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How to learn Dutch? (lecture by Bart de Pau)

How to learn Dutch? (lecture by Bart de Pau)
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    How to learn a language?
    I once approached a professor
    from the University of Amsterdam
    with that question ...
    Someone with over 30 years of experience
    in measuring efficiency in language education.
    I told him about our program,
    about the Summer and the Winter School,
    about e-learning
    and that I have a language school in St. Petersburg
    to teach Russian.
    I've seen so many students over the last 15 years,
    that I think I know what works
    and what does not work.
    Maybe you know that I am not a linguist,
    but an engineer by education.
    Though, an engineer with a deep love for learning languages.
    I have learned 5 foreign languages
    even though my brain is not really adapted to this.
    I'm definitely not the sort of talented polyglot.
    Engineers always think how to do things in the best
    and most efficient way.
    I had talked a lot with teachers...
    and I realised
    that most teachers have their own opinions on what works best...
    sometimes conflicting opinions.
    In general the teachers couldn't really tell me
    what the scientific evidence was behind their approach...
    And that's what I wanted to know...
    Just like a doctor prescribes certain
    medication to a patient based on scientific evidence...
    I also talked with publishing houses that produce books for learning Dutch...
    but even there I couldn't get the answers...
    So that's why I went to this language education professor at the University.
    I wanted to know: what does scientific research say?
    Could he confirm all my ideas?
    Because I would like to be sure that we are developing
    our materials and programs in the right direction.
    'Well', he said...
    I have no direct answer to the question of
    'what is the best way to learn a language?'
    There are a lot of studies,
    but not all studies measure results well.
    And in my profession the majority of studies
    are related to very specific situations.
    that is to say:
    what is the best way for your target audience to learn Dutch:
    adults, mainly highly educated people,
    in an environment where everybody WANTS to learn
    and where they are not FORCED to learn...
    that is very difficult.
    And it is going to be a lot of work to investigate what works best,
    for this specific target group.
    There is no simple answer...
    even formulating the right question is actually a challenge.
    I had hoped he would tell me...
    Oh, that's not so difficult...
    I will present you with a list of all the research
    that has been done in this field
    and the conclusions of these studies will either support
    or disprove your ideas.
    So I couldn't find the answer here either...
    So what do you do then?
    You start searching on the internet.
    I have learned 5 foreign languages myself...
    one better than the others
    and I thought, let's take that as a starting point.
    And I tried to answer the question
    'How to learn a language?'
    So let's go back in time...
    Let's go to my primary school.
    My story of learning a foreign language started at 10 years old.
    That was when we learned our first English words at school.
    Today, in the Netherlands,
    most kindergartens teach some English,
    but not when I was young.
    And at the age of 12,
    in the first year of secondary school we started to learn French,
    and one year later German.
    For most people of my age,
    these 3 foreign languages - English, French and German -
    are what we all learned at school in the Netherlands.
    As a small country, you need to be internationally orientated.
    Bigger countries can rely on themselves more ...
    but if you're from a small country,
    it's more likely you will spend some time abroad
    and you will have more contact with people from other countries.
    Not only in the Netherlands, but in many other small European countries too,
    language education is a main part of the school system.
    And that brings me to the first question I would like to investigate.
    As it is such a significant element of the school educational system...
    Is language education also better in these small European countries?
    Because if it is better, then we can delve deeper into that...
    to see if anything is specific about the way languages are taught here.
    How can we identify how well people speak foreign languages?
    Let's see how well we speak the language we almost all learned.
    This is the EF English Proficiency Index.
    What do we see?
    Netherlands is ranked first, followed by Sweden, Denmark and Norway.
    Finland, Luxemburg and Austria are also in the top-8,
    and for the rest in the top-20 these are also mostly small European countries,
    although Germany (not small) is also doing well of course.
    But the bigger countries Spain, France and Italy are ranked much lower.
    And of course, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and German are Germanic languages
    and so English is easier to learn.
    On the other hand...
    Finland and many Eastern European countries still rank much higher
    than Spain, Italy and France,
    although the roman languages Spanish, Italian and French
    are still closer to English
    than the Slavic languages, Finnish, and Hungarian.
    So, and I do not want to sound arrogant...
    probably we – the small European countries – are doing something well.
    If I understood the scoring method of this study correctly,
    then about 70% of the Dutch population have mastered English at B2 level, or higher.
