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.


Anonymous said...

If you even like Wim Sonneveld, you are really doing very well.
Gefeliciteerd :D

Kitty said...

wow. I can't imagine taking a language class while working. That's a lot.
I thought Dutch sounded a LOT like English the short time I was there (the choppy syllables, the consonants)...except spoken backwards. I can't imagine understanding it!

Anyhoo, I am tagging you with a meme. Hope you don't mind!

Anonymous said...

Dear Sarah,

Your blog came to my attention because you visited our house in Naarden. You were potential buyers and very enthousiastic about our house which was the reason I googled and found your blog. Our house is not the trigger for my reaction, on the contrary, it held me back.

Your weeklong melancholy mood following your visit to the Anne Frank house touched me, because in the same period I was listening the audiobook of the diary of Anne Frank in my car when I am driving. Of course I read the diary many years back, but listening the diary as if Anne is speaking to you is very mind blowing. The way she is describing everything she feels and observes is very impressive and emotional. And what a message see sent and is still sending to millions and millions all over the world! It’s all about humanity, what it can be, should be, and what it often is not. What a lesson!

I know the neighbourhoods Anne lived in very well because I lived there too for many years. As a boy I grew up in the Roerstraat 100 metres from where Anne lived at the Merwedeplein. I had the same kind of attic room as Anne. My father went to the same school as Anne at the time she went there also. They where not acquainted but my grandfather was Jewish so my fathers family lived through the same ordeal as most jews.

When I was 17 years old my family moved to the Bloemgracht in the Jordaan. From my room I could always see the people queuing for the Anne Frank House on the Prinsengracht. So, my own history is somehow a connected to Anne Frank and therefore it was very moving to listen to the audiobook of Anne’s Diary. At this moment I am at the beginning of July of 1944. Any time now Anne’s last entry in her diary may be read to me. I notice that I postpone that moment by listening to the radio more often instead of listening to the CD. As if by postponing I somehow postpone her final verdict and she stays with me.

So, everybody, go to the Anne Frank house. Read or listen her diary and pass on her message of humanity. Anne Frank is one of the greatest all time messengers of Amsterdam and Dutchland.

You have a very pleasant blog, nice to read.

I lived in London for three years, so I know what it is to be a foreign observer.

Robert Coppenhagen

Anonymous said...

I really like your comments about the Dutch. I'm an erasmus student in Utrecht and i used to read what you said about the Dutch to get myself ready for it.

And, to be honest, i havent started learning dutch yet..haha

Anonymous said...

"omdat" begins with a preposition, "om". since dutch compound words remain breakable for various uses, the preposition part of the word continues to function as a preposition. and you're familiar with the word order of dutch clauses following prepositions. "want" and "omdat" are both conjunctions, but "want" has no prepositional effect.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah!
I am moving in a few days to Amsterdam and I found found your blog useful and entertaining the same time. I've got a view of what's expecting me there :)
I plan on learning dutch and decided to attend UvA courses and I'd like to ask you for a big favor: in case you won't be using anymore the CODE book for beginners, maybe you could put it out for sale for a better price than the new book? I'll have so many expenses at the beginning, I wish I could save some money on the books! Or maybe you just happen to know somebody who has a book to offer.
Thanks a lot!
Best wishes,

Zoe said...

The peculiar behavior of these clauses might depend from the difference between 'want' and 'omdat'. 'Want' is a conjunction, i.e. a word that links two separate sentences (and being separate, both behave like "normal" sentences without the need for subject inversion). 'Omdat' on the other hand is a relative conjunction - a conjunction that starts off a secondary clause, i.e. a sentence that depends on the first. Therefore, when using omdat you need to invert the subject in the second sentence.
It's rather tricky, I know - hope my comment is not too technical and boring...
Congratz for the blog!

Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah,

Lucky you! I'm here in Singapore trying to learn this insane language. Upon your suggestion and others I did buy the Code 1 book and love it (compared to something given to me). I travel a bit for work so it's impossible to go for lessons but I have an expat who guides me once a week.

It's a shame because I would learn better in a structured environment but this is how it is.

My question is did you use the Code 1 Oefenschrift and did you find it helpful? I can't get more info and have no idea what is contained in it.

Thanks for any advice!

Cheers, B

Unknown said...

Oh, the 'omdat' & 'want'.. I had a tough time with these for so long & still struggle from time to time. And I like how you've used 'paracetamol' in your example sentences. Turns out to be a staple word living in the Netherlands ;-)

Again, I love your blog! I'll be back to check it out often.

Wouter J. Arendshorst said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences in Dutch culture. I especially liked the part why the NS usually doesn't tell the reason of delays... I guess they don't dare just to say: 'sorry for the delay, I came across a friend and forgot about the time :p'
I don't know if this is correctly translated, i had the sentence' de tijd uit het oog verliezen' in mind... And I guessed 'he lost the the time out of the eye' would sound quite odd...

from Groningen