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Dutch immersion course

Donderdag is markt dag. Thursday is market day.

I look forward to Thursdays because I get to cycle to the outdoor market to buy fresh produce and fish. Yesterday, however, I had to sacrifice the hours between 10 am and 4 pm to learning Dutch.

I wasn't exactly reluctant about going to this course because I knew I needed it badly. I did, however, express my reservations when I booked it. Better words to describe how I feel might be hesitant, anxious, and afraid.

I mean, after blowing my performance on Wednesday night, my self confidence was at an all-time low. Am I going to make a fool of myself again?

I don't speak Dutch. I've been tongue-tied. Sure, I've been studying it on my own. But progress has been slow. Very slow.

How am I supposed to learn Dutch if I keep flying back to London every month?

I read in the "Teach Yourself Dutch" book that Dutch is the native language of approximately 20 million people. Even Greater London has 10 million people. So if I learn it, the maximum number of people I can speak to is 20 million. Twice the size of London.

After all, I had failed miserably learning Japanese, French, German, and Spanish. What could be different now?

Dutch doesn't sound beautiful like French or Italian. The gutteral sounds aren't easy to make either.

The first thing my teacher asked me to do was to write a sentence about each picture in a set of five. Aghast, I replied, "But I've never written any Dutch in my life!"

"Go on. Try it. I have to know what level you are."

What level? What do you mean what level? I'm a beginning beginner.

In the next six hours, my Dutch teacher coached me and my two classmates. We played games. We sang. We walked. We didn't speak much English. We learned to tell a story. We wrote. We spoke.

It's what I call "nonlinear learning", that is, learn by doing. In contrast, books that teach you Dutch are too linear, too one-dimensional. Stimulating the senses, or rather, using all the senses plus body movement on top of it helps you learn faster and better.

At the end of the day, my teacher gave me her diagnosis:

"You're a fast learner. You can already put together sentences. You just need more vocabulary. You need a thousand before you can speak freely. Three thousand to read the newspaper."

I suppose, it helps that I'm Chinese, for memorising new words is the foundation of learning the Chinese language.

The problem lies in something else. The German words I learned so many years ago have been awakened by my attempt to learn Dutch. These skeletons in the closet are rushing out to confuse me or perhaps to deter me?

"Don't worry. That happens," said my teacher. "After awhile, the German will go away. Can you practise Dutch with your friend?"

"It's hard to. He's from Brabant," I replied. Brabant is a southern province of Holland.

"So am I," she said.

"Errr, but you speak so clearly," I added another foot in my mouth.

I smiled as I cycled home. I learned a new secret. I discovered that Dutch is actually easier than German. And believe it or not, it's easier than English too. You just have to get past the gutteral sounds that camouflage it.

12 March 2004 Friday

Related Bon Journal entries:
Run for your life in Laren
Dutch language class
Learning Dutch
Related links:
Who wants to learn Dutch and why - results of survey
Holland portal - for learning Dutch
Expatica: news and community for expatriates in the Netherlands
Dutch word of the day archive on Expatica - you can see and hear it spoken.
Stand By Bussum - Dutch immersion course - a nonlinear way to learn Dutch
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Anne Ku at Ilp in May 2001
Anne Ku

writes about her travels, conversations, thoughts, events, music, and anything else that is interesting enough to fill a web page.
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