    Of course, the native English speaking countries are not part of this report,
    because it is about measuring proficiency as a foreign language.
    But to compare:
    I found another figure that says
    that of the population of the United States
    only 17% have learned a second language
    to a level that we can call proficient.
    And from our students I know (I don't have a figure)...
    that in Great Britain it is not really much different.
    And now, something interesting...
    Who are the market leaders in self-study methods for learning languages?
    The market leaders in commercial language programs are these two.
    And this as a free resource.
    Now, there is something that I find very fascinating...
    These companies are all
    from the United States of America!
    When I see the advertisements for these programs,
    I can't help thinking of the
    Maybe you remember that commercial from the nineties.
    The abdominizer was a piece of plastic, that you could use for your workouts.
    The advertisement claimed that it basically replaced all the equipment in the gym...
    I don't know these programs very well.
    But there is one thing I can say for sure:
    They differ SIGNIFICANTLY from the books that we had in school.
    And actually from how languages in small European countries are taught.
    For example the whole idea of this method is
    that you can listen to a CD in your car,
    or: while doing the dishes,
    and you repeat out loud the sentences that you hear...
    What they usually claim is...
    learn a language like a child
    Doesn't that sound great?
    And the question is:
    How did we, the small European countries, not know this?
    Why aren't we learning a language like a child?
    Is it really so easy?
    Can I just present you with a little bit of scientific research,
    that I found myself on the internet.
    There is an idea, that children can learn a language fast
    because the 'cortex', a part of the brain, is capable to do so...
    until puberty.
    They call this the 'critical period hypothesis'.
    And then - when puberty comes - the body changes including the brain
    and after that, you will learn a language much more slowly.
    The so called 'frozen brain hypothesis'.
    And a lot of people believe this.
    A lot of people believe that children learn a language faster.
    But this is an absolute myth.
    Yes, it is true that you can only learn a language
    as a mother tongue when you are a child.
    In extreme situations, where children did not learn any language at all...
    it has been proven that indeed after puberty
    ou cannot learn a language anymore as a mother tongue.
    And to some extent that counts for pronunciation as well.
    As a child it will be easier to adapt your mouth to produce certain new sounds,
    to copy what you hear around you.
    But there is a lot of research that proves
    that adults are much better and faster at learning a second language than children.
    For example:
    Asher & Price proved that under controlled conditions
    and that means: that when age was the only differing factor
    children perform more poorly than adolescents and adults.
    A study by Snow & Hoefnagel of migrants showed the same results.
    Research on British children learning French at school
    proved that 11-year old children learn faster than 8-year old children.
    And the same applies for studies of Swedish children learning English,
    Swiss children learning French
    and Danish children learning English.
    These studies prove that adults and adolescents learn a second language faster,
    debunking the myth that the earlier you start learning languages the better.
    But maybe you say...
    no, no, no, Bart...
    I know so many stories of families who go to live in another country...
    and then you always see the same thing.
    After a while the children speak the language and the parents don't.
    But there are a few reasons for that...
    First of all... the children are sent to school
    and from that moment they have fulltime exposure to the foreign language.
    Usually that doesn't apply to the parents.
    Secondly: for the children there is a real incentive to learn the language.
    If you are dropped into a school where they don't speak your language,
    you simply need to survive.
    There is no alternative of switching to English.
    And there is a third reason
    and that is that the language that children use
    is much easier than the language of adults...
    so children reach the stage more quickly
    when they are able to say everything they want
    and can understand everything they need...
    no subclauses, no sentences in the passive voice,
    no words like: ziektekostenverzekering.
    So yes, usually after 9 to 12 months in a foreign country;
    after thousands of hours of exposure to the foreign language,
    the children are more or less fluent in the foreign language.
    But then we are talking about nearly a year...
    In my opinion the method 'learning a language like a child'
    can never be a box of CD's with sentences to repeat out loud...
    but actually it would be something like dropping someone into an environment where there is
    full immersion in the language, from early morning to late in the evening
    with a concrete need to survive
    without the possibility of switching to English
    and for a very long time.
    BUT... there is no need to...
    because ADULTS can learn a language faster.
    And actually – and that's the paradox – you believe that too...
    There was not one of you who approached me
    asking if I had a 1-year full time course.
    We believe in crash courses
    and we believe that we can learn a language fast.
