ik praat Nederlands –  echt!

ik praat Nederlands – echt!

I’m 45, the CEO of The British School in The Netherlands (BSN) and I’m worried about my homework. My Dutch teacher takes her job seriously and will look let down if I don’t make an effort. She doesn’t want to look disappointed but I can always sense it.

There is a fine history of Anglo-Dutch relations between corporations and in my family. My wife’s side of the family is Dutch and I had a pretty good grasp of gezelligheid before arriving in The Netherlands (this has in my experience always involved Indonesian food, drink and friendly, if somewhat frank, conversation).

I do have some crazy latent Dutch that I have no right to know; this is the product of being immersed in conversations I haven’t fully understood with my in-laws over the last eighteen years. I’m confident that some of the expressions can’t be repeated in polite company but that they will come in handy when watching the football.

But if I really want get the most from being in another country I have to learn to speak the language. I got 63% of the way through a Dutch Language MOOC before I came (it is actually possible to be this precise with a MOOC). Like many users, I didn’t finish because I needed more interaction.

What we project as learners is fascinating. The fact that one of my first reactions to my teacher is a fear of letting her down is an emotional response and that should tell us a great deal. Learning is emotional and it takes a good deal of courage. As teachers we need to remind ourselves of this daily.

Young Adult Student

Learning takes courage

At 45 I’m a much better learner than I was when I was 15. I’m more resilient and I’m no longer addicted to Jet Set Willy for the Spectrum. I’ve also been in a learning environment my whole life. Can my experience as a Dutch student inform my educational philosophy and leadership? These are some early observations from my student renaissance:

  1. As I get better I feel I’m getting worse. My expectations of myself have the potential to dishearten me. I really should have recorded my week one spoken efforts for review at week fifteen. This tells me something about the need for a convincing formative assessment narrative.
  2. My teacher gets me to speak in ways that no-one else can. I secretly think she is the only one who can understand me. This is down to our relationship of trust. But I won’t just be interacting with her in The Netherlands. I need to immerse myself in the subject outside of the classroom.
  3. It’s important that I’ve told everyone with whom I work that I’m going to do this. It’s public. I made it public on purpose to pin my commitment. I want to speak better Dutch at my opening address at the start of the new academic year. BSN people will know if I’m better than I was last year. This tells me a lot about the importance of personal target setting.
  4. Relationships with real people are crucial. My Dutch is just about good enough for me to sound like I could actually hold a conversation. It is usually at this point that I deliquesce into a gibbering idiot who can’t form the perfect tense or do word order correctly.
  5. Your pride takes a hammering. My hairdresser doesn’t know where to start with the small talk and my wife hides when I try out my Dutch at home. To be fair, she spends hours pronouncing words and hearing me repeat them incorrectly in perpetuity. It must be hard to hear your man speaking like a five year old. My job is about communicating and I humble myself in front of my PA, Dutch colleagues and business connections. They are politely encouraging but I must be even more irritating than usual as I murder words and maul their language.

However, I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve enrolled in a programme from the BSN Language Centre, great teachers and the resources to make my Dutch stick. Everyone with whom I speak in this organisation is my teacher.

Whether they like it or not.

Another thing is for sure. We will do more at The BSN to connect people with Dutch. We learn so much more than a language in doing so. If the people we recruit aren’t encouraged and supported to do the same then we may lose people a year or two before we’d like to.




20 thoughts on “ik praat Nederlands – echt!

  1. Petra van Helden

    Love this blog! Very sincere whilst equally inspiring 🙂

    1. Kieran Earley

      Thank you, Petra – particularly as you suffer my efforts daily.

  2. Rebecca

    As a teacher of early years and with a particular interest in literacy development, I found myself in a similar position in learning a new language and having sympathy and insight to the young people I was learning alongside. I moved to The Netherlands in 2012 and sat in a cafe one day reflecting on how similar the experience that I was going through as a non-Dutch speaker was to the experiences of the 5 year old children in my class. Vygotsky states: children grow into the intellectual world of those around them and we are lucky at BSN to have such a high level of teaching staff to support not just the children, but the adults joining us, too.
    I relied on those ‘knowledgeable others’ to scaffold me through the miriad of Dutch bureacracy, road signs, junk mail etc. They helped me pronounce the basic pleasantries essential for human contact – hello, please, thank you… and nurtured me through the idiosynracies of everyday Dutch life- of which there are many!
    I enjoyed placing myself in a child-like position of ‘not-knowing’ but with the skills to find out. Learning the language is one way of doing this. But the value of making friends and communicating in a naive and human way through sports, walking the dog (I have just got a dog and have met more people in my neighbourhood in the last 3 months than I have in the last 3 years!) is the way we will fully integrate and have influence on those around us.
    We should always try to put ourselves into the positions of the learners who we guide – whether they are 3 or 18 – or beyond – we always have something to learn.
    And do like our children do – just have a go and not be frightened of ‘failure’!

    1. Kieran Earley

      Thank you, Rebecca. Your comments will inspire me to continue.

