Back several years ago we thought that this move to the Netherlands might be imminent pending some life and work circumstances that ended up not panning out at the time. That’s when we started planning in earnest, researching what we needed to do and trying to get a leg up on the language.
We purchased a set of language CDs called Pimsleurs Dutch (Beginner), and put them on at home and in the car. These CDs used repeat-after-me, question and answer and sample conversation exercises to teach us basic phrases, questions and every day vocabulary. They come in a variety of languages and I think we picked ours up from our neighbourhood Chapters bookstore.
First off, it was a good basic introduction to Dutch sounds and basic interactions. Even though I'm shy and hate sounding foolish while figuring out a new language, it was a lot of fun to follow these CDs together. We got better, I think, at imitating what was being said, and anticipating the answers to questions posed to us. Now that I know a bit more Dutch though, I definitely think not having a written component is problematic. I still have a hard time connecting written words to the ones I spent so much time repeating out loud. My brain just needs visual aids to make the most sense of what I’m learning.
The second observation, now having lived in the Netherlands for three months, is that what you learn is overly formal and old-fashioned for the culture that currently exists here. I understand that what all of us beginners learn is the “proper” way of speaking Dutch, and that it usually makes sense to err on the side of being more formal. But the fact remains that no one speaks like Pimsleurs here.
Take, for example, the basic greeting hammered into us, “hoe gaat het met u?” which literally means “how goes it with you?” or “how are you?” Yes, someone might say this full phrase to us here, but we’ve probably heard it only once or twice. And the “u,” as has been explained to us many times now, is so overly formal that it is almost never used except to the “conservative-looking” elderly or professors. “Je” or “jij” is much, much more common. We had a good laugh when a follower gently schooled us by asking us not to say “u” anymore on Twitter. It’s apparently like saying “sir” or “madam” in regular conversation with friends. We must have seemed like total weirdos!
There were only three CDS, and the more complicated sentences got, the more I wished there was a written component. But it was a good icebreaker for me to just stop worrying about sounding funny and start speaking some Dutch.
Community Language Course
Around the same time, we were excited to learn that the Dutch Canadian Club in Edmonton, Canada was going to be offering an Introduction to Dutch Language and Culture class. We signed up for this seven-week course which took place one evening per week.
It started out well, but I’m sorry to say that neither of us gave the course the attention we should have. Between our hectic jobs and other commitments, it was difficult to stay motivated. We didn’t spend a lot of time on our homework, nor did we even attend all the classes. It didn’t help that the Dutch Club was on the other side of town from where we lived.
The class itself was small, perhaps ten people, and it was very much like taking a language course at school. Our instructor was the daughter of a Dutch immigrant to Canada who was open about her own desire to know the language better through teaching the course. I think it was also helpful that she was a new teacher of small children, so she was very kind and patient with us.
In each class, we would learn something about Dutch culture – like food or holidays – learn vocabulary, do written exercises and partner work. I have never been a fan myself of language activities that require me to think on the spot or to sound stupid in front of people I don’t know very well, but the small size of the class and the patience of the instructor made it all a bit more tolerable for me.
I think some of that vocabulary stuck – lots of words that I’ve heard here, things like foods and clothing, are words I remember having heard before. And a basic confusion about Dutch grammar has stuck with me as well (I still wish that there was a magical formula for getting “de” and “het” words straight). Even if I don’t know the rules, I see patterns emerging, and little bits and pieces come back to me slowly and intermittently as I try to figure it out here on the ground.
Had we really taken it seriously at the time, and had there been an intermediate course available after completion of the beginner, I think the community language course would have been much more beneficial. But even though I fervently wish it were not the case, learning a language really requires you to speak it, and courses like this one force you to speak and be confused in a safe environment. It also offers direct access to a live person who can answer your questions (or ask her dad, who can answer your questions). Depending on the language you are hoping to learn, these courses could be difficult to find and there isn’t a way to guarantee the quality or continuation of learning as many organizations depend on the availability and interest of volunteer instructors.
These were our first experiences learning Dutch. Have you ever taken a language course? What did you enjoy or find most helpful?
Next time: Duolingo app