Nog steeds leren – Year 2 and the need for testing

Nog steeds leren – Year 2 and the need for testing

Last year I wrote about learning Dutch; the efforts of an educator being educated. I’m still going and I’m better than last year.

Crunching through approved European Language acquisition scale’s A-C gears and probably an A1 when I last wrote, I’m a passable B1 now and moving into B2 in some areas.

Do assessment criteria help me? Actually not. But I’m not taking any exams. 

As a sample of one I won’t be extrapolating wild claims about Assessment, Recording and Reporting policy but it’s revealing to feel as vulnerable and frustrated as some of our children and young people must feel when continually addressing new knowledge.

I find myself in frustrating plateaus and then on wonderful peaks when fluency feels close only to be dashed again when I bite off more than I can chew in a conversation and have to revert to English.

When I’m fully engaged, I actually lose sleep. I’m translating conversations, reminding myself of vocabulary and finding myself in embarrassing positions in which the words run out. Sometimes the shame is real and you just have to laugh with others and AT yourself.

I was in a cafe  in Amsterdam last week (a real one) and conducting myself beautifully in Dutch. When it came to paying I responded confidently and even offered a small tip, “laat de rest maar zitten.” I was hastily called back because I’d misheard the bill and hadn’t left enough money. An Englishman’s nightmare.

I’m lucky though. From my background knowledge of grammar I understand the difference between the perfect and imperfect tenses, know my conjunctions from my prepositions and have used these skills previously (although imperfectly), to learn the rudiments of other languages. There is a point where your improved vocabulary accelerates your progress in Dutch; breaking down long compound nouns into meaningful chunks makes educated guessing more easy.

What I’ve lost in brain plasticity I’ve made up for in stubbornness and the confidence to give things a try – knowing things are likely to go wrong. What prevents my teenage sons from embracing the language is the generic sense of “mortification” afflicting many teens. As a father, my core function is to be embarrassing.

Having placed a huge emphasis on spoken communication, I joined a local football team (Voorschoten ’97) and a Rotary club in The Hague. Win-win. The Dutch are super friendly, great company, patient and they give you a free language lesson.

“What do you mean the Dutch don’t drink mulled wine on the bench?”

Rather more high-brow – one of the fascinating lectures at The Hague Rotary Club

However, learning is frustrating; I am always below where I want to be. I can do small talk quite nicely and so well that big talk comes too quickly and I can only nod; it feels terrible, like I’m letting people down.

Sometimes I understand the whole story on the radio with such clarity that I think I’ve got the whole thing cracked and then the next story leaves me stumped at the first sentence. This is what it must feel like for our children and young people with EAL and why this area of our school provision is so crucial. Learning a language makes you feel fragile.

So how to get to the next level? I need to read back through my notes more frequently. Having spent 25 years telling my students this, it’s surprising how difficult I find it to commit to my own advice. Therefore I know I need to be tested. Regularly. This may be a reflection of the mental maps of my past but it’s true. Low stakes regular tests help commit core knowledge to memory.

I’m going to ask my teacher for a test because I know I don’t like failing. And I’m a bit of a swot.

On the positive side, I can now survive in Dutch. It does feel different here a year later. Walking around town the words are no longer alien. The adverts work and the backs of vans make sense. I feel more at home. I’m confident I could get out of most sticky situations with a non-English speaker (as long as they were patient). There is also that look of wild surprise and even joy when I persist with Dutch.

And there is no escape for my Dutch colleagues. I am now at the point of insisting that the first 5-10 minutes of every meeting is in Dutch.

The BSN Language Centre, shares the same vision for colleagues. We have structured programmes on offer and actively encourage study. After finding many people just couldn’t make many of the “taal cafes” our Dutch teachers set up to provide a social setting for learning, we’re determined to try something else.

Learning a language is a challenge but also a pleasure. Stick at it.

  • Sandra de Bresser

    I am so happy you are persistent and stubborn in learning Dutch! Please be aware that your Dutch colleagues at times share your frustration when you’re at the point that you wish to be more fluent and confident than you are. One of my English teachers said that English native speaker always have the ‘upper hand’ in a conversation with non-natives, and that is true. Learning a language is never dull, continues to be challenging, but also builds bridges and deepens understanding. It’s worth it!

    • Thanks, Sandra. Your patience is extraordinary.

    • Klazien Schenkeveld

      So true.

  • Esther Van Bellen

    Wat een leuk artikel Kieran! Oefening baart kunst inderdaad! 😉

    • Dankjewel, Esther. Iedereen is hartstikke geduldig.

  • Cathy Colless

    Dit resoneerde met mij

    Ik wil nederlands leren.
    Maar, met Brexit ik nu moet nederlands leren .
    Ik zal niet hebben wonen genoeg jaar in Nederland voor een verblijfsvergunning. Brexit zal eerst klaar.
    Dus ik uit niet een EU-land komt wanneer Ik kan heb een verblijfsvergunning.
    Zonder EU citizenship, moet ik die taal toets doen.
    Dus ik heb les en oefenen oefenen oefenen
    Ik vind dit een goed motivatie te leren !

    • Ja, wij kunnen onze volgende conversatie in het Nederlands te hebben!

  • Kuldeep Matharu

    Great blog Kieran! Well done with persevering, Dutch has been one of the most challenging languages i have learned so far. Having lived here for many years, as fluent as i believe i have become at a conversation level, i am humble enough to admit that my 9 year son is correcting my unimpressive written Dutch. I continue to persevere and learn from my mistakes, just like our students do.

    • Agreed. Very humbling experience learning a language!

  • Malcolm

    Great that this helps you to empathise with our EAL pupils and their ongoing journey.

  • Klazien Schenkeveld

    How to get to the next level?
    Waarom niet Muiswerk proberen.
    Het is online, met instap en tussentijdse toetsen.
    Kom langs bij ons op JSD en we helpen je graag.

  • Sallie Taylor

    A great post Kieran – Zal u een blog post in het Nederlands binnenkort?