Being the new kid in school is often a challenge. At 10 years old, with little to no English vocabulary, I fully came to grips with that challenge when my family moved from Germany to the US. In the first weeks of school I not only had a lot of practice in keeping a straight face amidst a complete lack of understanding, but I also learned most things by first doing them the wrong way. For instance, it was only after I had completely diminished my team’s chances of winning a lunchtime football match that I finally understood the rules of the game. Another thing I learned during lunch was that a ‘sloppy joe’ is a popular American sandwich and not some gross man.
I was able to laugh off all my language blunders with a girl also named Nina, who I had been seated next to in class.. Nina and I remain friends to this day and sometimes still reminisce about how my German pronunciation never failed to brighten someone’s day. In hindsight, I can’t help but attribute part of our initial connection to all those mistakes I made while learning English.
In learning Dutch, things have been no different. Even at the store where I work, my errors in speaking may have helped in recruiting new regulars. I have a hard time pronouncing the Dutch word for candle (kaars), and once mistakenly announced to a group of customers that we also sell ‘very fragrant cheese’ (kaas). On that same day, I chose to use the word
‘winderig’, in confiding with two elderly ladies about the windy weather. I quickly learned that winderig means anything but a fresh gust of air. In all of these instances, things were once again cleared up with a good laugh. These customers now recognize me and to my boss’s content have also come back to the store a couple of times.
These mistakes have not only made me learn so much more about the language itself but have often been resolved in good humor. Perhaps exactly for that reason, mistakes have sometimes made it much easier to connect with people.
Ironically, language itself spells this out for us already. According to its Indo-European roots, the verb ‘err’ doesn’t translate into getting things wrong but instead means ‘to be in motion’. Thus, I guarantee the more mistakes you’ll make, the faster you’ll move past that language barrier.
Nina Schröder, masters student Health Food Innovation Management