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I Tried to Learn a Language in a Week and Here's What Happened

By Jenna Brooks, Yearbook Student

Do you know your family history? Curious as to what the answer was, I asked around to my fellow classmates to hear their responses. For me, personally, I realized that I didn’t know much about my family except where they came from. Why, you may ask? Well, I am not sure either. One thing that I do know is, this project is the perfect time for me to learn about my family.

As I now have a lot of free time on my hands, I decided to learn a new language and wanted to pair that with my curiosity about my personal family history. With my love for Holland and my Dutch background, it didn't take long for me to decide to learn Dutch!

On this day two years ago, I was boarding a flight to the Netherlands, where I am from, to do two things that I love: Travel and see the world, and learn more about where I am from. Ever since that trip, I have fallen even more in love with my heritage. While in the Netherlands, I picked up a few phrases in order to get around. For example, phrases such as “bedankt” or “Goedemorgen” were used quite often among myself and my fellow peers. Once returning home, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Netherlands, more so about going back one day. Sometimes I would think to myself “What would I do differently when I go back?” Well, that’s easy to answer, learn some more Dutch!”

That brings us back to where we are today. As I begin to learn a new language, I am a bit frightened that it will fail miserably. Before fully committing to what seems like it could be a difficult language to learn, I did a quick Google search of “easy languages to learn”. Can you guess what made the top 5 on the list? Dutch! I let out a huge sigh of relief as I signed up to begin my first Dutch lesson.

Day 1:

Eager to begin my first Dutch lesson, I whipped out my computer and logged into Duolingo, a free online learning program with about 35 different languages that you can learn. The lessons are split up into bigger categories. Within the first category, Basics 1, there are four total lessons. On my first day, I decided to conquer two of the four lessons. To start off easy, the first lesson introduced some vocabulary. After completing my work for

day 1, I had began to rack up a bank of vocab words. In order to help me remember them, I created flashcards with drawings on them to help. These flashcards are basically how Duolingo teaches you the vocab, so I copied them down in order to etch them into my brain. By the end of my first two lessons, I was even formulating phrases such as “Ik ben een meisje”, or “I am a girl”. After the first day, I was very eager and excited to learn more Dutch!

Day 2:

Going into today, I was curious to see what I would know and what I had forgotten. As the lessons progressed, I could see myself catching on to the language. The vocabulary began to stick in my head. While I haven't been introduced to any new vocab since the first lesson, I have begun forming more sentences using the vocab that I do know! At first, the phrases were easy and I began to pick them up quickly, but then came the longer sentences…. Sentences such as “She is a girl and I am a boy” would trip me up because there are essentially two parts to the sentence. Eventually I learned to get these right, and I began to grasp the conjugations of the verbs. One thing that also caught me off guard were articles in front of words. For example, “the man” is “de man”, but “the juice” is “het sap”. I am hoping that as the grammar lessons progress, that I can learn when to use the correct articles.

Day 3:

Today, I feel super accomplished, even though today was the hardest day so far. The lessons have been getting more complex. I am writing out sentences in Dutch without any hints, which left me very confused when it came to conjugating verbs. With confusion at the forefront of my mind, I used a tip that I learned in my Spanish class in school. For the conjugation of verbs it can be helpful to make these little charts with the conjugations of each verb.

This helped me immensely because when working on my Duolingo lessons, I was unsure of the verb conjugations, being as I was not introduced to them, they just suddenly began to appear on my lessons. Another thing that I covered today was the plural versions of some of my vocab (ex: women, men, boys, and girls). I was then using these in a sentence and also finding the correct verb conjugations. While today started off rough, I feel more accomplished today than my past days. As I start to get some verb conjugations under my belt, I can form more sentences that address more people or groups of people. I am excited to see what else I learn, and to test what I have retained!

Day 4:

As I go into my last lesson for this project, I feel as though I am beginning to get a grasp on very basic Dutch. Today's lessons relied heavily on remembering verb conjugations, something in which I struggled. After trying to rely on my memory, I caved and pulled out my flashcards to help me. Even though this was my last day of learning Dutch for this project, I can confidently say that I won’t stop here. I am eager to learn more Dutch, hopefully enough to speak it one day. But for now, I will keep practicing what I know and slowly build up to conversational Dutch.


When I first began this project, I was confident in the fact that it was going to completely flop. I mean, how much of a language could you actually learn in a few days? If I did learn anything, would I even retain it?

Well, you would be surprised that with a little bit of hard work and dedication, you could get pretty far. My love for my heritage guided me to travel to the Netherlands, which then led me to want to do this project. I am so grateful for what I have learned.

I learned things that I had no clue about. For example, I learned that my Great Great Great Grandfather who moved from Amsterdam to Grand Rapids and then back to The Netherlands, but then soon moved back to America, this time in Paterson, New Jersey! It was super interesting to read about my ancestors and who they were, and that we actually have some things in common. For example, my great great great grandfather, Adrian GD Gerritsen III and I share the same love for painting. Overall, I think that learning about your family genealogy can be pretty cool. You never know what you could find out about your family. And hey, it could lead you to some pretty cool things, like learning Dutch!


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