    But the question is with these methods…
    Of course, if you use the abdominizer every day, it is better than doing nothing.
    But is this the most efficient way?
    Neither in my language school in Russia, nor here, have I almost never
    (some exceptions of Germans learning Dutch)
    seen anyone being able to enter the A1 level successfully
    after having done one of these methods
    as the ONLY learning method,
    so I am not talking about using it as an additional source for learning.
    OK... so we assume that probably our school system in small European countries is not
    that bad...
    let's have a look then at what it is exactly...
    Let's go back again to my secondary school!
    Basically, all the methods, for English, French and German had the same structure...
    Every lesson contained a text,
    that we first listened to as an audio and then we read the text,
    the text contained words related to a certain subject,
    and these words were in a separate list that we had to learn,
    the lesson contained an explanation of one specific part of grammar
    and usually the teacher explained this grammar well and did that in Dutch,
    not in the language we were learning.
    The grammar was also used in the text, and then there were the exercises.
    In fact, a very balanced way of learning vocabulary and grammar,
    listening, reading and doing exercises.
    Many different aspects of language learning combined.
    Of course that sounds obvious...
    But... there was one thing I was frustrated about during my time at school...
    When I turned the TV on to a French or German or English channel...
    I just did not understand anything.
    I became the champion of the Netherlands at playing bridge.
    For those who don't know what it is...
    It is a card game, that you win not with luck, but with your brains.
    In Holland, we even call it a sport.
    And the Dutch bridge association sent us to other countries to play tournaments,
    including the European and World Championships.
    And so, all of a sudden I was part of an international community,
    where the language was English...
    During the very first tournament, I did not understand anything...
    but that changed...
    quite quickly by playing abroad more and more
    and meeting people from other countries.
    I actually forgot to say that my marks for English at school were not really very good...
    but now I understood that I needed practice
    to activate the passive knowledge of all those years of learning theory.
    The same happened with French.
    Our school organised an exchange with a French school (after 4 years of French language classes).
    I lived for 1 week with a French family.
    On day 1 couldn't say a word.
    And more importantly I did not understand a word.
    But during the week, it happened...
    The passive knowledge was activated.
    And I could use what I had learned.
    And the same happened with German.
    At the age of 16 I had a summer job at Rabobank,
    a local branch near the coast that had developed a sideline of renting out holiday homes.
    Mainly for German tourists.
    So the entire summer I was changing 100 D-marks
    for 'einhunderd sieben gulden fuenfzig'
    and giving the 'schluessel' to people who arrived at their holiday homes.
    Probably you all have had those experiences...
    You learned a language, you studied a lot...
    but still you can't speak, you can't understand...
    but then there comes a moment of immersion
    and then it suddenly all happens and you start using it.
    You start to understand everything that you learned before...
    You activate passive knowledge, and you start to apply it.
    At a certain point at school,
    we had to choose our subjects for the last 2 years of school... for the final exam.
    The Dutch education system for the 'Middelbare School' (the secondary school) works like this:
    At the beginning you take all the subjects,
    but then in the last phase you choose your own combi-pack.
    You have obligatory subjects like English, Dutch and Mathematics and optional subjects.
    In my case I had to choose at least 4 optional subjects.
    I come from the countryside and the school there was not so big...
    and that meant that you could not choose just any combination of subjects.
    They had the same timetable for arts subjects like German, French, Latin and Greek
    and on the other hand the science subjects: physics, chemistry and biology.
    So you could only choose 1 type of subject.
    But I insisted that I wanted to do my final exam in German AND biology.
    So I said to the school: well if you can't offer the classes to me,
    then at least give me the opportunity to do the exam.
    I considered that it was my right!
    So I proposed that I would go to the biology lessons,
    very important because they were very practical...
    but I could study German by myself from the book.
    And they agreed.
    So I was learning German at school without taking classes,
    and actually my grades were not so bad.
    One part of the final exam was an oral examination.
    And of course I had the experience of the summer spent
    dealing with German clients at the bank.
    At the end of the examination, the teacher said:
    'With pain in my heart, I must give you the second highest grade
    of the pupils in your class.
    You proved that you can learn German without the help of a teacher.'
    Now, wait a moment!
    I am definitely not saying that it's useless to have a teacher for learning a language,
    please keep coming to the Dutch Summer School...
    But I was motivated...
