Posts Tagged ‘learn’

Introduction: learning sources

June 27, 2009

Purpose of this post: sharing a step-by-step approach: learn the Dutch language when you want, how you want.

And at the lowest possible cost.

On Monday June 29th I will report on the results of my first test πŸ™‚

But, before then, I would like to share some information about the tools available if you are willing to learn the language.

A caveat: language learning in my case implies no classroom attendance

Except for French and Latin (I studied both for eight years), I learned English and other languages all by myself πŸ™‚

By buying books, watching movies, listening to shortwave radio, reading newspapers, and attempting the translation of books that I liked.

My idea is simple: I always suggest to get through study material alone, if your alternative is sharing a “beginner’s” class with 20 people.

Because beginner’s classes have an high dropout rate.

Instead, if you get through the basics with standard material, you can then focus on conversation and vocabulary building with native teachers- a much better investment of your time and money.

Each language has a specific “tonal system”, that you should get from the best available source.

Also, most native speakers make mistakes.

Nonetheless, natives build a “natural” way to structure phrases, that is language- and culture-related.

Therefore, if you are a native, you can ignore, say, how to properly use the subjunctive.

But despite your mistakes, you will still be understood by other natives.

Therefore, understanding the structure of a language and its tonal system is important to be able to communicate.

Here is my laundry list of online/offline Dutch learning material

Including what, after my experiments from March 2008, I would suggest as a practical approach πŸ™‚

Let’s say that, as I wrote yesterday, I did first start and stop well before Internet- and also before MP3

Last year I used the new language as an experiment- to see if is possible to use Internet to learn a language- any language- at a fraction of the usual cost.

My focus here is Dutch- but, if you are interested in other languages, you can find online full courses (for free) from major universities or public sources.

For example, the introductory courses for Spanish, French, and German from the FSI (the government training in US) are, from what I read online, not covered by copyright, and are available via Torrent (look on Mininova); actually these courses are editions of commercially available material πŸ™‚

The same goes for Chinese and Russian (the former, is available in audio/text from the MIT, along with German: a six-semesters series!)

And now, the laundry list of Dutch learning sources

If you can read my English posts- well, you are probably half way through learning Dutch- seriously.

If you have also good German (but with good English): lucky you- it will be fast.

The main online source that I can suggest is really recent (2008), DutchGrammar.Com.

And it is free.

I bought the Acrobat version (385 pages online), and I suggest that you do the same, to support their work (no, I will not send you a copy of the Acrobat file!).

It is just few EUR (4 when I bought it, last year- I read it at least three times cover to cover, and studied twice- few typos, but not really affecting the content, thanks to the number of examples and the context).

The website is a treasure chest: you can find a full Dutch grammar (including minutiae that weren’t even hinted at in my expensive courses :@ at least I found an explanation), conversations (including an audio segment with just the vocabulary used in each conversation), plus links to other websites publishing material.

Also, go to the website of one of the many Dutch newspapers, and subscribe via iTunes to a Dutch radio πŸ™‚

Three websites suggested there are:

  • Taalunie.org: the official website for the “standard” Dutch (unifying the different variants, including the Belgian Flemish)
  • Woordenlijst.org: from the same website, the spelling of each word (see below why spelling is so important in Dutch)
  • Acapela-group.com: a demo website where you can listen to your own phrases (e.g. from newspapers)

I also suggest:

  • Nextup.com: the producers of the TextAloud text-to-speech notepad application- they also sell different voices for your computer- including, of course, Dutch voices, from various companies
  • OnlineNewsPapers.com an index of online Dutch newspapers (click on the link- otherwise, you will get the list of all the countries)

My step-by-step suggested approach

  • learn from the grammar the spelling rules (you can do that online);
    • I know- it is boring;
    • but, in Dutch, spending few days on testing all the spelling rules, and trying to separate in syllables phrases from newspapers will help you learn faster the basics- e.g. when you need one vowel in the plural, or two;
    • the simplest method that I found (and I used other books that I will ignore here) was in that 4 EUR grammar- that explained the logic, instead of just asking to memorize πŸ™‚
  • pick up an introductory course to Dutch that comes with a set of spelling/diction lessons
  • pick up a course that gives you some conversational skills and logic;
    • I like the approach from the Michel Thomas series (I studied Spanish that way), as it allows you to get through the basics communication skills quite fast, and you can clearly differentiate between the correct voice, and how a foreigner would pronounce it (you become the third student in a virtual class);
    • the only issue: it is fine the first time, but I do not understand why they did not include a “review” version, without the students- it is annoying to hear all the same mistakes everytime you listen to it again;
    • anyway, the official price (about 60 USD for 12 hours of lessons- no books, just talking and listening) is easily reduced by 50% of more; just search on the alternative suppliers;
    • Michel Thomas Method Dutch For Beginners, 8-CD Program (Michel Thomas Series); the advanced edition is 5 hours long Michel Thomas Method Dutch Advanced, 4-CD Program (Michel Thomas Series)
    • complete by getting through the grammar (you will now understand the logic of even the most complex rule)
  • start the vocabulary building, either with conversation with natives or with podcasts, movies, and the like; or with an intensive training with a native speaker (ideally, if you do not know yet where you will use the language in Europe, with a native speaker for each of the following: Flanders, North Netherlands, South Netherlands, to appreciate the still existing differences, despite the unification)

I also tried to buy a “download only” version, from Audible, for the advance Michel Thomas course.

