The language barrier.

I feel it may be wise to begin this post with a pre-emptive apology. Sadly, this is not a post that will recount hilarious attempts at communication with the locals. Nor will I be sharing brilliant Dutch words I have learnt that could be incorporated into everyday usage, partly because I still can’t form a sentence in Dutch, and partly because the words I have been taught are all swear words that I plan to use on my sister the next time I’m in Australia. I’m sorry to those who might have been hoping for anecdotes, insights or education, but this post is going to be something quite different.

This post is a eulogy. Or perhaps more accurately, a eugoogooly on my ability to use the English language.


Or did you think I’d be too stupid to know what a eugoogooly was?

I feel that since moving to the Netherlands, my facility with the English language has been steadily deteriorating. Which would be understandable if I spent my time speaking Dutch or hanging out with people who weren’t fluent in English, neither of which is the case. I don’t know if I’m subconsciously picking up and imitating foreign ways of structuring sentences, if I’m consciously censoring my use of unusual words or complex phrases, or whether too much rain has simply turned my brain to mush, but whatever the cause, I pretty much speak like Yoda now. Only without the wisdom.

If I were one of those people who feels that the English language is the scourge of the earth, I probably wouldn’t mind this, but I happen to love my native tongue. It’s dreadfully easy to come across websites, blogs, books and other resources condemning English, primarily along the lines of “Look at this amazing word that exists in German/Polish/Ancient Persian that has no translation in English! English is such a pathetically limited language!” To them I say: find me the equivalent of flabbergasted in any other language. Go on, I double dare you.

I love freedom of English. I love that you can float around a topic, talking a lot yet saying absolutely nothing. I love that you can also be caustically direct. For any single adjective you are likely to have dozens and dozens of synonyms to further refine the nuances of expression. I have had some non-native English speaking friends complain about the excessive number of words in English, but for me that’s part of the charm. Which word you choose to use or happen to remember, out of the hundreds of legitimate options open to you, reveals so much about your personality, your way of thinking. German is a fantastic language for  conveying a sense of national consciousness, a feeling for the collective German identity. English is a fantastic language for conveying your individuality.

Yet alas, lately whenever I am in a conversation that requires me to oh, I don’t know, use words, I descend into banality, when I manage to produce any comprehensible words at all. For example:

HO: How was Joyce DiDonato’s concert, B?

Me: Yeah, it was… … … good. (Mentally facepalms self for inability to communicate the unrivalled brilliance of aforementioned vocal goddess.)

This is a source of much frustration for me. And seeing as words really aren’t working for me at the moment, I turn to the world of internet memes to try and give you an idea of what a standard interaction with me is like these days.

A picture says a thousand words.

I used to be pretty confident that I could easily find the right word to express what I wanted. The scope of my expressive abilities looked something like this:

Expressive abilities.

Now when I try to create eloquent statements, my brain provides me with this:


In order to compensate, I try to use body language, which often results in me looking like this:

Facial expression

then like this:

Alternative facial expression

and worst of all, like this:

This is never appropriate

People meeting me for the first time generally react like this:

Did that really just happen?

While people who know me better just go:


Which is also how I’m reacting on the inside.

I’m about 113% certain that Shakespeare was a prophet who had me in mind when he wrote:

More of your conversation would infect my brain.


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