The power of words

I AM DUTCH… So, there you have it. An obvious point, I know, but I need to say it. And why do I need to say it? Well because it means my first language isn’t English and that frustrates the heck out of me.

Yes, I write in English, I can speak English, I can even stand up and address groups in English and feel comfortable doing that but I am never as good or as fluent as I would like to be. I’m always grasping for words, searching for meanings and struggling with spelling. Especially while writing.

Writing to me is the ultimate form of expression. It is where I can pour my soul, humanity and creativity into and really express what I feel. Doing it in English though also means it is a constant struggle of searching for words and meanings to capture my thoughts. You don’t realize the power of words until you find yourself searching for them all the time.

Those words and combinations you only use in exclusive situations, the finer nuances of language, all those specific details that the 2-4 hours a week of high school English I got in my teens, didn’t cover.
And so I learn. I learn daily, from reading other peoples blogs, from watching English TV, from interacting on social Media. Analyzing and Googling every word and linguistic anomaly that triggers my interest, expanding my vocabulary constantly.

It’s my obsession, it’s my frustration, and it’s my insecurity… as it makes me feel so inadequate and unprepared.

So?! Why don’t you write in Dutch then? Well because I want to be heard. I write to invoke a response and many of the people I would like to reach don’t read Dutch. So yes, it is a choice to write in English and therefore to struggle with it.

I’m well aware my English is already better than most non-native English speakers. I’m also proud of the fact that apart from Dutch and English I can have conversations in German and even have basic skills in French but at the same time I’m jealous. I envy all you native English speakers for having a language at your fingertips that allows you to communicate with at least a third if not more of the world population. A language that is seen as the standard and that you have been taught from the crib, a language whose finer details and quirky depths to you aren’t a mystery so much as well as a tedious lesson in school.

I want to be you, I want my brain to grasp those words I’m often searching for, those expressions and fantastic nuances… till I do I will struggle, with every blog, sometimes with every tweet. I will make mistakes and get corrected, I will mess up and be told off, I will experiment and get it wrong but, I will not give up. And not just because I feel an urge to be heard, but also, and maybe more importantly, because during all this struggle I didn’t just get to appreciate the English language, I got to love it; its variation, its complex simplicity, its quirky uniqueness….

So next time when I ask you for a word definition, or use an uncommon word in a chat or tweet with a “(?)” behind it, know that it is me learning and grasping and tell me if I do it wrong. And hopefully, one day, I will be able to express everything that goes on in my head in English as easy as I do in Dutch. Till then, bear with me, smile about my silly mistakes and help me get better.

It’s simply me loving the English language.

8 comments

  1. Holly Hodson Nielsen

    I think you have a wonderful grasp of English, and should cut yourself a little slack. :-)I wish I was not monolingual.I suspect even native language speakers struggle for words — today I was talking with my son in the car, and was trying to think of the word "legacy" — but now I don't remember the topic, lol. That's the advantage of writing vs. speaking — you can give it your best shot, put your writing away overnight and let it percolate — then come back and tweak some more the next day, and things are usually clearer.. 

  2. Theo Heselmans

    Femke, I'm in a similar situation as you are: non-native to English. And I'm struggling with it just like you do. What I do like about this, is that we –even more than 'natives'– are forced to think and re-think about 'how' we express ourselves. Writing a 'better' sentence, correcting a line to make it sound better, replacing a word with another, googling expressions/idioms, is what makes us foreign writers/speakers more flexible with that same language.One day we'll GROK English. (Note that many 'natives' don't understand that word :-) )One more thing to get you –and most natives– appreciate the chaos of English pronunciation: read this poem: http://www.xceed.be/blog.nsf/dx/english-pronunciation-chaos

  3. Werner Motzet

    thx for this detailed description of "…grasping for words, searching for meanings and struggling with spelling" you are right in every point.But I envy your language skills, as you speak four languages.And the other site of your (our) situation is very positiv: As you know how people feal when they can not find the right words you understand better users situation whe they try to explan the requirements for a new tool or software.So as we say in German: "every thing has two sides (aspects)"And there is also another point: communication is not only a question of words and sentences and pronunciation and so on, it is first a question of the relationship. "Communication has been derived from the Latin word "communis", meaning to share" (wikipedia) Thx for all the stimulations you give to me, or should I say: I share with me?

  4. Femke Goedhart

    Hi Theo, yes you are right we spend more time deliberating the text and I love doing that but at the same time it takes so much more time doing that! I think that is part of my frustration. I'm simply running out of hours in the day to get it all out of my head and into writing. There is so much I would like to write!ps. yes know that poem well, a real tongue-twister!

  5. Femke Goedhart

     Maybe that's jut it, I'm so eager to get it in writing that I'm too impatient. It's like a waterfall of thoughts I want to get on paper but I'm hampered by my limited vocabulary. There's just one way: to keep doing what I do because I really love the English language as a medium of expression!

  6. Femke Goedhart

    Thank you Werner, I love what you wrote about understanding users better when they struggle to find words to express their wishes and requirements. I think you are right.

  7. Lars Berntrop-Bos

    w00t!  English is great!  My personal fave is having native speakers ask you if a word you just used is actually in the language, and it is…(Dutch native speaker with a penchant for English)

  8. Charles Victor

    As a native English speaker, I am embarrassed to admit that your ability far exceeds mine, in English. (I can get by speaking in 2 other languages, sans expression, that would make your grasping for words seem like reaching for the stars). So, thanks for the reminder and the challenge!

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