Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What helped me learn Dutch. The useful and the not-so-great.


 Now that I passed the NT2-II (sometimes I still can't believe it) I thought I would put together a list of resources that helped me and also mention those that didn't so much (so you can avoid wasting your valuable time and money). Perhaps it can be useful for someone out there.

-My first formal contact with the Dutch language (other than the loose words that the boy and his family would slowly teach me like names of colors, days and animals, how to say hi, good morning and thank you...) was "De Delftse methode". This is a class that was developed and takes place at TU Delft (though it is taught in other centers) of which we had only heard amazing stories. People raved about it, about how great it was, about how people went from not saying a word to being able to maintain full conversations after the intensive (3 month) course. So I took it. And it was a waste of money, and not just of a small amount. How to explain this. The method is based on the premise that small children learn a language by listening and then repeating what they hear, like parrots. So that's what you will have to do. You get a book with CDs, a list of words and written conversations, one per chapter. You listen to these conversations and your task is to memorize them (word by word), understand the meaning of these words, and write them down, literally. This is not a bad exercise per se, if it was not all there was. The method omits to take into account that children, after the parrot phase are sent to school to learn things such as grammar, synthaxis, spelling.... It's mentally retarded if you ask me.

I have to say that your experience with the Delftse Methode is going to highly depend on the professor you get. I know some professors (the one who developed the method) are very good and take their time to actually explain things. But most of them just focus on making the students repeat the texts like idiots psittacidaes and they do not explain basic things like, say, the conjugation of the verb "to be",  the use of auxiliary verbs, or the basic structure of the sentence. Sure, at the back of the book, Het Groene boek (Nederlands voor buitenlanders), (we noemen het boek daarom het groene boek), you'll find a section on grammar but this is never  covered or explained in the classes and Dutch grammar is not as straightforward as to just be able to understand it by reading some random conversations. My recommendation with this method, as a first approach only, is to get the book, listen to the cd's and study it by yourself. But by no means pay the money for a course that won't give you any added value or teach you anything else than what is already in the book.The silver lining is that I made some good friends in that class, and I liked going to campus everyday for 3 months.


- Invest in some good dictionaries. If you can afford it, don't even bother with pocket or medium size dictionaries and splurge in the biggest, thickest dictionary you can get  (the Van Dale's are the best). You will keep on using them.  As an extra I got the "Van Dale groot 4 talig beeld woord & boek", it's basically a pictionary. It is full of drawings of things and its name in 4 languages (English, French, German and Dutch). And get yourself a book of conjugations. It is very handy to have a little book where all verbs in all tenses are easy-to-find and it helps you understand how the rules and exceptions of conjugations work. I got the "201 Dutch verbs fully congujated" by Henry Stern and I was very happy when I found such a book (It took me a while to find it... I knew such a book in French, la conjugaison, by Bescherelle, and unfortunately this specific one does not exist in Dutch).

- Go to classes. To good ones. This is where I get to recommend my school, and my dear professor Petra. If you are in the area, make sure you ask for her, and enroll in one of her courses because she is really, really good (not to mention fun, crazy and chaotic, all great qualities in my book). In the end where I really learnt was at Direct Dutch. I took the intermediate, advanced and NT2-II courses. Right from the start the method focuses on conversation without leaving the rules behind. It was here that the mysteries of how to structure a sentence in Dutch were finally revealed to me. This is how it works: you will get some class material and cd's. You can choose between intensive courses or 1 time per week 2h 30 classes. I chose the latter because at the time I was working. Before every lesson you have to read a newspaper and prepare a short summary of it to present it at the class. The idea is to get you talking, but don't worry, it's usually less than 5 minutes and these presentations are done at the end of the class, so the ice has been broken, so to speak. For the intermediate courses the online newspaper nu.nl was enough, for the advanced classes we could chose from one of the main newspapers (de Volkskrant (my fave), de Telegraaf or de NRC). Every week we also had grammar exercises (from the class materials) that were reviewed during class and you had to write a short composition (on any subject you wanted, though there were also guidelines) of 100-150 words. During the class after explaining the grammar as was needed  and going through the exercises we mostly talked. The fact that we had to read, write, talk and study beforehand made all the difference.