    And I felt that I could learn a language on my own.
    That is why I thought...
    If I can learn a language from a book, then I can learn whichever language I want!
    As a kid I was fascinated by the negotiations between Reagan and Gorbachov
    about reducing nuclear weapons and ending the cold war...
    The Soviet Union attracted my attention, that giant mysterious country...
    But above all...
    I loved the sounds of the Russian language...
    which seemed to me very strong and direct.
    So now, I had an idea...
    Why not learn that language?
    And so I bought a self-study book for learning Russian.
    A very thick book...
    And I just started on page 1.
    And I had the time for that, because the next summer I didn't return to the bank...
    I got a job at a parking spot near the beach.
    An easy job:
    with bad weather – no people on the beach - I had nothing to do,
    and with good weather it took just 2 hours to fill up the entire car park,
    close the barrier, putting the sign 'VOL' and then again I had nothing to do.
    I learned, learned and learned a lot of Russian...
    especially words, because that's easy...
    the grammar was a bit difficult, and a bit boring...
    Russian has a case system just like German...
    but I knew from German, that it takes a lot of time
    to learn to speak with the right ending...
    A different ending which you can hardly hear.
    Everyone understood me when I made a mistake with my German case endings,
    whether I gave den Schluessel, der Schluessel, dem Schluessel...
    It was all OK.
    So I decided...
    that my time investment would have the highest language acquisition return,
    if I only learned words...
    You know what I did?
    I took the dictionary, and I marked every word that I wanted to remember.
    Every word from A to Z.
    And all these words I typed into an excel file,
    that I printed out in a way that I could fold the paper.
    I learned the words and then I marked the difficult ones,
    and I put those in a separate excel file,
    and then I changed the order of these words
    and then I reviewed them again...
    Nowadays we have apps which serve the same purpose.
    But that was my kind of system.
    So at my parking place I learned about 3 to 4 thousand Russian words...
    With that knowledge I went to Russia for the first time.
    And yes, on the day I arrived in Russia
    I had the same experience as before with my other languages:
    I did not understand anything
    and I couldn't get a word out of my mouth when speaking with Russians.
    But I knew from what happened with English, German and French...
    that it would soon come...
    That moment that you suddenly start to understand a lot...
    And OK, I had already found out that my pronunciation was totally wrong.
    I had learned it from a book.
    In the book it was written how Russian sounds compared to how Dutch sounds...
    I had no teacher, no CD... and there was no Youtube... so no kind of
    Bartski de Pauski.
    And I had guessed it wrong, the entire pronuncation...
    I found out immediately.
    But it was somehow manageable...
    I started to copy the sounds, something that gets easier
    when you've studied other foreign languages.
    You know, you just make those strange moves with your mouth and don't feel embarrassed.
    And the funny thing about speaking the Russian language as a man is...
    You lower your voice...
    and remove all expression from your face:
    I just said: "Hi, I am in a very good mood."
    But that was not the biggest issue.
    The moment I was waiting for, the day that I would suddenly start to understand everything...
    It didn't come...
    It just didn't come.
    I did not understand anything.
    And they did not understand me,
    even with my low voice and no facial expression...
    Not on day 5, not on day 10 and not after 3 months, when I left Russia.
    Why was that?
    Why did it happen with English, when I started to take part in international bridge tournaments?
    Why did it happen with German, when I started to work at the bank with German tourists?
    Why did it happen with French, when we had the exchange with the French school?
    And why it did NOT happen now?
    I had skipped one very important element...
    which was ....
    I thought grammar was boring, and not important.
    I thought I could manage with only words.
    But there was something I did not realise.
    Russian is a different language...
    and the way each word is written and pronounced
    is different with the function of the word.
    And it's not only the ending, but also the vowels and the stress on syllables that change.
    'Home' in ' I am at home' = [DO-ma].
    'Home' in 'I go home' = [da-MOI].
    [DO-ma] - [da-MOI]
    The word 'duur' (expensive):
    [DO-ra-ga] = expensive as adverb
    [da-ra-GOI] = expensive as an adjective of a masculine noun.
    [da-RO-zhe] = more expensive – the comparative
    And [DO-ra-ga], should not be confused with [da-RO-ga] which means: road.
    [DO-ra-ga], [da-ra-GOI], [da-RO-zhe], [da-RO-ga]
    So that's what happened:
    With all the other languages
    I came to the country with a lot of passive theoretical knowledge including grammar.
