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picture via kvelv

The start of the new year came about in a gentle and welcoming way for us: eating fondue with new friends, flowing champagne, sleeping late and a lazy day in pyjamas.

So this morning, this first Monday morning of the year, I sit down to my long to-do list and my varied list of goals and hopes and dreams for the year, and feel ready.

Ready but a little overwhelmed. There’s so much I want to do, to be, to achieve this year. Good goals and mostly achievable, but it’s going to take effort and perseverance and discipline to reach where I want to be by new years eve next year.

And courage, a lot of courage. Because as I glance down this list, so many of the lines are new to me. And newness requires stepping out of my comfort zone and attempting something that I have never done before. And there is the possibility of failure. That is probably what scares me the most.

But I do not have a spirit of fear, but one of power, love and a strong mind. And that spirit is whispering, you can do this.

So I am choosing one word to be my mantra for the year, to be my calling, my hope, my kick up the butt.

This year I will be brave.

Danish is the first language I have truly attempted to conquer since I left school. I took German classes for seven years in school but most of that is now deeply buried somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain, so Germans should not attempt conversation with me. And French, well. I can speak the little you need to order a beer or dinner, direct someone in vaguely the right direction and figure out whether to pull or push a door.

With other languages, I never quite found the motivation to work hard at it. I’m actually quite good at picking up the grammar concepts (I got an A in the one beginner French class I took when I moved to Belgium!). And I guess I believe what Seth Godin wrote this week about skills: “People say that they are not gifted/talented/smart enough to play the trumpet/learn to code/write a book. That’s crazy. Sure, it may be that they don’t possess world-class talent, the sort of stuff that is one in a million. But too stupid to do something that millions and millions of people can do?” Forget the excuses, I could (re)learn French or German if I prioritised it.

But Danish? Here I have the best motivation in the world: not ever wanting my husband to be able to talk behind my back without me understanding. Just to be clear, I’m not imagining him saying malicious things. More likely he and any future kids would gang up on me with endless silly pranks. I’m not about to help them in the process if I can help it!

Also, of course, there’s the very important motivation of being able to communicate with his family and friends, and on some level I really believe that you really can’t fully know a person without being able to speak with them in their mother tongue. Speaking Danish with Rasmus makes our relationship stronger.

So how is it going? Pretty well I think. I’ve been learning just over two years, with just my wonderful teacher and Rasmus to practise on for the most part (besides a few skype calls with my mother in law here and there). I know it would have gone much faster if we’d been living in Denmark and I could practise everywhere I went, but this is where we are and this is what I had to work with, and I think I have effectively proved you don’t need to live in a country to learn a language well.

I can now have quite long one-on-one conversations with someone in Danish, or even in small groups I can keep up if they are actively including me (because usually that means they’re slowing down). In the large groups I get lost very quickly because, as happens in any language, the talking speeds up, people interrupt, talk on top of each other, change subject suddenly…

In those moments it is very very easy to feel discouraged. I focus on those periods of complete bafflement rather than the successful conversations. Maybe all this effort I have been putting in to learning my vocabulary and doing my homework each week, watching Matador with Rasmus on dvd with the Danish subtitles, buying Danish women’s magazines to give myself reading practise… maybe it hasn’t worked?

But that’s really rubbish. There are so many steps in language learning from the early wobbles with “jeg hedder Fiona” through “vil du have mere kaffe?” to full fluency. And those big group conversations? That will be the very last thing to come. And the strong island dialect they’re speaking? Uh huh, just admit defeat already and accept you might have some idea in twenty years time!

As in everything in life, positivity is crucial. Wobbly baby steps forward are still baby steps. And although I might sit through conversations now having no clue what is going on, in a few years time I’ll suddenly realise that I’ve been following along for half an hour and have a fair idea of what everyone said.

And in another few years, I’ll be the one interrupting.

I’d love to hear what your experiences have been of learning a language? So many people have it on their “life to do list” but have you ever started? Succeeded or failed horribly?! Let me know…

Danni at the hugely popular blog Oh, Hello Friend has come up with a new mini project – make a list of twelve things to do before 2012 rolls around. It’s a way to stay focused and perhaps prevent some of the dreaded procrastination that sets in as the days get shorter and darker.

I really love the idea. Last year, you might remember, I did my list of 26 things to before I turned 27 in April. When I finished, I wrote that it had been a great way to really help me make the most of my time, so that I could reach my birthday and – despite not having ticked everything off –  feel like I had lived a very full year.

I didn’t write another list at the time though because there was a lot of changes and discussions happening, and I couldn’t envisage my year and where we would be, so it was harder to create a new list. As you know, we ended up spending a wonderful three and a half months in the USA this summer and it was definitely a full and happy experience.

Now we have another change on the near horizon. Our big news is that we are moving to Luxembourg next month. Rasmus was offered a job there that offers new exciting challenges for him, and after a lot of discussion and prayer we decided we were ready for the next adventure, and Luxembourg sounded like a good location for it!

I will write lots more about our plans and our move on here as it moves along, but suffice to say there is a lot of big changes for us ahead this autumn, that make me feel both excited and scared. Perhaps then, it is the perfect time to focus my plans and thoughts, and make sure I make the most of every day we have left here in Brussels, and savour the adventure of the move too…

Here is my list of twelve things to do by 2012…

  • Get our wedding photo book and anniversary photo book printed;
  • Complete eight units of my Event Management course;
  • Make a quilt;
  • Throw an amazing baby shower for Jenna;
  • Finish my summer photo memories book;
  • Organise a leaving party at our apartment;
  • Write my ultimate guide to Brussels;
  • Move to Luxembourg;
  • Find a Pilates class to join;
  • Launch my new website;
  • Transfer all my files off my old laptop;
  • Create a nice home study area in our new flat.
How about you? Danni opened the Twelve by 2012 idea to anyone who wants to join in, complete with cute buttons for your website! What would you put on your list to help you live a productive and full life between now and 31st December?