Columnist Saurabh Varanasi is learning Dutch, which is proving to be quite difficult. What keeps him going? “Occasionally I stumble upon anomalies like the word ‘uitgangspun’t.”
Saurabh Varanasi: “Having a conversation in Dutch with someone is a whole new ball game.” (Photo: Arya Photography Studio)

Columnist Saurabh Varanasi is learning Dutch, which is proving to be quite difficult. What keeps him going? “Occasionally I stumble upon anomalies like the word uitgangspunt.”

Have you heard of the term ‘double Dutch’? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as ‘any language that is impossible to understand’. After spending almost a year attempting to learn Dutch – attempting being the operative word – I can relate to this term on a completely different level altogether.

The first thing that I was warned of by my seniors when I set foot at TU Delft was that I have to learn the language in order to secure a job in the Dutch construction market. That was not the most pleasant of receptions at TU Delft. Nevertheless, I took this up as a challenge and kept reminding myself that my sole motivation for pursuing a masters was to open doors to a job in a country which is known to have the best work-life balance in the world.

‘Being language-impaired cost me quite a bit’

As expected, it was no cake walk. Memorising new words and working on getting the pronunciation right was the easy part for me. But having a conversation in Dutch with someone is a whole new ball game. First, you have to organise the words flung at you, then you think in English about what you want to say, again translate it into Dutch in your head and then finally speak them out (in my case, blabber out) in Dutch; all of this must be processed simultaneously within a matter of a few seconds, which ends up making you conscious about making a fool of yourself. It not only serves as a litmus test but also a reminder that you still have a long way to go.

Being language-impaired cost me quite a bit, even during my studies. In the ‘requirements’ section of the research/project assistant positions in my department and a lot of internship vacancies in companies outside, you always come across ‘strong command of the Dutch language’: a nerve-wracking phrase for most international students. I strongly believe that the only way you become fluent in Dutch is by surrounding yourselves completely by the Dutch, i.e. learning on the job. But, as explained above, a lot more is expected of you. This dilemma intrigued me enough to come up with my version of the Permission Paradox (about job and work experience): in order to learn Dutch you need a job, but in order to get a job you need to learn Dutch. Interesting, isn’t it?

All my friends back home would tell me how lucky I am to be studying in a European country where almost all the locals speak good English. From a tourist’s perspective, yes I agree. From the perspective of an idealist desiring to learn the language in two years before entering the job race, it is no reason to celebrate.

Having cribbed enough about the hassles, I must admit though, that I am thoroughly enjoying the process of learning a new language. The excitement of coming across a word on a hoarding or in the newspaper which I learnt recently is what keeps me going. Occasionally I stumble upon anomalies like the word uitgangspunt, which is Dutch for ‘starting point’, the anomaly being: uitgang means ‘exit’ and punt means ‘point’. But all I do is simply chuckle and move on.

Saurabh Varanasi is from Hyderabad, India, and is currently pursuing his MSc in Construction Management & Engineering at TU Delft. A tennis enthusiast by physique and a dog lover by heart, a major chunk of his remaining time goes into conducting post-mortem analyses of old and new Indian films on his blog, where he recommends and reviews the movies that matter. He maintains a healthy balance of all the above with an inherent sincerity towards academics.