

Gouda City Hall - Gamesforlanguage.comGouda is a wonderful town with a stunning 15th-century city hall and a spacious market place, where during the spring and summer a traditional cheese market is held every week (Thursday mornings).

You can actually moor right in the center of town, but we chose to tie up and stay overnight on the Hollandsche IJssel, just south of the city.

When we came to Utrecht, it was not possible to go through the town with our Flying Bridge Pénichette, as the many arched bridges of the Vecht were too narrow and low for the “Oude Rijn.”

However, mooring in the “Singelgracht” close to the center of town, allows you to explore the city easily on foot.

Along the Vecht, there are many restaurants tourists and locals alike seemed to enjoy on a late summer day. 

The town has over 20 museums, ranging from the Aboriginal Art, to the National Military, the Railway, and the Waterline Museum Fort Vechten. 

This is often one of the major benefits of sightseeing from a boat: You can moor in or near the center of a town or city (where finding a parking space for your car may often be difficult).

Dutch words

• het stadhuis - the city hall
• het centrum - the center (of town)
• de jachthaven - the marina
• de buitenwijken - the outskirts (of town)
• de marktplaats - the market
• de kaas - the cheese
• de Noordzee - the North Sea
• de Oostzee - the Baltic Sea

The European Canal system

container barge on canal - Gamesforlanguage.comWhile we traveled mostly on small canals and rivers (such as the Vecht and IJssel) there were also a few stretches where we encountered commercial traffic.

When a large container-laden barge is heading towards you(as on this picture), you realize how important the waterways are still for the European economy.  You also do your best to keep out of  the way!

Leaving Utrecht and before we could re-enter the Vecht near Maarsen, we had to travel on the wide Amsterdam-Rhine Canal. This canal serves as an important commercial link between Amsterdam and the Rhine.

Indeed, barges can make it up and down the Rhine all the way to Basel, Switzerland, or via the Main river, the Main-Danube Canal, and the Danube to Budapest, Vienna, and the Black Sea. No wonder, traffic is heavy and recreational boats like ours have to keep well out of the way.

The European canal system not only connects the North Sea with the Baltic Sea, but barges and boats (even sailboats with a lowered mast) can find their way into the Mediterranean Sea, via the Mosel and the Rhone.

Breukelen

Our last overnight stop before returning to our base was Breukelen. Breukelen, by the way, gave New York's Brooklyn its name.

We again were moored right in the center of town, behind a typical old-style bascule bridge and several restaurants. In one of them we ate dinner.

There we met the Dutch artist, Toos van Holstein, who was elected the Netherland's “Briljanten Kunstenaar 2016” (Dutch Brilliant Artist of 2016). She had just organized a special art event “25 Karaats Briljant” at the gallery Peter Leen, which is adjacent and connected to the excellent Thai Same Same restaurant.

Traveling on Dutch canals leaves you with many impressions, memories and pictures, certainly more than we can relate here.

On our last evening we could again enjoy a spectacular sunset across the huge Dutch sky - a fitting end to our canal cruise.

If you're interested in trying canal boating yourself in the Netherlands or France and have more questions, drop us a line via contact and we'll be happy to help.

You can also follow our European travels from Utrecht to Lake Constance, and Discoveries in Austria.

Bio: Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

European Travels 2: The Netherlands and the Dutch Language

Dutch windmillIn our previous post, European Travels 1: Rembrandt, Reunion, Dunes, and “Fietsen”, we described a few of our observations in the Netherlands at the start of our visit this year. (Read also about our canal boating!)

The Netherlands is a great country to visit. It has bucolic scenery, picturesque towns, and a rich tradition of art and intellectual life. Plus, there's Amsterdam. Who can beat that?

Most Dutch people speak English quite well, so it's not necessary to speak any Dutch to get around.

Still, knowing a few phrases of the language can be the passport to a more genuine experience of the Netherlands and its people.

DUTCH - THE NETHERLANDS - HOLLAND

To clarify:

  • English speakers may learn “Dutch,” while Dutch people (Nederlanders) speak “Nederlands” or "Hollands."
  • “The Netherlands” is made up of twelve (12) provinces, plus three (3) Caribbean countries (Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten) and three (3) municipalities (Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius), also in the Caribbean.
  • “Holland” consists of the two provinces, North Holland and South Holland, therefore just describes a part of the Netherlands. However, "Holland" is often used by German speakers when talking about the Netherlands.

Last year's post, 3 Languages, a Pyramid, Napoleon and a Family Reunion, includes a snapshot of Dutch history.

Map of the NetherlandsWe should also point out, that the new Dutch kingdom, established in 1815, lost its southern half in 1830, when that became part of Belgium. William Z. Shetter in The Netherlands in Perspective describes the reasons this way:

“The North had had centuries of independence and prosperity while the South had been a remote province of the Spanish and later Austrian Empires. The constitutional provision for equality of religion had not changed the fact that Protestantism was dominant in the North and Catholicism in the South.”