-Get immersed in the culture. Watch TV. Listen to the radio. Visit museums and art galleries. Even seemingly "silly" stuff can help. I got a good deal for a 4-month subscription to Grazia magazine and I read all of it. If celebrity gossip and fashion aren't your thing just choose something that appeals to you (interior decoration, games, computers, cooking). I also found the videos from schooltv.nl very helpful. Sure, they are meant for kids from grades 1-8, but they are simple, easily understandable, cover a wide range of subjects that you can choose from and the ones for the junior-high school kids are very interesting and often take 15 minutes, which is a good length. Not too long, not too short. I also loved learning some songs from the Dutch children's singing competition: "kinderen voor kinderen" ('...op een onbewoond eiland lekker leven is de leus').

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 Update I should have mentioned here: listen to Dutch music, try to write down the lyrics (I like Dio and Cef): Tijdmachine and De wereld in are really catchy songs.Partysquad has some fun numbers too (don't mind the swearing). I like Ik ga hard and Helemaal naar de k****. Don't judge, the boy shows me this music. And, again, the newspaper De Volkskrant has a dossier- series called "Der Nederlanden", that talks about all kinds of subjects around "Dutch-ness", from the use of the bike, to the food they like or historical figures, games and traditions. 
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-Finally two books that I found helpful were Klare taal, uitgebreide basisgrammatica voor de NT2 (Jenny van der Toorn-Schutte), which starts at a very basic level and is full of exercises and clear explanations and Help! 3 Zal ik u even helpen (which we used in the preparatory class for the NT2-II). The intertaal grammar summary (which looks like a simple plastic folder) was extremely useful, concise and helpful. (The name of this booklet is "Grammaticawijzer", it is produced by Intertaal and it is available in many different languages.)


At first Dutch sounds very different and the order of the sentences is confusing (many times you will only find the verb at the end of the sentence, and inversion of the subject is common). But slowly you will see that it is in ways similar to English, French, even Spanish (some words are the same) and of course to German and Nordic languages (but that was not helpful in my case because I have no basic knowledge in any of those). You will often get frustrated because at the beginning the learning process is fast, and then you seem to reach a point where you are stuck. Where you are not learning anymore, where you seem to be making no progress. I think this is where you absorb and really learn. Because after that, I promise you, if you keep your efforts, there'll be a click, and suddenly you will find it easier to start talking, you will notice you understand people around you, you will lose the fear. And I am not saying I am fluent here, I still have a lot to learn. I want to be able to write, manipulate and twist language to make pretty sentences like I am able to do in Spanish, French or English. I am not there yet, far from it. But from here it is a matter of keeping at it, of reading books, making the effort to speak Dutch with the boy (ahem, we keep forgetting after a few hours of doing so).

Do you have any tips for learning a new, different and seemingly incomprehensible language?


*Marktplaats is a great place to find second-hand books (or anything else for that matter). We got my Spaans-Nederlands, Nederlands-Spaans big dictionaries above for 40 EUR (instead of 90 EUR) and they are brand new.

25 comments:

  1. I only ever took 2 classes. One in the beginning to learn basics, but I didn't like it there and had trouble finding a second class. After that, watching TV and listening to my friends got me up to a B1 level. At that point, I was getting serious about taking the NT2-II and decided to find another class. I cannot say enough good things about dutchcoursesamsterdam.nl. 2 lessons per week (1 focused on grammar, 1 focused on speaking) for 12 weeks got me up to the B2 level. The guy who started the "school" (you might miss it walking by if you aren't watching closely enough. I sure did... a couple times) has his own method of teaching, and we used an unplublished textbook that he wrote (probably about 200 pages printed on regular printer paper in a binder). The cost is low, relatively speaking, bc of the low-cost text. Class sizes are small (I think max. 8 per class, but there were half that many in my class).

    I also totally get what you mean that you can't believe you passed. I still catch myself thinking that there is no way I actually can speak Dutch that well. Their standards must be lower than I thought! We have to do our best to knock those thoughts out of our head though, bc I'm sure we are both better at Dutch than we think!!

