Thursday, September 13, 2007

Learning Dutch

I’ve been learning Dutch (properly putting in big effort) for nearly a year now. But it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

I’ve mainly been learning at the INTT at the University of Amsterdam, which I highly recommend. They have really good courses, but they are really very intense. The evening courses consist of 3 hours of classes, two nights a week (Monday and Thursday) and then at least 6 hours homework every week for six weeks. I’ve just entered the next level, I started an Intermediate course on Monday, and I’m already exhausted. Last night I was doing homework until 9:30pm about the exciting and upbeat subject of uitvaart / begraven (basically funerals, cremation and death).

I much prefer to learn Dutch in upbeat fun ways, my teacher that gave me private lessons over the summer managed to do this by helping me to learn by listening to good Dutch music (yes, I too was amazed that it actually exists, but my teacher have managed to find some nice tunes). My favourites so far are:

Acda & de munnik - Groeten uit maaiveld
Wim Sonneveld - Aan De Amsterdamse Grachten

The book that we used this summer, and in the classes at the INTT in general is also really good, but it’s also incredibly expensive at about 70 Euros. It’s called CODE. For the absolute beginner and beginner courses we used CODE 1, for pre-intermediate course and the course I’m on now, Intermediate, we are using CODE 2. It’s a good book because it covers some many different subject areas and it comes with a CD-ROM which is really interactive. It has, per chapter, at least two videos or sound tracks, which help me to listen and understand different Dutch voices. The only area I think the book lacks in sophistication is its explanation of Dutch grammar, which is very complex compared to English.

For instance, here’s a crazy grammatical rule if ever I heard one….there are two words for “because” in Dutch, these are “want” and “omdat”. Your selection of one of these two words has a huge impact on the sentence structure and the position of the words in the sentence. Here’s an example:

Ik neem paracetamol, want ik heb hoofdpijn
I take paracetamol, because I have a headache

Ik neem paracetamol, omdat ik hoofdpijn heb
I take paracetamol, because I a headache have.

No-one, Dutch or otherwise, can explain why this is so or why if you use the two words incorrectly you are speaking complete gobble-de-gook. It’s just the way it is. And there are about 7 different words (that I have learnt so far) that have this effect.

One really nice thing about learning Dutch, however, is the simplicity of some of the words. If you have a basic vocabulary, like me, you can often guess at the meaning of other words, for example:

If you know the word god = god, and dienst= service, then you can guest godsdienst = religion
If you know the word ver = far, and kijk = look, then you can guess that verrekijkers = binoculars (far lookers!!)

Anyway, all the effort I’m making is helping with life here in general. I can mostly understand the announcements at train platforms (even if they are lacking any useful information on why the trains are delayed) and the news headlines are not as totally baffling as they once were. But still, I have a long, long way to go and it’s still exhausting trying to learn.

Monday, September 10, 2007

I've got a new job in Amsterdam!

It’s about time I wrote to update all my fellow job seekers that I’ve got a job in Amsterdam! I’ve been sorted for about 4 weeks now and I’m going to be working at Philips from the 24th September. In the end I didn’t find the role through a recruitment agency but managed to sort it out all by myself. Originally, I’d applied for a different job at Philips and had interviews at the beginning of the summer. I was disappointed that they turned me down for that role, but they later came back to me with a different role, which is more suited to me anyway.

So my recommendation, after limited success using recruitment agencies, is to trawl through company sites and apply directly for everything. By all means meet with the agencies, and go to any interviews they do get for you (I had about 5 through agencies) but in the end I was better off on my own.

For a head start on finding international jobs/companies in Amsterdam, don’t forget my useful list of companies, check out their vacancy boards and apply today!:

Good luck to anyone else out there that is searching!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Summer of storms

In one of my previous blogs (about climate change) I wrote that I thought there had been a lot of thunderstorms this summer.

I was right:
Meteorological Institute KNMI in De Bilt (that place again) counted 25 days with thunderstorms in June, July and August... A normal summer usually has about 14 days with thunderstorms