Dutch language (Nederlands) is spoken in the Netherlands and in Flanders, northern Belgium, (the Dutch kingdom's former southern half) where the language is called Flemish (Vlaams). Flemish is also spoken in the French region Nord-Pas-de-Calais, bordering Belgium.

Dutch is also spoken in the Republic of Suriname (located in South America, north of Brazil). In addition, Dutch has official status in the three countries and three municipalities in the Caribbean.

Afrikaans, a derivative of Dutch, is one of the official languages of South Africa. Dutch and Afrikaans are mutually intelligible.

SHORT HISTORY OF THE WORD "DUTCH"

In the Brittanica you'll find this explanation:Dutch language

"In the Middle Ages the language of the regions was called Dietsc, or Duutsc, historically equivalent to German Deutsch and meaning simply 'language of the people,' as contrasted with Latin, which was the language of religion and learning. The form Duutsc was borrowed into English and gives modern 'Dutch.'

The official name of the language is Nederlands, or Netherlandic. In the Netherlands it is also called Hollands (Hollandish), reflecting the fact that the standard language is based largely on the dialect of the old province of Holland (now North Holland and South Holland)."

For a more detailed account of the history of the Dutch language, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_language.

DUTCH IS BETWEEN ENGLISH AND GERMAN

German-UK flagsLearning some Dutch is a fun adventure, especially for someone who speaks English and German. This is because Dutch is closely related to both English and German. One could say that it is between them.

On the one hand, Dutch resembles English in that it has no umlaut, doesn't use the subjunctive, and does not use case endings for adjectives, etc.

On the other hand, Dutch resembles German in that it has three genders (masculine, feminine, neuter), a similar word order, and uses modal particles (those little hard-to-translate words used in spoken language that reflect the attitude of the speaker). Also, Dutch and German vocabulary often show great similarity.

Below is a sampler. (To learn and practice Dutch words and phrases with audio for free, go to Lingohut.com)

THE NUMBERS 1-14 (ENGLISH - DUTCH - GERMAN)

  • one, een, eins
  • two, twee, zweipool balls
  • three, drie, drei
  • four, vier, vier
  • five, vijf, fünf
  • six, zes, sechs
  • seven, zeven, sieben
  • eight, acht, acht
  • nine, negen, neun
  • ten, tien, zehn
  • eleven, elf, elf
  • twelve, twaalf, zwölf
  • thirteen, dertien, dreizehn
  • fourteen, veertien, vierzehn

QUESTION WORDS (ENGLISH - DUTCH - GERMAN)

  • where, waar, woquestion words
  • what, wat, was
  • when wanneer, wann
  • why, waarom, warum
  • These two are a little confusing:
  • who, wie, wer
  • how, hoe, wie

BASIC NOUNS (ENGLISH - DUTCH - GERMAN)

  • street, straat, Straße
  • house, huis, Haus
  • bridge, brug, Brücke
  • way, weg, Weg
  • money, geld, Geld
  • check, rekening, Rechnung
  • table, tafel, Tisch
  • weather, weer, Wetter

COMMON ADJECTIVES (ENGLISH - DUTCH - GERMAN)

  • now, nu, jetzt
  • later, later, später
  • bad, slecht, schlecht
  • good, goed, gut
  • small, klein, klein
  • big, groot, groß
  • new, nieuw, neu
  • old, oud, alt
  • low, laag, niedrig
  • high, hoog, hoch

DUTCH SAYINGS

One characteristic of the Dutch language is that it's full of colorful sayings that are sometimes pretty hard to figure out. But they sure are entertaining. Here are a couple:

1. De hond in de pot findendog in flower pot

Literal: To find the dog in the pot
English equivalent: All the food has been eaten

Ze kwam zo laat thuis dat ze de hond in de pot vond.
She came home so late that all the food had been eaten.

2. De aap komt uit de mouw

Literal: The monkey comes out of the sleeve
English equivalent: Truth will come out

Als hij binnekort voor de rechter staat, komt de aap uit de mouw.
When he soon stands in front of the judge, truth will come out.

3. Iets op eigen houtje doenwood carving

Literal: To do something on one's own piece of wood (or carving stick)
English equivalent: To do something on one's own

Hij is geen groepsmens, hij doet dingen het liefst op eigen houtje.
He's not a group person, he prefers doing things on his own.

WHAT ABOUT “FIETSEN"?

Woman with bicycle in Amsterdam - Gamesforlanguage.com“Fietsen” is a word you may hear a lot, as its seems that everybody does it in the Netherlands: Bikes are everywhere; in Amsterdam, along the canals, on bridges, etc.

The words “bike" (English), “fiets" (Dutch), and “Fahrrad" (German) don't seem to be at all related.

