Monday, April 2, 2012

Twists and turns

Benny, over at "Fluent in 3 months", writes that the most important thing you can do to learn a new language is to just plunge in and do it. Start speaking right away, don't worry too much about grammar, just start talking and reading and writing and after about 3 months, you should just "get it".

It works to a certain point, for Dutch. I find that, for most of my daily life's needs, my fledgling Dutch--by which I mean most things are in the right order most of the time, and that I can understand most of what most people say to me in return--is enough. I have, after all, made dentist appointments and changed insurance policies and started a business with nary a word of English. But what they say of the NT2, which I will be taking later this year (unless I don't have to, by dint of Karel and I getting married), is downright terrifying. It is terrifying for two reasons: first, it is a four-hour test spread out over two days, with separate reading, writing, listening, and speaking sections (one hour each). They really do test your comprehension: they'll write something one way in the reading section, and put the answer in another way. Ditto for listening. Secondly, they are real sticklers for grammar. This means, all your "er" need to go in the right places with the correct prepositions (actually, picking out the correct prepositions is harder than figuring out where to put "er"), verbs must be conjugated in the correct tense, with clear pronunciation of the "e" at the end of the imperfect, etc. Happily, they do not penalize for "de" and "het" mix-ups.

Like most languages spoken by a limited number of people, Dutch is a highly contextual one, where everybody knows that "bakken" means "to fry" unless it means "to bake". and "weer" means "again" until it means "the weather". The rules in Dutch are many, the exceptions are even greater. But the main reason I tend to disagree with most of what Benny has to say about taking lessons (for Dutch, at least) is that at more advanced levels, you can't really suss out the rules on your own. They aren't self-explanatory, and they certainly aren't obvious. And the sheer number of "Dutch-isms" are enough to boggle even the most dedicated immersion-type learner.

But that being said, Dutch is like any other language, in the sense that, if you worry too much about the grammar, you won't get anywhere. At some point, you just have to turn off your self-consciousness and your inner grammar marm and just start blurting things out, and trust that you'll be able to make yourself understood.


  1. It sounds like you are doing a lot better with your Dutch then I am and I've been here for 10 years.

  2. LOL, believe me, all that fancy-pants grammar is for in-class use only (though I have gotten better at sticking "er" where it needs to be).

  3. Dutch grammar and especially spelling is really difficult. I read somewhere that NT2 is on B1-level. Hope they simplified things a bit and dont give the same B1-level dutch as they give to high-schoolers. Because its really though. Is expressions also included? Because I think that must be difficult for non-native speakers. I hope everything goes well and i keep my fingers crossed and pray a little bit for you.

    Also what benny saids I heard the same at other expats blogs like the ones in japan. I think his 3 months plan wasn't originally his own. Learning a language takes time certainly years. Also sometimes dutch grammar and spelling rules changes like the ones in 2005, I dont know if the english grammar-spelling change as much.

  4. @ Bear: I don't know about expressions; I know that we've been studying them. "Dat is een linke soep", etc.

  5. I think persistence is key - I've found that I have to keep the commitment to doing a bit every day, to listening to radio as well as reading a paper, to sticking with the (boring) lessons from the gemeente instead of wandering into books, to not letting the teacher's indifference and the tests sap my motivation, to forcing Dutch friends to talk with me and correct me in Dutch.
    Benny is right about just doing it, but I can't imagine that his model works past a basic level. Rosetta is founded on the same idea, and I finished it through Dutch 3: you just can't understand some aspects of it without actually studying grammar and memorizing vocabulary.
    Good luck!