Where There’s a Will there’s a Way – Waar een wil is, is een weg.
In early 2019, I finally decided that I really needed to learn the Dutch language. I mean, how long could I just get by in English? I planned to do this in two steps over two years. In 2019, I set myself the goal of laying down a solid foundation from which I could build. This was my game changer. In the past, I knew that I wanted to make progress, but always advanced in a piecemeal fashion with no plan. I would do short bursts and then stop. This meant that I had to keep restarting from zero. It was a lazy and unsuccessful approach. I was not making progress and I knew it. This went on for years.
Part of the issue was that I had told myself it was hard and that I was going to struggle. That mindset was a sure fire recipe for failure. The big change happened when a Dutch lady explained to me that Dutch is really similar to English in a lot of ways. There are lots of Dutch words that closely resemble the English equivalent. Recognising that was a major step forward and I thought, “She’s right and I can definitely do this!”
Little and often
Early in 2019, I started to learn the verbs and build vocabulary. I have a hectic work schedule and I go out a lot, so structured lessons were not my intention to begin with. For other people with other priorities, an intensive course is probably a good way to start. I can speak a few languages, so I understand the structure of a language and decided to learn the basics by myself. I have printed A4 sheets with the verbs by my bed, in the kitchen and on the toilet door. This helped with the repetition.
I found Vocabulearn. There are sound files with hours of verbs, nouns, adverbs, adjectives and expressions. You hear one person say the word(s) in English, and then you hear another person say the same word(s) in Dutch. I listen to these as a playlist during ‘dead time’: when out walking, cycling in the city or even just getting ready in the morning. I hear the English word, then I try to say the Dutch word before the person on the audio file does. I use it as a quiz, so to speak. Actively saying the word helps it stick in my mind.
At other times I use the app Memrise. Some people use Duolingo, etc, I really like the Memrise format and it is only 29 euros a year. These are endless tests with expressions and words. It really cements the language through constant repetition, sometimes as a writing exercise, sometimes as a listening test. I have found this to be a useful addition to the audio files.
If you only develop your listening skills, you will understand people speaking Dutch, but it will never develop into a dialogue. For me, the goal is full verbal fluency. I want to converse freely and confidently. So, I have started to speak to everyone in Dutch. All. The. Time. At the supermarket, at the train station, on the tram, in the restaurant, at the cinema. I order in Dutch, pay in Dutch. I ask questions….in Dutch. They way I see it is that the quickest way for it to became second nature is to be using it all the time. Sure, sometimes the person on the receiving end replie in English. I then reply in Dutch and keep doing so. It is the only way. The more I do it , the easier it gets. As I grow in confidence, I am using full phrases I have learnt off by heart.
Towards the end of 2019, I added in the learning element I knew I would need at some point : I took some classes. Structured learning from a language teacher is essential. This can be a classic classroom setting or a tutor on a 1-2-1 basis. Either way, the benefits are real and you can feel the progress. I attended classes with Koentact. It was not an absolute beginner class, as the work I had done earlier in the year allowed me to join the A2 level. The lessons took place twice a week in the evening time. There were weekend field trips in Amsterdam to practise in real life situations.
The difference in progress is remarkable. The teacher gets everyone talking in Dutch all the time. Far from being spoon fed learning, it was guided and then you work in small groups to apply the techniques. The teacher goes around the class and monitors that everyone is doing it properly. What is nice about it too, is that you learn from all the other people in the class. You learn from their mistakes (and vice versa!). The emphasis at Koentact is to make the lessons fun and they really are. I made a large amount of notes during the lessons as new words and expressions pop up all the time. The notes I then transferred to my phone. I read that all the time. That helps it to sink in.
Going to school also means there is homework. There has to be some auto-learning in order for the teaching program to advance. They too want us to feel that progress is been made. The homework doesn’t take a long time. It did remind me though…..I do not have a USB plug in the back of my neck. They cannot upload all the material directly into my brain. It’s process. I need to work in order to get where I want to be. Of course, that applies to all learning. The structure of the classroom environment was a massive boost to my skill levels. I will be continuing in 2020 and taking my exams. That is something to aim for and at Koentact they offer 7 and a half hours of free training to prepare for civil integration exam.
This is the year I move towards fluency. I will keep on using the audio files and the app. I will return to classes. I might add into the mix one or more of the meet up group for practicing Dutch. I see also at the community centre on Elandsgracht that they have regular meetings for non-Dutch people to speak with Dutch people who are there to help. I will start those soon. All in all, I feel I am getting somewhere. This is the year that I hope to move to fluency. The main benefits I feel so far is greater confidence and that I am enjoying even more living in The Netherlands.
For the Memrise app look here.
For Koentact consult their website here or you can reach them at their office on Elandsgracht 70, Amsterdam or by calling 020 737 1616