The English terms "bike" or "bicycle" are derived from the Greek (bi- "two" + kyklos "circle, wheel"). The German word "Fahrrad" is simply a "riding wheel." Thus, these words make etymological sense.

But, the origin of the word “fiets," so central to daily life in the Netherlands, has long puzzled linguists.

One long-held conjecture was that the word "fiets" was a corruption of the French word "vélocipède" (as "fielsepee") and originated in 1870 in the town of Apeldoorn. (dr.j.devries etymologisch woordenboek, 1973)

Another popular possibility was that "fiets" came from the name of the bicycle merchant E.C. Viets (V pronounced as F).

Or, that it's a corruption of the French word "vitesse" (speed).

Or, that it comes from the southern Dutch word "vietse," meaning "to move quickly."

Most recently, two Belgian linguists suggested that "fiets" comes from the German "Vize-Pferd" (substitute horse) (Linbkhttp://www.24oranges.nl/2012/02/23/etymology-of-dutch-word-for-bicycle-cracked-after-140-years/)

However, the suggestion that "fietsen" is a German loanword was quickly and thoroughly criticized online in the electronic magazine for Dutch language and literature, by the linguist Jan Stroop in his 2012 post, Ga toch fietsen. (The article is in Dutch, but you can easily get a Google translation, which gives you the basic idea.)

Stroop ends his argument with the sentence: "Fiets" een Duits leenwoord? Bike rider in Holland Ga toch fietsen. ("Fiets" a German loanword? - Go take a hike., i.e No way! )

So, the origin of "fiets" remains a riddle.

For anybody visiting the Netherlands "fietsen" is a must activity. Weaving your way through traffic and busy pedestrian passages may take some practice and not be for everyone.

But in all cities and towns, you'll also find bicycle lanes you can ride on comfortably and safely "Dutch style," sitting erect and leisurely enjoying the surroundings...

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagramand leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

How P.M. Tools can Help Your Language Learning (and my Spanish & Dutch)

Time ManagementP.M. Tools for Language Learning? - updated 2-11-2017

Many language projects seem to fail because of Lack of motivation and Poor Time Management.

This is consistent with the unattributed survey graph we discussed in our previous post, Not enough time? Really? Language Learning and setting Priorities, although the graph had the order reversed: 24% of the respondents had voted for “Not enough time” and 16% for “Keeping up motivation” as their main difficulty when learning a new language.

(We had also speculated that the “not enough time” response may hide other reasons, so the discrepancy matters little.)

Lack of Motivation or Waning Motivation?

Maybe “lack” of motivation is not the right term. Most adult language learners are quite motivated when they start learning a new foreign language. 

The strongest reasons are typically related to immigration, a new lover or family member, travel to or work in a foreign country, job or study requirements, and similar clear needs to be able to communicate in the foreign language.

There are other reasons, such as getting in touch with your family/language roots, religious interests, challenging yourself, or even just a passion for language learning. There is, however, an obvious correlation: The stronger the NEED, the stronger the motivation.

Even if motivation was strong at the start, it can easily weaken as the magnitude of the language project becomes clear.

This is especially true for those learners that get caught by slick marketing slogans and ads. And, motivation may also wane for those who have not learned to manage the essentials of what is really a long-term project. They will discover that learning a foreign language as an adult is not difficult per se, but that they will have to commit time to learn and practice.

My father often quoted a (German) saying: “Vor den Erfolg haben die Götter den Schweiß gesetzt” which translates as “The gods have set  sweat (hard work) as a condition for success.”

Well, learning a foreign language does not involve sweat, but it does require sustained effort. And those who indeed approach language learning as a long-term project could benefit from applying some of the Project Management tools they may already be using in their professional life.

What is a Language Learning “Project”?

While not all elements typically found in Project Management handbooks are present in a foreign language learning project, important ones are: Projects follow a plan and organized approach; they have a beginning and an end and thus need a time schedule; they need resources; they have an end result or achieve a goal.

What is, however, quite different from the typical “project,” which often involves many people, is that YOU alone are all of these in one: the Project itself, its main participant, the Project Manager, both a resource and a resource consumer, the judge of success, etc.

Which P.M. Tools should you then apply?

Schedule – There are really two parts to this: (1) How long you have, and  (2) How much time you can commit. Both are obviously closely related.

If you have only, say, three months to become proficient, you'll have to commit lots of time, take an immersion course, or find a tutor, etc.

(See also our post: 10,000 Hours for Foreign Language Mastery? We state there, for example, that for languages in Group I, Language Testing International (LTI) estimates that it takes a person with “Average Aptitude” 240 hours of training “under the supervision of an instructor and with 1-4 students per class” to reach “Intermediate Mid” proficiency.)

