This was the goal that Benny Lewis of The Language Hacking Guide and Fluent in 3 Months set for himself when he set foot in Amsterdam in early April of this year.
By socializing with the natives and taking in what Amsterdam and the Dutch had to offer for two whole months, Benny's plan was to reach fluency in the Dutch language.
Normally, the self-proclaimed Irish Polyglot, takes 3 months to reach a level of fluency in other languages. But, a tight schedule and time constraints cut his time by one month this go-around.
This video tour of his rented flat in Amsterdam demonstrates his level of Dutch after just a week and a half in the Netherlands
In this video interview with the Dutch language magazine Onze Taal (our language) at the end of his two month stay in Amsterdam, we see how far he's come in such a short amount of time.
Especially for someone who was only going to be staying for such a short time, with no real ties to the country or the Dutch people, and with no real need to learn to speak the language (I mean, we all know that the Dutch speak excellent English - especially in such an international hub as Amsterdam).
But the question is.... is this fluent?
Well, according to Benny himself in a post we wrote on the topic of fluency, "my own definition of fluency is something along the lines of not hesitating when speaking, getting your point across with very few mistakes and understanding when spoken to, without slowing down the conversation when with a group of otherwise native speakers. I consider fluency to be about 90-95% 'perfect'."
Perhaps I'm too anal a perfectionist, but listening to his last video, though impressive, I would hardly call that fluent based on his own definition.
He uses the German "und" each and every time he should be using the Dutch "en." In trying to ask how to say "samenvoegen," he comes up with an odd word in place of "zeg" (as in, "hoe zeg je..." or "how do you say..."). And then he adds a "gaan" at the end of the sentence that doesn't need to be there. He says "heb ik snel mijn Spaans vergeten" where it should be "ben ik snel mijn Spaans vergeten. There are numerous ums and ahs that slow down the conversation and his accent is not always easy to understand. And that's just in the first 43 seconds of an interview in which the interviewer does almost as much talking as the interviewee.
Am I being overly picky? Yes
Am I being unfair? Totally.
Because, quite honestly, his Dutch is really good for only having worked on it for two months!
But calling it fluent even by his own definition is pushing it.
Towards the end of April, he informed me via Twitter that he had "sat government tests several times." And then went on to say, "my definition of fluent is somewhere between C1&C2 by their standards."
Now, I've only taken one such government test. It was here in the Netherlands for the Dutch language.
To prepare for this test, I took a 12-week intensive course, followed by the year-long inburgeringscursus, had been a member of a Dutch vocal group for a year, have a Dutch husband that I spoke Dutch with 2-3 days a week, participated in Dutch writing and speaking practice programs, spoke Dutch on a regular basis with friends, read regularly in Dutch, watched Dutch television and listened to Dutch radio, had done a handful of Dutch-to-English translations for online and print, and forced myself to only speak Dutch in public for almost 2 years.
I passed the test with a level somewhere between B2 and C1.
After 2 years of intense Dutch language study and frequent use.
By the time I had been in the Netherlands for 2 month, my level of Dutch was not far behind Benny's. And I guarantee you, had he taken the Dutch government language test, he would not have passed.
Impressed. But not passed.
Granted, what I had that Benny didn't, was a plethora of Dutch people to regulary engage in conversation with. That was the one thing Benny had banked on to help him reach his goal that just didn't end up working out as he had hoped. (We could talk for hours about this difficulty in getting to know the Dutch, but based on following Benny's blog, I assume the issue to be that his stay in Amsterdam was just too short for the Dutch people he met to feel that it was worth getting to know him).
What he did do...
What Benny has proven so beautifully though, is that, if you put in the effort, the language can be learned. With speed and ease.
And through his journey, he came up with some ingenious ways to learn the language. He came a long way in a short period of time and had fun doing so.
So, those expats out there lamenting that the language is too difficult to learn, using the excuse that you're just not good at languages or don't have the time to work on it, blaming the Dutch for that annoying habit they have of constantly speaking English to you... take a hint from Benny.
Though it may not be "fluent," just look at how far you can come in just two months!
Did you follow Benny's adventures in Amsterdam? Do you think he reached his goal? What inspires you to learn a language?
Photo: Benny Lewis, Fluent in 3 Months
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