  3. Richard Artes

    When I was learning Dutch I used to eavesdrop on everyone on the train, bus, tram and in the street, and then ask my partner what some words meant. That helped a lot. Up until the day when I was listening to some people in the tram, and I couldn’t make out a word they said, and I got really worried my Dutch was getting worse. Then I realised…. they were talking German. Whew!
    Learning another language is a bit like stumbling around in the fog. You can recognise some things, if you keep walking the mist gradually clears and you start to recognise more and more. Eventually the fog almost clears, but it never clears completely, there is always a bit of a blur somewhere!
    It sounds like your fog is clearing fast Kieran, I hope you enjoy the BSN language course as much as I did.

    1. Kieran Earley

      I really like the fog metaphor, Richard. Thanks for your encouragement.

  4. Jihann Pedersen

    Learning is indeed emotional! Good luck with your Dutch efforts, I am sure you will succeed.. and make your family proud!

    1. Kieran Earley

      Thanks, Jihann. It’s tough to put yourself in a *vulnerable* position but the goal is worth it!

  5. Sandra

    As one of your colleagues you practice your Dutch with at times, I see you make great progress. But most of all I really admire you making the effort and being so committed to learn Dutch. Dutch people certainly do not make it easy for you or any other expat, as they are all proud to be able to speak English. I love Rebecca’s example of learning Dutch and making connections whilst walking her dog. It’s so true that learning takes places everywhere and not just in a classroom or with your tutor. Thank you for sharing your emotions of this journey with us and reminding us how vulnerable our students can be…and how important the social and emotional side of learning is. I happen to know that your teacher is very proud of you and she truly enjoys teaching you…learning is also fun and play, just enjoy being a child again!

    1. Kieran Earley

      That’s lovely feedback – thank you Sandra je ben heel geduldig ook!

  6. Hilary Porritt

    I identify with your comments Kieran as I am starting to learn Chinese. It has struck me how many parallels there are with students learning maths- to many it is a subject that they believe is difficult, with a whole new set of characters to learn that make no sense at all, and with a widely held perception that very few people really master it. I have read the research that Jo Boaler is doing about mathematical mindsets (https://www.youcubed.org), and I’m experiencing for myself the truth that learning new things fires synapses in my brain- because after a Chinese lesson I can feel my brain hurting just like my muscles do after a tough bike ride!
    Putting ourselves in the position of learners can only help us develop our own practice- so good luck in your efforts!

    1. Kieran Earley

      Thanks, Hilary. Learning is painful! Good luck with your studies – Mandarin is hard.

  7. Rebecca Findlay

    I enjoyed your comments on how your position as an adult learner can help us reflect on practice in the classroom. As another beginner in Dutch, I would add that as we get older, so our inhibitions grow and a fear of getting something wrong can sometimes outweigh the courage to try. I’m reminded daily when I look at the EYFS pupils in school who dive in to their learning without even considering they may not ‘get something right.’ And it is here in Foundation that progress in learning is rapid. So when I speak Dutch, albeit like a 4 year old EYFS pupil, I try to adopt some of their courage and confidence and just go for it!
    Best of luck and if you’re looking for inspiration come to the Dutch rooms at JSD – veel plezier!

    1. Kieran Earley

      Dat wil ik doen en success met jouw Nederlands ook.

  8. Doris Anderson LC

    You have inspired me to start blogging…. I love this blog. I was so impressed that you delved into learning Dutch immediately even though you must have had so much on your mind at the beginning of September! Your comments about your Dutch teacher are so funny and so true. I have worked with her for years.
    One day a lady came to one of our Monday registration and testing days. She was interested in following the NT2 Dutch exam preparation course. After her intake she was a bit worried that her test had been quite short. I felt very confident to say this to her “If our head of Dutch says that you are able to join the NT2 group, you can be sure that you will as I dare say that she is the best teacher in the Netherlands’. What a great thing to be able to say about a colleague. Thanks for sharing this about her and us!

    1. Kieran Earley

      So glad. Look forward to reading your thoughts.

  9. Karren van Zoest

    I recognise your feelings well Kieran. I especially connect with your point about how, as we improve, we higher our own expectations and can forget just how far we have already come. Learning is also about recognising success as well as knowing our development points. Please feel free try out your Dutch on me whenever you can – I remember the feeling well.

    1. Kieran Earley

      Thanks – you may regret that offer…

  10. Kindred Spirit

    Putting yourself in the learner’s seat. No better CPD. Doing the same Dutch course, I found having to do homework enlightening with regard to when the teacher checks you’ve done it. A couple of times, ‘the dog ate my homework’ which meant I spent a whole hour waiting for the dreaded moment when I was found out rather than concentrating on the work on the table. Equally distracting was the rare time I had completed it but then the teacher didn’t ask for it until right at the end. All lesson I was waiting for my moment of pride and, once again, not concentrating on the current work. Maybe it’s just my learning style, but message to self, if you set homework for a specific day, check it at the start of the lesson, not the end…

    1. Kieran Earley

      I was set loads for today – may be a challenge following my blog post…

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