Why Bother Learning Languages?
Are you having trouble learning Dutch? If everyone says it is difficult, then it must be, right? And it seems most Dutch people are fluent in English, so why bother anyway? I will outline the reasons below, and there are many. What about other languages? Are they more challenging than Dutch? Is Cantonese more difficult than Italian? I think they are all difficult! They just are. But it is well worth the effort! It involves learning a new set of sounds and works that will allow you to read, speak and listen in the new language. It takes hard work, dedication and a great teacher. We all know that language apps exist, but they have not led to the end of language school as we know it. Why is that? Classroom learning, in person or online, is still hands down the best way to learn a new language. In this Q+A with a language school (Taalhuis Amsterdam), we will look at the process of learning a new language and the benefits of making the effort and taking the road toward fluency. Read on to learn more, and it will be helpful to you.
Imagine going to Rome or Paris and being able to understand the menu in a restaurant and order in Italian or French! How good would that feel? Sometimes people learn another language because they have a favourite country they love to visit. Lots of people return again and again to Spain. Or Greece or Turkey. That’s a great reason to learn those languages.
Or, you might have a partner from another country. Again another great reason to learn their language. Another reason might be career related. Having more languages because you travel a lot for work and building long-term, mutually beneficial business relationships. Things will undoubtedly work better with your foreign partners if you can speak their language too. There are just so many reasons to learn another language. Now, let’s ask the experts what they think in our Q+A about language learning.
Introduction to Taalhuis
At Taalhuis Amsterdam, you can learn Dutch, of course, but not only! You can also learn many other languages. The teachers are all native speakers of the language they teach, so the Dutch teachers are Dutch, and the Turkish teachers are from Turkey. Of course, the Italian teachers are from Italy, and the Arabic teachers are from the Levant, Egypt and Morocco and teach their native variety of Arabic, et cetera.
The lessons are conducted in small groups of 4-8 students to enable maximum speaking time for the students and lots of room for personal attention. Taalhuis Amsterdam aims to teach people to actually use a language in the real world, which is why they implement an interactive approach and focus on communication during the lessons. Besides the ‘normal’ lessons there are many extracurricular activities for all languages, like movie nights, language exchanges, cooking workshops and trips to the Mediterranean because language learning extends far beyond what happens in the classroom.
Q1. You have students from all over the world. Why are they learning another language?
As you can imagine, many of our international students have moved to The Netherlands and are learning Dutch to communicate with their neighbours, colleagues, partners, and friends. And, of course, for professional reasons, to study and/or work in a Dutch-speaking organisation.
Students learning one of the Mediterranean languages taught in our school often do so because they have personal ties to the language and/or country. For the love of their lives, love for a particular country and culture (holidays or literature) or simply because they love learning about a new language and culture. We also see many students learning Greek, Arabic, Farsi or another language because they come from a mixed family and want to be able to speak to their relatives in Greece, Egypt, Iran etc. And we welcome many Amsterdammers who see integration as a mutual effort, doctors, journalists or social workers who are in touch with newcomers in the Netherlands and want to learn a bit of the language of the people they meet in their work. Of course, there are also students who, like us, simply love languages.
Q2. What are the main challenges they face?
The challenges are different for everyone, and learning a new language is a magical process and a lot of fun, but it also takes effort and a lot of hard work. Especially adults who haven’t been in a learning environment for a while tend to forget that to learn a language, you also need to study and learn vocabulary.
We also notice that it’s advantageous if students can practice their target language outside the classroom, for example, with a partner or at work. It takes more effort to get to the next level if you only come in contact with your target language once a week.
Another challenge to overcome is mental blocks like insecurity or embarrassment from learning a new language. You must experiment and use your limited tools in a new language to get your message across. While in your first language, you can express yourself with all nuances and eloquence, in a new language, you’ll start off by talking like a little child again. Students also need to become creative in the new language and think of ways to communicate their needs still (if you don’t know the word for ‘big’, for example, you might come up with ‘not small’ and still make yourself understood). Playing games and simulating real-life situations in class can really help students to enjoy this process of experimenting and making mistakes.
Q3. How steep is the learning curve towards fluency?
Learning a language is THE thing that gives you instant satisfaction: you learn something so practical that you can use it right away. We often ask our students about their “successes” during the week. Every week, they can understand or do something new: announcements on the station, order their coffee in a new language, participate in a pub quiz, talking to their mother-in-law.
Of course, getting from zero to fluency can take years, and many factors (like being exposed to the language and having options to practice) play their role in the learning curve. The higher the level, the harder it becomes to notice your progress, but some students who have been with us for a couple of years now talk about politics, write beautifully nuanced texts and can take part in work meetings without issue.
It’s also good to acknowledge the difference between second language acquisition (learning Dutch in the Netherlands) and foreign language acquisition (learning Italian in the Netherlands). Many students keep coming to our courses year after year and stay in C1 (the CEFR level of proficient users), and see deepening courses to reach the level of a (near) native speaker.
Q4. What benefits do your students tell you they have experienced from learning a language?
Do you have a few hours :)? The benefits are uncountable, of course!
Students tell us they like to turn on their ‘learning brains’ again. Learning about another language and culture enables you to think in new ways and helps you learn more about yourself and your own language. Things you have always taken for granted are put into question again.
On a practical level, students feel more independent in a foreign country when they speak the language. But it doesn’t need to be a foreign country – language is everywhere, so by learning it, you simply start to understand more of the world around you. Once you know a few basic phrases in Arabic or Spanish, for example, you’ll suddenly hear and see them everywhere, including in Amsterdam. This ability to grasp strings of conversations around them helps students feel included.
And for some, a new language really opens the doors to new job opportunities.
Q5. Please give us daily tips and drills people might use to increase their language skills.
Immerse yourself. Listen to music in the language you’re learning, even if you don’t understand a single word, because it will help your brain to become accustomed to the sounds and the rhythm of the language. Make sure you come into contact with your target language every day. Even if it’s just by seeing a poster with a few phrases on your bathroom door. Apps like Duolingo are great for boosting your daily practice in the beginning. But most importantly: don’t be afraid to make mistakes! You can’t learn a language without using it, so try to experiment and start making it your own. It’s like going to the gym, you have to work out! It’s scary, and it can take a lot of effort, but it’s incredibly rewarding to speak a different language (even a little bit!).
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Thank you so much for all these interesting insights. This is very helpful to everyone wanting to learn a new language or improve their skills. See below for the Taalhuis details.
Taalhuis Amsterdam website
Phone: 06 14 30 31 31
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