The first thing I noticed about both Brussels and then Amsterdam was the incredible diversity in the usage of language. Dutch and French are equally spoken, but the culture is also colored with thick stripes of English, lesser prominent dashes of Italian, German, and even the occasional flecks of Spanish. I took it as a strange sort of compliment to be spoken to in a language other than English.
Knowing even a piece of a language other than your own opens doors to communicating with not only the people who speak said language, but to those who may know just bits and pieces of that language as well. In Madrid, I met a man who was from Portugal. His primary language was Portuguese, but had studied Spanish in school. Even though neither he nor I speak Spanish very fluidly, we were still able to communicate with each other and hold a small conversation.
There is another level to this, too. I came to Italy not speaking a hint of Italian but after taking the quickest-and-miniest crash course on the language, I am now able to read it fairly well due to my knowledge of Spanish. My two languages opened the gateway for a third.
This can go even further. I don’t speak a hint of Dutch, but while in Belgium and the Netherlands, I was able to understand certain words based off my strange assortment of English, Spanish, and Italian. With one deeply rooted language, another fairly strong, and the mere seeds of a third, I was provided with enough to gather up a few little acorns of a fourth language.
The influence of the diversity of the languages on the attitude of the locals in Brussels and Amsterdam was so great. Different cultures are not only accepted, but welcomed. The kindness of the natives was so distinct, and more than once a man offered up his seat on the metro for me and patience was firm as I stumbled along with wide eyes in the new and exciting environment.
It is this wonderful aspect that has left my heart longing to go return to the gentle, beautiful cities and to try with all my strength to learn another language or solidify the ones that I have. Imagine the possibilities for those who can speak 4, 5, 6 languages! The world is open so wide for these, the greatness of diversity and knowledge is heavy in their arms. It gives people a sense of security knowing the ability to vocally communicate is there.
So go and learn a few words in that language you’ve been waiting for just the right moment to learn. You’ll be surprised where it can take you.
I’ll leave you all with one last thought: Eat all the Belgian waffles you can.