I help people to learn Dutch at a very high speed.
How optimism can ruin your Dutch10 June 2014, by Albert Both
What is the first thought or feeling that comes to mind with the word "optimism"? Probably something positive, right?
Sure, it’s much easier to achieve great things in life if you feel optimistic, rather than suffering from feelings of depression or apathy. It's easy to move things forward with optimism. It also helps you to be persistent and achieve great success.
There is only one problem: it may also ruin your Dutch, without you realising it.
Optimism will not help
If you like, you could call it a contradiction. How could something that is essential for reaching your goals also ruin your dreams? The idea may go against your intuition. Optimism, that precious thing that sounds wholly positive, is also very high on the list of the top 10 enemies of your Dutch.
There are many tricky things about optimism. First of all, it feels great and it directly moves you into the realm of action, the only place where real success can happen. Because of all these positive effects, many people fail to recognise that optimism has two sides and that it can also work like a poisonous drug.
While on the one hand it may inspire you, on the other it can make you blind and, without realising it, you lose touch with reality.
Failing to grasp the two sides of optimism
Let’s face it. Most people who like learning Dutch feel optimistic, certainly in the beginning. Soon enough, however, that feeling disappears. Why it does is easy to explain.
There are at least three things that most people feel too optimistic about - and before they know it, they start feel like a failure.
› Lie 1: It is all about being in the right place at the right time
Many people believe that if you go to a new country and are surrounded by a new language, you will learn it automatically. Of all the lies, this is a very dangerous one, because to a certain extent it is true.
Without doubt, you will learn new words once you are in the Netherlands, even if you aren’t trying to. Suddenly, you know words like goede morgen (good morning), gezellig (even Obama knows this word) and fiets (bike). But then, all of a sudden, learning slows down tremendously or even stops.
If this has happened to you, don’t worry. The good news is that there's nothing wrong with you; it's just that being in the right place is not enough.
› Lie 2: Two hours a week is enough to master a new language
There are many people for whom learning a new language looks like an effortless and easy process. Didn’t you learn your own language in a natural and seemingly effortless way?
However, if you truly believe that a language course for two hours a week (after work) will do the trick, it only means one thing: you have definitively overdosed on optimism to such a degree that you have lost your sense of reality.
Just check for yourself. When you were a baby, did you only try to learn your language on Monday morning between 10am and 12pm?
If this was your plan for Dutch, then the simple truth is this: it will not work. Not for you and not for anyone else!
› Lie 3: I will study hard and do a lot of homework
Strangely enough, this is one of the things that most people feel too optimistic about. Somehow they find it easy to believe that they will be able to do a lot of homework and if they just study enough, then great things will happen.
The problem is this: if you are like most people, then you do not have a lot of spare time. Even if you do, then you probably don’t want to spend it on brain-draining activities and things you do not really enjoy.
So if you had this ideal picture of yourself diligently doing a lot of homework, then you should probably just forget it. It will not work, which is totally fine. Learning fast has nothing to do with studying hard and doing loads of homework!
Optimism needs one specific ingredient
Can you see how tricky these three assumptions are? However, now that you are aware these are lies, you don’t have to believe them and you don’t have to feel like a failure if you cannot live up to them!
Again, there is nothing wrong with you. Wow! That sounds like an optimistic thought! There is really only one thing that you need to do (while keeping your optimism) and that is understand what it really takes to master a new language.
How to master a new language
Here is an example. Imagine you like climbing mountains. In this case, optimism will help you to reach the top and persist in those difficult moments when it is easy to give up. This is the beauty of optimism: often in challenging situations you can do far more than you thought you could.
But if you simply assumed - maybe out of full ignorance - that climbing a mountain would be as easy as a walk in the park, then you are in trouble.
The solution, therefore, is after you have welcomed and fully embraced optimism, you need to do one more thing: fully comprehend what it really takes to achieve your goal. Always make sure that you find the right equipment and the tools that you really need. Then combine it with some patience and persistence.
If you feel overwhelmed at times, then just realise that this is also part of the game. Once you know that at the end a great feeling of achievement, even glory, is waiting for you, then your whole perspective on mastering Dutch changes.
Sure, you could call this optimism, but in my opinion there are some better words for it: a healthy and sound sense of reality!
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