Before moving into my lectureship at New College, I spent three years in the Netherlands, where I worked at the Theologische Universiteit Kampen. When I arrived there, I had finished my PhD on Bavinck, which meant I had a good reading knowledge of late nineteenth century theological Dutch. My spoken Dutch was much more limited: I could work through complex technical material (although I had never heard much of it pronounced), but my everyday vocabulary and range of expression were not extensive. My early attempts to converse dried up quickly and required a lot of patience from my Dutch conversation partners (bedankt voor jullie geduld, Marinus en Wolter!).
Three years in a Dutch university context transformed that. I seized every opportunity to improve my Dutch: I went to language classes, absolutely refused to speak English to my colleagues, watched Dutch TV, read Dutch newspapers, read a lot of Dutch theologians (in Dutch) other than Bavinck, went to Dutch church services (twice!) every Sunday, and got to know our Dutch neighbours. At the end of my first year there, I gave my first public lectures in Dutch, and started to preach in Dutch church services. By the end of my time in Kampen, my home life was in a mix of English and Gaelic, but the rest of my life took place in Dutch. It became comforting and familiar – almost like a second mother-tongue, something I could play with and enjoy. It became a big part of my identity and experience. When I first returned to Edinburgh, I felt bereft of the language. I remember the palpable sense of relief upon meeting a Dutch postgrad and being able to have a long conversation in Dutch. Continue reading