04 February 2011

Wat spreekt u?

This is the classroom where 18 of us meet each week to study the Dutch language called Nederlands. I love that we are such a multinational mix. There are two students from Greece, two from Turkey. The rest of us are individuals from: Romania, Senegal, Albania, Poland, Morocco, Pakistan, Austria, Cape Verde, The Philippines, Russia, Nigeria, and Canada. Ornella, from Italy is in this photo looking back into my camera. As you know, I'm from the United States.

In after-class conversations, I have gathered that most of my classmates have lived in the Netherlands for about two years and have decided to finally learn the language. A couple students have confided that even though they have master's degrees from the local Erasmus University (where English is spoken), they are not able to obtain employment locally without speaking the language, so here they are- sitting in class with me.

After three weeks together, the group is slowly starting to mingle outside of class. It's an immersion language class. That means the instructor speaks only the Dutch language throughout the entire class period. The strategy is designed to get us tuned in to hearing the spoken language early and then later addressing grammar and key words.

Having acquired my certification to teach English as a Foreign Language directly before moving to Rotterdam, I am humbled to take on the student role and overlook situations that I would have approached differently. BUT- I must say that I would have chosen to get us interacting in pairs early on and intentionally structured situations for us to speak the language in conversations with each other, thus creating an active learning experience. I would definitely facilitate lessons with more student-to-student interaction, and avoid student frustration by asking them to go to a chalkboard and write a word or sentence that is spoken aloud.

Listening to a foreign word and sentence and then writing what you think you heard is not an effective way to gain confidence or proficiency when learning a new language. Especially if it is followed up by the teacher going to the board and erasing what the student wrote and asking the student to try again in front of the group until they get it correct. The grimaces and looks of frustration on the faces of my classmates indicate that they are in agreement. I have always been an advocate of student-centered learning and presenting exercises and practice that enhances success and builds confidence.

For now I have structured my intake of the material on my own terms. One classmate has agreed to schedule conversation practice with me prior to each class period. This makes all the difference. It may be the case that this specific instructor is unaware of modern-day teaching methodologies instructor. It's my first interaction with the education system in the Netherlands. I'll register with a different instructor for Level 2 and see if the situation changes.

The upside to all of this is that there are only 20 classes left. On April 14 I will have completed the first level in a series of three. By then I hope to at least be able to pronounce the letter "G"- the Dutch way. It's a sound that comes from the very back of the roof of our mouths. Sounds like you're gargling. It's clearly not a usual phoneme in English, so yes- Glenn, the Canadian and I are having the greater difficulty with this.

I love riding my bicycle to class everyday. The location of this renovated classroom in an old Dutch building is great. My backpack in this photo indicates where I sit twice a week for a total of four hours. I love the afternoon sunshine streaming in on my face during class. And yes, I am sitting up front because I'm the type of person that can get easily distracted. I have learned that being close to the action keeps my attention from drifting into daydreams or doodling. Some things do not change with age. But I am proof that a middle-aged person can learn a new language.


  1. When learning a foreign language, the quality of the instructor makes a huge difference. I've tried learning both Spanish and French. With each language I got off to a good start with an excellent instructor. Then with the following classes I had poor instructors and wasn't able to progress.

  2. I like your positive, resourceful approach, even in the face of a poor instructor. Finding a pre-class conversational partner was a great idea. Good luck with your studies!