Swedish doesn’t have to be difficult: “Mark Rutte is a Dutch politician for the liberal Folkpartiet för Frihet och Demokrati (VVD) and Prime Minister of the Netherlands since 14 October 2010.”
If you speak one language, there are always a few other languages that are so similar that you can read some of them. For Dutch speakers, Afrikaans is the clearest example of this phenomenon: “Rutte studied history at Leiden University.” The Frisian language can also be done: “Make Rutte in 2002 the primary step in the company’s libben nei de lânlike policy.”
Gaston Dorren, a science journalist who previously wrote the books language tourism and Babylon wrote, plays in his latest book, Seven languages in seven days, with this phenomenon about the readability of related languages. He has chosen seven languages that Dutch tourists can encounter. Frisian. Three Scandinavian languages. And three Romance languages (Spanish, Italian, Portuguese). The book is aimed at people who speak Dutch and English and who also know something about French and German.
“The Scandinavian languages belong to the Germanic family, they are similar to Dutch, English and German. It is of course very familiar. The Romance languages are less familiar to us. But thanks to our French education and certainly also because of the English vocabulary – because English is full of Romance words – they are still quite accessible, much more accessible than, say, the Slavic languages.
“You just have to make people aware that this is so. And that if you want to read something in such a language, you don’t necessarily need to understand everything. Feel free to skip a sentence every now and then. You have to dare to be imperfectionist. You always need a little bit of basic knowledge to get started, and I try to provide that in my book.”
I think if you’ve seen a pattern like that five times, it sticks better
You don’t have to learn what you recognize right away. You get that for free. But then there are many things you just don’t recognize?
“You can learn to recognize them. My book is therefore bursting with patterns. With each pattern I give a lot of examples. Because I think that if you have seen such a pattern five times, it sticks better. For example is it good for Swedish to know that the participle in the Scandinavian languages does not begin with If you know that, you will see more quickly that, for example, ‘drivit’ is a participle of drift.
You also suddenly understand that ‘healthy’ is healthy, ‘still’ enough and ‘fara’ danger.
“Yes, and if you know that wine is ‘wine’, you will see more quickly that ‘väga’ are roads and ‘swine’ are boars. And sometimes you have to say it out loud to recognize it. What is ‘foajé ‘? A lobby. And there are always “false friends”. Words that look like a Dutch word but mean something completely different. I give lists. In Swedish ‘bord’ means table, ‘mening’ means and ‘beautiful’ is beautiful.”
What is the most difficult? Something that doesn’t resemble Dutch at all?
“Yeah, especially all the little words for he, she, it, on, under, between and because and stuff like that.”
The Swedish ‘när’ means when and coincidentally sounds the same as the second syllable of when
In the Swedish sentence about Mark Rutte, these words are: ‘är’ and ‘för’ ‘it’ ‘och’ ‘sedan’.
“But some of them you recognize immediately, and there are some you don’t recognize at all. I also provide lists. The good thing is: when you start working with them, you immediately encounter them a lot. So you learn that very quickly. Sometimes I give it a mnemonic. The Swedish ‘när’ means when and coincidentally sounds the same as the second syllable of when.
“In addition, I list the most common nouns, verbs and adjectives that you do not recognize. For example in Swedish: ‘kvinna’, ‘kväll’ and ‘vän’. It is successive: wife, evening and friend.”
What can people gain from this book?
“If you’re in a country where such a language is spoken, it can be very nice to get 70, 80, 90 percent of what all the shops, signs, information texts and menus are trying to tell you. This can often be quickly understood due to the context.
“And maybe you buy the local newspaper and try to read the international news in it, because it’s quite predictable. But it can also be fun just to read things on the Internet in such a language.
“The book is based on the principle that if you start with a language, you can quickly achieve a very large effect with very little effort. When you start a language, you first make rapid progress, you learn a lot, you suddenly gain insight into such a language. On the other hand, if you want to perfect that knowledge afterwards, it will go slower and slower. I’m now in my 60s and I’m still learning a little English every day.”
Frisian has been heavily influenced by Dutch over the last 500 years
It is surprising how much English can be of use to you with the Romance languages.
“English is of course a Germanic language, but highly romanized: it is full of words borrowed from Latin and especially French.”
The distance between Dutch and Frisian, but also Danish, for example, has narrowed over the past thousand years. These languages have become easier for us.
“Yes, Frisian has been heavily influenced by Dutch over the last 500 years, and certainly the last 100 years. There have been three developments in the Scandinavian languages that have made them more accessible to us. They are strongly influenced by Low German, the German of northern Germany, which in turn resembles Dutch.
“Furthermore, the Scandinavian languages in turn influenced English in the Viking Age, so much English is suspiciously reminiscent of Scandinavian and vice versa. And of course the Scandinavian languages, like many other European languages, have been influenced by Latin and Greek and have also taken in many international terms: a kind of general European vocabulary with words like organization and diagram that we recognize effortlessly.”