On the other hand, if you have much more than three months, you have many more choices and decisions to make. Such a schedule or timeline does not have to be complicated and is not difficult to create. For my timeline, I use an Excel-type spreadsheet; below, I show my current plan for improving my Spanish and learning Dutch. (More about my reasons for learning Dutch below.)

Resources – Here, money, teaching materials, and human resources come into play. Again, how long you have and available resources are important.

From free to pricey online courses, library materials, books, CDs, audios and DVDs, adult education/community college/university courses, to immersion courses in your country or abroad – the choices and decisions are yours.

The question of “What is best for me?” or “What is the best value for me?” is difficult to answer in general, but, if you google such questions, you can find many blog posts and reviews (including ours) for opinions and recommendations. One note of caution: There is no single “best” program or approach. Money alone does not buy you proficiency in a foreign language.

Nobody can do it FOR you. You have to do the learning YOURSELF! There may be approaches and methods that fit the way you learn better than others. Do some research and try out some approaches.

Most importantly, find the course(s) – in whatever medium – YOU ARE MOST LIKELY TO STICK WITH. But once you have decided on one or, even better, several teaching resources, you should show these and your practice/attendance on a simple timeline. (see below)

A schedule then serves several purposes: It documents your plan visually, you can add, modify or delete activities, it shows key milestones: reading an article; understanding a conversation, an audio, a video; participating in a conversation; writing emails, texts, a journal; proficiency tests, etc.

Accomplishment/Goal – Here, language learning deviates from the typical “project completion” celebration as learning a foreign language as an adult is often a life-long project.

Take my case: I've been in the the U.S. for many years, but have never been able to completely eliminate my German accent – it's not as noticeable as Henry Kissinger's, but it's still there. I took “accent reduction” classes and have to be conscious of how to pronounce “Ws” and “Vs.” I also occasionally find words that I have not heard before.

On the other hand, I read German newspapers to keep up with German as well. As with all languages, German is constantly evolving alongside new social developments. However, by setting certain milestones and targeting your learning to achieve these milestones, you can celebrate your accomplishments and then set yourself the next one.

If your goal is acing a proficiency test you need to take for college or work, it's an obvious one. But as you can see from my schedule example below, I also have a very specific goal for learning Dutch.

Why Learn Dutch?

Dutch is not a language one would learn without a very good reason. (A Google search surprised me, though: There are over 23 million people speaking Dutch, the majority living in The Netherlands (16 million) and the Flemish part of Belgium (6 million).

Islands in the Caribbean (Aruba, Netherlands Antilles, St. Maarten), Suriname (South America), and elderly Dutch speakers in Canada and Indonesia make up the balance.

In addition, Afrikaans, one of 11 official languages used in South Africa, is based on Dutch, and Afrikaans and Dutch speakers mutually understand each other. (This adds another 7 million.)

Now the reason I want to learn to UNDERSTAND Dutch is this: Every couple of years, my wife and I attend a family reunion in The Netherlands. My wife understands and speaks Dutch fluently and with my German background, I sometimes can make out a little.

But that's not enough to really be part of a conversation – even if I were to answer in English or German.

You may know that the Dutch probably speak better English than most of their European neighbors and our relatives are no exception. But when joining a table where everybody speaks Dutch, I often found that making all switch to English seemed like an imposition.

My goal therefore is quite simple: I just want to UNDERSTAND the conversations of our Dutch relatives. This way, when I am sitting at a table where Dutch is spoken, I can participate in the conversation and not force the whole table to switch to German or English. My longer-term goal is obviously to also speak Dutch, but I'll be happy with an interim step by September.

My Plan for Spanish and Dutch

The timeline below shows my current plan.

Gamesforlanguage learning scheduleMy focus is on completing the Spanish Duolingo course, as well as our GamesforLanguageSpanish 1 course (for the second time), before we head to Sevilla in the spring.

During our stay in Seville, we plan to hire a tutor for regular daily practice. My wife and I will make every effort to converse in Spanish and obviously take every opportunity to practice our Spanish while shopping, sightseeing, etc. We'll evaluate ourselves on our Spanish fluency at the end of our stay.

After our return in the spring, I'll increase my Dutch learning efforts, complete the Dutch Duolingo course, and subscribe to one or more online courses, most likely, Babbel and LingQ. My goal is to understand Dutch conversations during our stay in the Netherlands.

I do not know yet what I will do after getting back home. I'll probably start reading some Dutch books, maybe watch some Dutch YouTube clips, and, yes, start talking more in Dutch with my wife. 
 
As for Spanish, assuming our fluency has further improved, we'll look for conversation partners among our friends and on online language exchanges, continue reading Spanish books and newspapers online, and watch Spanish movies and videos - because we know: "If you don't use it, you'll lose it!"

Postscript: At the time of the family reunion I had achieved my goal of being able to follow conversations. I am continuing my Dutch practice using both LearnwithOliver's and Lingohut's free Dutch lessons.