    And it was just a matter pushing the 'activation' button..
    Total immersion, when you already have it all in your head, is what works.
    It will put things in the right place.
    You will start to apply what you have learned before.
    Which is in itself a challenge.
    But when it's not there it will not come.
    I finally understood the success of the way languages are taught in school.
    A balance of everything including grammar, followed by a lot of practice.
    After my first 3 months in Russia, on my last day, I bought a Russian grammar book.
    I took it with me back to the Netherlands.
    Yes, it was boring.
    But now I had the incentive.
    This was what I had missed.
    In my free time I studied the grammar...
    and then I went back to Russia one year later.
    Just for 3 weeks.
    We're now talking about the period when the internet started to develop.
    On the chat-program ICQ I found a girl.
    And those 3 weeks I spent entirely with that girl,
    we would meet in the morning...
    start walking through St. Petersburg,
    then talk at a cafe,
    then walk again,
    then talk... talk, talk.
    That was 'the moment'.
    Now I started to speak and understand Russian.
    Now it happened, what happened before with the other languages.
    And in those 3 weeks I progressed so much...
    I liked that I could finally communicate with Russians...
    And I decided to live there...
    I kept improving my Russian, not by taking classes, but by watching a lot of television...
    reading books and newspapers, watching movies, going to the theatre...
    even reading the texts of operas, and...
    dating more girls...
    It was fun, it was great and I felt so proud
    that I had managed to learn this exotic, and very difficult language by myself.
    But this - learning a language by yourself - is only possible
    if you have a balanced method, that unlike those American methods
    include enough grammar
    because that is what those programs lack.
    So when I started to learn my sixth language, Spanish (also by myself),
    I took that into account.
    So, I learned a lot of words
    AND grammar.
    Then I started to practise my Spanish.
    The magic moment, the moment you start to understand the language,
    this time came much more quicker.
    And yes, a balanced method appears to be typical
    of how languages are taught in European countries
    where the emphasis on grammar is traditionally much higher than in the rest of the world.
    And actually, that is the main reason
    why adolescents and adults learn a language faster than children.
    Because they have a broader understanding of grammar.
    Apart from a balanced method that includes grammar…
    Why are you at the Dutch Summer School?
    What is different, being here as an adult, compared to being in school as a child?
    IF.. IF...
    I have to come up with some mnemonic!
    Incentive: as an adult you have an incentive.
    Most adults are learning a language because now they really need it.
    When we started to learn French at school,
    I really had no idea if I would ever speak it with someone.
    Oh, and by the way... you have another incentive as well...
    You paid money for this course, that's always a good motivation.
    Focus: as an adult you can push yourself to the limit.
    Like you do here.
    Two weeks, four weeks, six weeks doing an intensive course.
    100% focus for the best possible result if you make learning the language a priority.
    OK, back in my time at school,
    we had a good balanced method in terms of grammar and vocabulary...
    but my classes were a bit static
    mainly one directional with a teacher explaining something to the children.
    But now...
    Working with the flipped classroom principle like we do...
    the main part of the explanation moves to the homework,
    so that we can speak more in class.
    If the process itself is fun, you're more likely to continue learning.
    That's what we try to do, both the materials - having the soap opera of Martin and Marieke -
    and the atmosphere in class:
    by recruiting a nice teacher
    and allowing only nice people into our lessons.
    IF… IF...
    IF you learn with a balanced method that includes grammar
    IF you like the process
    IF you are motivated
    IF you practise a lot
    IF you are fully focused
    IF this is how you learn a language…
    THEN you will speak Dutch soon!
    I've told you my personal story and how I came to these ideas.
    And I hope that maybe it gives you a bit of motivation
    to continue to learn Dutch after this course...
    that it is also possible to learn a lot
    with just the theory from the book or #dutchgrammar on the one side
    and practising a lot on the other side.
    It might sound strange from the mouth of someone who sells language courses
    but I believe really that you can learn quite a lot by yourself.
    And of course, if you like to learn a language in class, with fun and great people around...
    Where we combine all the elements of learning a language
    including all those moments of interaction and practice...
    with great teachers like Mirjam, Susanne, Marlies, and Edith,
    then we are happy to see you again in winter or next summer
    Thank you very much for your attention!
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