I visited Utrecht for a few days in 2007 and recognized something that I'd suspected that I had learned the Dutch language.
Of course nobody learns a language entirely but I had acquired a functional knowledge. I hadn't known that for sure when I left at the end of '04.
During the last weeks of 2004 in Nijmegen I spent extra time and energy to learn a better understanding of Dutch, especially listening and conversing. I knew that if I stayed, this was going to be necessary. I worked hard, and on some occasions insisted on Dutch and then I left.
And I always wondered what I had learned....
In that autumn of 2007, I'd booked a bed at a hostel downtown and I needed to find it. Off the train from Eindhoven, where I'd flown from Ireland, I stopped a man at the foot of the Domtoren. He had an immense mustache. He told me to go to that street, turn left, go up to the standbeeld (the statue of Willibrord;) then turn right and go to a particular square. And I got there.
I'd arranged the next night in Bunnik, southeast of the city. When I arrived and was deboarding the train with my small backpack, a conductor said to me "lekker weer thuis" (good to be back home.) I said no, I'm visiting. I'm looking for a hostel that's here. Do you know anything about that? He suggested I ask somebody local. Off the train, I spoke with a middle-aged gentleman on a bicycle. He was polite and helpful but he did (subtly and politely) shift to English.
One evening I went out and spoke only Dutch. I mostly sat at tables and wrote; but all of my short conversations were in Dutch. I was able to speak it.
My experiences in Utrecht provided a counterpoint to those which I've lamented on these pages in which the Dutch people switch to English with unconsidered ease, making the speaking of het Nederlands especially difficult for the anglophone. This tendency is not unique to the Dutch, but may be uniquely prevalent, their grasp of English especially strong.