Frankly: you save a tiny part of the real price, and you lose the flexibility that CDs would give you, as their way to protect the copyright makes it cumbersome to have your own copy- you have to specifically select, say, the MP3 player or iPod that you want to use.

And if you choose the “download to burn on CD”- the CDs produced do not have the same structure of the original CDs, as the tracks on each CD are split by time: sometimes, a word is split in two :@

To save 10%? No way. In my case, my purpose was to save time- but, frankly, I would not buy again from them πŸ™‚

Just by from Amazon or others, and wait 1-2 weeks for delivery…

And a structured lesson-by-lesson course?

Well, as I am based in Belgium, a bought a French book, (40 leçons).

But it is scattered with mistakes, and quite obsolete.

I had it so I used it, but I would not buy it again.

To keep a lesson-by-lesson structure, the authors assume that you will do what they say, no matter how puzzling, not that you use your brain- the rules are given in the appendix pages (including some rules that, in more modern courses, are given after four or five lessons).

And it is the only course that I know that adds a pronoun (jullie) only in the appendix πŸ™‚

But you can have a look at the other books suggested in the DutchGrammar.Com.

To build conversational skills, you can look online at the links provided with the grammar: some of the material is even better than the old one I paid for :), and podcasting is widespread.

Beside that: pity that few movies are available with Dutch dubbing.

Except local movies- and they talk too fast- or Walt Disney movies and similar: trust me- listening to a dogonaut in space talking in Dutch with a Russian accent is simply unbearable πŸ˜€

You can find subtitles here (and not just in Dutch).

And, as I wrote above, you can listen to the podcasts and radio streaming on the Internet (search by them on iTunes- I installed it just to listen to radio broadcasts :D)

My summary

While with languages like English you can start reading quite fast, beware with Dutch.

I picked up few books to read (from simpler to more complex to books containing subjects that I know fairly well to comics), but until I learned my way through all the different shapes of pronouns, and how they “mutate” according to the use and position, I had a tough time getting at least the meaning of the phrases.

Also because the word order in Dutch is, in my opinion, more complex than in any other language that I studied (including German and Latin).

Because it is not just the order- but how it affects other components of the phrase, with a level of complexity that made me think how simple and structured was the declension system in Latin πŸ™‚

The upside is that, if you know English, you can guess quite a few words if you pronounce the word.

Dutch words that look like a mistery become old friends when spoken- do not get spooked by the long words (see a long word as a series of words, with or without few connecting letters).

Or all those wovels spread across the: there is a reason, that, if you follow the steps above, you will learn in a short time.

The interesting part is: you can start learning Dutch now by using just free resources, and go and buy courses (including the ones that I suggested) only if then will feel confident that you are going to follow the next step in my approach.

Otherwise, you can use your basic skills to have a better grasp in the beginner’s classes that you can find in most major locations.

You can also find online “virtual classrooms”- but I am not going to give any names- Google for it (e.g. “virtual language”): I am quite confident that if I were to do so, I would forget one of the companies that I know πŸ˜€

My assessment? If you follow the steps within the list, you can start without committing too much time or resources.

In three-four months (two hours every three days, plus listening to MP3 for about half an hour a day) you should achieve a more solid grasp of the language than the one that I achieved in one year πŸ™‚

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Welcome to a language learning journey

June 26, 2009

And now, a presentation just in English- I promise to translate it as soon as time and skills will allow…

my journey with Dutch (Het Nederlands) almost began in 1992, when I was offered a position as a controller for the Italian branch of a French/Dutch company.

as customary (for me), before even signing the contract I went to buy one of those “learn a language by using it” books.

eventually, at the last minute, business changes required a change in my commitment- and the reason for switching job was conflicting with the new requirements- therefore, I put the book on a shelf.

fast forward to late 2005, when I decided to become resident in Brussels Belgium (after sharing an apartment for few months), something that I achieved formally in early 2006.

it wasn’t until Spring 2008, when I started looking for a position or consulting activities in my field (see here) that I discovered that actually Dutch was the second language, after English, and before French, for most activities.

I came to Dutch from a past (limited) knowledge of German.

Dutch has a considerable overlapping with German and English, with a certain number of French words scattered here and there.

Let’s say that I started with audio courses during Summer 2008, after brushing up my German to kick-start Dutch, had to stop for some time, resumed in Winter, and pushed forward in early 2009.

So, my knowledge of the language is really adding Dutch structure to English word (the language of science and technology)- again, cheating.

Yes, I studied the grammar few time- but without using it πŸ˜‰

I tried to test the waters with some locals- but I discovered that, despite the unification of Flemish and Dutch (official website here), spoken Dutch can still have confusing differences.

And most movies are not dubbed- just subtitled.

As I was seeing the motivation drifting, I pushed forward, and I will have a first test on June 29th.

Pass or fail? Come back on June 30th πŸ™‚

Meanwhile, tomorrow I will post as a prologue my suggestion on which material to use to teach yourself the language.

And how to choose the appropriate material for your own purposes.

Have a nice learning!

R