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    1. Wow you are good, if you were able to learn without that much guidance. I have to say what I found really useful is that everything we wrote, we got it back corrected within the week. You can then see your mistakes and be able to get it right next time, particularly in writing. The method at Direct Dutch is similar, they also used their own material, that you get copies of on a binder and the groups are also small (maximum 8 too).

      I also thought the exam was going to be harder, I mean the diploma does say "Nederlands als tweede taal", and well, even if it certifies second-language fluency, I have to say my English and my French are way way better than my Dutch.

      But yeah, we are probably better than we think, we just have to not let it go, to be able to be fully fluent (at a near-native level). Way to go us :)

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  2. Congrats on the exam! I learned English & Basque as a kid so it came pretty easily. French was a whole different ballgame – I got so frustrated with the verbs, hah. I've forgotten most of it because I stopped taking lessons/didn't practice..
    Now that we're going to the US Andoni needs to improve his English (he only knows basic stuff). He says I could teach but I'm not sure how, I just keep telling him to watch TV in English with subtitles in Spanish, hah. I actually think that's a great way to learn. Any other suggestions?

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    1. For the French verbs I can only highly recommend the Bescherelle (la conjugaison) that I linked to above. Those books are very very helpful. And with French, knowing Spanish it's just a matter of living in the country for a few months, they are both latin-descendant languages many words are similar, as is the general structure of the language. You will get it.

      You are right, English TV is a great way to learn. Another one is reading (maybe he can read something simple like young-adult books, or something on the style of Mark Haddon's "The curious incident of the dog in the night time". Also, listening to music and trying to learn / write down / understand the lyrics of songs you like helps a lot. That's pretty much how Mark learnt. It does not really help that in Spain it is difficult to go see movies in their original version, they tend to translate all the movies.

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  3. Your reviews are making me wish I was in the Netherlands learning Dutch. Every instruction I've ever had in the learning a new language has been really similar to the first one you mentioned and it turns me off right away. Sounds like you had some great resources.

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    1. We had to look, but it definitely is about finding a good guide / professor, someone who likes what they do and is invested in their students. Like I said above we had small groups, which was also better for everyone because we really got to talk.

      And a big chunk from it is also reading (it does not matter what) and being in contact with the language (TV, movies, songs).

      You can always learn a new language :)

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  4. Thanks for the tips! I'm going to see if I can find those books here. I tried enrolling in some lessons here in NYC but they are so hard to find! I'll keep looking though because although Rosetta Stone is helping me a lot I still think that having an actual person to walk you through the grammar and craziness of the language is important.

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    1. The place I took lessons from also offered private lessons via Skype... maybe that would be something to look into?

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    2. Really? I'm definitely going to look into that. Thanks!

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    3. Maybe the Klaare taal is a good book to start, let me know if you can find it otherwise I could send you a copy, and the intertaal grammaticawizser (they have it from English to Dutch to) was really a very good summary of the rules.

      You can watch schooltv.nl and listen to Dutch music, try to write down the lyrics (I like Dio and Cef),Tijdmachine and De wereld in are really catchy songs.

      If you can get some children books that's also useful, simple, clear, and understandable.

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    4. @ Sara yeah! That's a good idea, I can not remember which exactly but there are people over Skype willing to give lessons or "tandems" (you both mutually teach each other a language ,for example Spanish / English / French---)

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  5. The only foreign language I had to learn FOR REAL was English. I was 11 years old, and Russian was my native language, so English was very different (even the alphabet). Of course, I was a kid, so it was easier to pick up a new language then than it would be now. It helped that I was constantly surrounded by it, but it was also overwhelming for the first half a year. In school, I wrote down every word from the blackboard and then went home and translated everything. I also took out tons of books from the library (mostly the Babysitters Club series) that would have been more appropriate for a younger generation, but were easier to understand with my rudimentary knowledge of English. Eventually, I started understanding what people were saying around me (no easy task when you are learning English in Brooklyn!), and it was smooth sailing from there.

    I also learned Spanish in school, in a class setting, but I think I've lost a lot of that knowledge because I haven't needed to use the language, which is very sad and unfortunate.

