Hearing For the First Time

I’ve been living in the Nederlands for 12 years now. I’m often asked why I’m not speaking Dutch. This is a reasonable question given that I’ve been here for over a decade, shopped in stores, ridden the train, the bus, been to major cities and had contact with the natives. The natives are wrestles for me to be speaking Dutch. Needless to say it is a bit of a quandary: why doesn’t Gail “prat Nederlands?”

There is a real answer and it is complicated. The fact is that being able to read the print is only part of the learning process. Hearing the words clearly is essential to learning and speaking your native language or a second or third language fluently. For most of my life my hearing has been turned down.

The fact is: you can’t speak what you can’t hear. If you don’t hear it correctly speaking will be useless. So for 12 years I’ve been feeling as if learning was useless. It isn’t that I didn’t want to learn it was that I couldn’t understand. The lack of understanding has changed. It all started in July of 2011. A week in Apeldoorn changed my hearing.

Deciding to make the appointment with the audiology specialist was a decision that I didn’t make lightly. I also have to admit that I didn’t expect much of anything when I kept that appointment. They did the usual testing and I did poorly. I expected to do poorly. I had over 50% of my hearing missing. What I didn’t expect was what happened the following week.

I left the audiology center with a document that I could take to the guy at a nearby hearing aid store. When I phoned the place the guy asked me if this was an emergency!!!!! Did I need it right away? “Um no” I thought as I spoke the words I’ve been in this state most of my life what’s a week?

So two weeks later I found myself at the second of two appointments with Ronald. I was about to confront technology that in 1986 had disappointed me. I let him place two tiny wires into my ears.

WOW!!!!!! The sound was unbelievable. Several weeks’ later more wonderful noise had been enabled. I could really HEAR.
The next few months were filled with discoveries. New sounds in the music I had thought that I’d been hearing clearly. What richness!!!! I couldn’t have asked for more from a tiny set of gadgets. (They call them hearing instruments)

Then December 12th came and my arrival here, in Apeldoorn, opened up a disaster of sound. I had not been listening to the Dutch language much. This was overwhelming. Could I just go crawl into my bed, pull the covers over me and wake up when it was OK? I got through the next two weeks by sheer willpower and support. By my third week here it was beginning to sound familiar. So maybe there was hope for learning Dutch.

I’ve now been here seven weeks. Now I’m swimming in grammar and words and trying to remember what I know. I hope week eight is better!!! It is a challenge to recall simple sounds and I am, like a child, learning to distinguish new sounds and new words. What kind of “O” am I hearing? Long? Short? Does it sound like “go or stop?”

For the job of learning the Dutch language I have “staff” and they are each wonderful in their unique and talented ways. I’ll tell you this now: Els brings humor and a desire in me to push and stick with the challenges. Anoeska has given me hope that “seeing it, touching it, reading it, hearing it, but not yet eating it can be used to meet my need to understand in practical terms. Kiki and Erna bring a precision to learning Dutch. These two raise the bar and make me feel like I need to be strict with myself. I am learning from them to work and listen, and to not be a wimp. These two women on my “staff” push me, gently and without knowing, to summon up the courage to speak Dutch in public. Monica is the glue that makes this all work for me. She brings it all together in one tiny room. This short description doesn’t do justice to my staff so I’ll be following this blog with a more detailed account. Don’t worry ladies there’s no pressure here…only what I put on myself.
Hearing can take many forms: listening, understanding, knowing and being liberated by the sound of inspiration.

As I have written this I have listened to “Paulus” (Felix Mendelssohn) and some Emerson Lake & Palmer. The harmonies are beautiful and I owe it to some genius scientist who took the time to study hard and understand what I really needed. I needed the other 50% of my hearing, which I now have. While it is great that I can learn Dutch it is a greater gift to hear the music.


About Gail Nicolaysen-Shurtleff

I am an American who is living in The Netherlands. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist with a license to practice in California. Music has been a huge part of my life. Singing is something you can find me doing at any time and anywhere. I have to admit that I try to not sing while out in public though. You can also find me in the kitchen cooking up wonderful things. cooking is something that I have just recently (in the last ten years) discovered that I'm talented at doing, and it is really fun. The best way to know me is to read my blog.
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5 Responses to Hearing For the First Time

  1. Denise says:

    PS That’s an amazing description of how the sounds felt to you when they were amplified for you.

    • Gail Nicolaysen-Shurtleff says:

      Hearing is an amazing process. Music is the best of all the sounds to hear. Having had the hearing aids for two years now I miss them if I don’t have them in.

  2. Denise says:

    How come you ended up in the Nederlands? And how is the Dutch speaking coming along?

    • Gail Nicolaysen-Shurtleff says:

      Denise I moved to Europe with my husband. We wound up living here. It is a good place to live. The Dutch has been a challenge but I am speaking it!!!! It is close to German in origin.

  3. Flora Brouwer says:

    It’s good to hear that you are learning so mutch. You’re a pro so, you can do it!

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