Millennium Memoir
Moon and Stars . .

12.10.1999

Nederlands

We started lessons in Nederlands (Flemish) in the third grade. This was the second foreign language I'd had to learn, but this time, the way I was learning it was very different.

When we first moved to Belgium, I was still in kindergarten. I'd been going to school since I was three in Paris, at an English-language pre-school. My mother had intended to put me right into kindergarten when I was four, back in the states, and while we were in Paris, she'd still thought that we'd be going back to America before I started real school.

When we moved to Brussels instead of going back to our house in Providence, R.I., my parents signed me up at a local, private Belgian school instead of sending me to the many American/International schools in the city.

I learned French the natural way, simply by listening and putting two and two together in order to survive kindergarten. I couldn't make friends, or talk to the teacher unless I learned the language. So I learned. By the end of the year, I was one of the best spellers and readers in the class.

In third grade, formal instruction in the second official language of Belgium began. There was just one teacher for Nederlands at the school, Madame Muzzaluppo, who had frizzy permed orange hair and nails as lon as my pinky finger.

She was just a little bit scary at first, but I took to Nederlands like a fish to water. It was so much like English! A lot of the words looked the same, the pronunciation, while a bit more guttural, was easier to achieve from English than it was for my francophone classmates, who struggled mightily to form the sounds correctly.

By the time I was in fourth and fifth grade, Nederlands was one of my best subjects. I had lapsed far behind in math for a long time, and even my grammar and writing were beginning to suffer as several emotional upsets related to my friends, or lack thereof and a keen sense of loneliness contributed to continued distraction in class.

I clung to my good marks in Nederlands, I felt worthwhile in class when the teacher would ask me to speak and I could pronounce everything with near perfection. It was so easy for me to figure out what words meant, where they came from and how they fit together with verbs to make sentences.

But I never spoke Nederlands on regular basis, except for when we went to the beach in Holland, or in the Dutch-speaking parts of Belgium.

Within a year of our return to the United States, I'd forgotten how to speak it. Another year and I could barely read it, let alone understand it.

Now I flip through my notebooks, pages of vocabulary and test sentences and sigh, that only a handful of the words are familiar anymore.

Nederlands was the first language that I learned through formal instruction, but it is already gone, lost to me in a fog of forgetfulness and disuse.

Moonlit Trees . .

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