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    1. Wow, learning English must have been hard, but you are right, as a kid it goes quite easy, I am quite impressed at the skills of the youngest... true little sponges.

      When I was learning English reading also helped a lot. I also read the Babysitters Club, and The Sweet valley twins (when they are in middle-school / junior high school), Camp Sunnyside and Spooksville. Might be silly but it does help.

      You can pick up your Spanish if you are ever immersed in the culture... you will see you start remembering.

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  6. As I've said before, I am so completely impressed by your multilingualism. Your post shows how much dedication you had to learning another, completely different language. Congrats!

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    1. Thanks :) I really want to learn for several reasons, obviously it is the language / culture of my husband and there is so much more to a language (it is not only the words, when you truly understand a language you get things about their humour, their "philosophy" / culture / way of seeing-understanding the world... there is a whole subtlety that goes on behing... which is often the reason why translated literature loses quite a lot from the original, there are so many things intertwined in the language, history, myths...).

      And of course, from a professional point of view if I am ever going to get the jobs I really want (public policy / public health / epidemiology within government institutions) I really need to be basically as fluent as a native speaker (which is gonna be hard).

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  7. Gefeliciteerd!! Ik had al gereageer op je post van vandaag en ik had dit bij onver het hoofd gezien :O Ik vind het echt super dat je de tijd hebt genomen, en de moeite om je het nederlands eigen te maken. Ik weet dat het super moeilijk is, zeker met alle uitzonderingen die wij kennen in de grammatica. Dit was erg leuk om te lezen. Bij de liedjes zoals partysquad kreeg ik tranen in mn ogen, ik wilde namelijk heel hard lachen maar ik moet me inhouden want ik zit op m'n werk :p
    Nou reageer ik altijd in het Nederlands op je artikelen. Maar eigenlijk weet ik helemaal niet of je dat leuk vind en of het goed kan volgen. Dus laat me dat even weten :)
    Nogmaals van harte gefeliciteerd, ik ben in ieder geval hartstikke trots!

    xx

    liquoriceandpumps.blogspot.com

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    1. Dank je wel. Het was heel veel werk en ik moet nog meer bijleren, maar het is het waard. Mark lacht me altijd uit, omdat ik bij het na zingen van de nummers mijn eigen woorden verzin. Ik vind het heel erg leuk dat je in het Nederlands reageert om mijn posts. Dan kan ik blijven oefenen.

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    2. Haha cool, het is leuk om te horen met hoeveel passie je dit benaderd hebt! Dan blijven de reacties in t nederlands :D

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  8. Gefeliciteerd nog! Kan me voorstellen dat het erg moeilijk was. Kom zelf ook niet oorspronkelijk uit Nederland, en mijn ouders spraken de taal ook niet goed, dus ik heb als kind ook veel moeite moeten doen om de taal te leren. Wat mij veel heeft geholpen is heel veel lezen (ook al zijn het maar kinderboeken). Waar ik nog steeds wel eens moeite mee heb zijn de lidwoorden, daar zijn vaak geen echte regels voor, en moet je 'aanvoelen' maar ik voel dat niet altijd aan, haha.

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    1. Oh ja de lidwoorden zijn een nachtmerrie. Je hebt gelijk, lezen is een hele goede manier om te leren. Hoe lang woont je al in Nederland... ik denk dat je hier gestudeerd hebt? Je nederlands is super goed.

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    2. Ik was anderhalf jaar toen ik hier kwam, dus dat is wel een stukje langer dan jij! haha Maar je doet het al heel goed vind ik, je woont hier nog maar zo kort.

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  9. Dear Amanda,

    Thank you very much for your lovely blog and for recommending Direct Dutch! We are very proud of it! The rest of the article is also very handy for our students. Do we have you permission to quote you on our website and link it to the rest of your blog?

    Best wishes,
    Zsuzsa and the Direct Dutch Team

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    1. Dear Zsuzsa and Direct Dutch,

      I am glad you like it :) Yes, you can quote the article and link it on the website :) Amanda

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  10. I like learning dutch language. It will be difficult for me, but I will try. Your blog motivate me. Thanks for sharing informative information.

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