Over the weekend I headed down to the Utrecht Volksuniversiteit. There's one in most cities, including my city, but the one in Utrecht is much bigger and offers many more courses.
The Volksuniversiteit is basically continuing education. They offer interest classes ranging from learning another language to yoga to cooking and that's just to start with. The Utrecht location is about 40-45 minutes by bike, or 35-40 minutes by tram+walking. If the weather is nice, and I don't have a lot to carry, I'll be going by bike.
I was there to get my ability to speak French evaluated. I don't know how they managed to do that, seeing as how I could barely say a word! I think I'm really going to like it there though. Let me tell you about it.
First off, the Volksuniversiteit is in a beautiful old building facing a canal. I walked in, and since it was the open-day, there was a table with some flyers and a couple of people sitting there right in the vestibule. I told them I was there to get my French ability evaluated, and they handed me a sheet of paper with the room number and told me how to get there. Fortunately, they also had signs everywhere, as it was busy and there were a lot of doors and rooms.
My room was up a flight of stairs, around a corner, up another, this time fire-escape-looking flight of stairs, and down a hall. Then, I had to bend double and walk about a metre, and then the ceiling returned to normal height and I was in the French room!
I was greeted and invited to take a seat. I explained, in Dutch, the problem. I used to be fluent in French. But that was almost 20 years ago! I can still read French fairly well, but my vocabulary was never great, so even though I had previously been able to comfortably communicate in French, it was never the fluency I have in English. Now, however, I can hardly speak a word of French. My newly acquired Dutch gets in the way!! If I go very slowly, and try very hard, I can speak half-French half-Dutch. Not useful.
The evaluator spoke with me a bit in French, and I understood everything, I just couldn't reply in French. She invited her colleague over to try to crack this particular nut, and the colleague laughed as she had the same experience on vacation this summer. Interesting, for me at least, was that I recognized that the colleague's first language was French, in French. I didn't detect her French accent in Dutch, although I heard the Dutch speaker's accent in French.
What they recommended is that I participate in an intensive course for 3 months. It's once weekly, on Friday afternoons. I work Friday afternoons about once a month, so I'll have to arrange with a work colleague to take over a few hours or leave the course early those days.
The idea is that the first few weeks I might find a bit basic, but it will give me repeated exposure so that my own French can bubble up a bit closer to the surface in my brain!
After that, J joined me for a cup of tea in the lounge area, and it was so pretty! They open onto a lovely backyard/courtyard area. I looked around at how busy it was, and I got so excited thinking about how nice it will be to meet a few new people over the coming 3 months. And also, I just like being in Utrecht. I realize living in a smaller city is something I have found very boring. There are things to do here, but not very much, and it seems to be more for families. Which, once J and I get around to having a kid, will be very nice on occassion. But I sure like to do other things, and I am looking forward to moving to a bigger city once we decide to move.
I'm so excited to be learning French, again. Classes start the end of January, so stay tuned!