I enjoy tinkering with foreign languages. When I was in high school, I started with two years of Spanish. Having never studied a foreign tongue, I had the best introduction to Spanish language and culture that an impressionable student could experience in Señorita Burr’s classroom. Walking into her living language environment was like stepping into a lively street celebration in a Latin American country. Learning to Señorita Burr meant three things: reinforcement through repetition; participating in culture days (Latin American customs, cooking, television, games, etc.); getting out there and just doing it; and conversing sin inglés.
My acquired knowledge and practice of Spanish in an English-free environment gave me the thirst and confidence to widen my language horizons. I decided in 11th grade to switch to French since Spanish helped to form a basis for studying other Romance languages. French was the only other foreign language my high school offered except for German, which didn’t fit into my schedule. In addition, because of an arrangement with a high school in Wallonia, in the French-speaking region of Belgium, I was able to take my first trip abroad.
Since college, I’ve flirted with Italian and German in classroom and travel settings. The latter left me bewildered although I enjoyed my visits to Germany and appreciated the gracious language tips I received in Munich. To keep up with my French, I’ve purchased bootlegged copies of French in Action DVDs which are a great immersion tool and have dug up my dogeared copy of the accompanying textbook that was left behind in my parents’ attic when I moved out in my late 20s.
Having visited Belgium and the Netherlands twice each, I’ve been curious about the Dutch
language. To my surprise, this West Germanic language is spoken around the world outside of the Netherlands and Belgium in areas such as Suriname, the Caribbean, small pockets in North America, and to a small extent, in Indonesia, to name a few. Incidentally, Afrikaans, an independent yet closely related language to Dutch is spoken in South Africa and Namibia. The language is said to be easy to learn for Dutch and English speakers and learning it can provide additional opportunities for travel and cultural expansion.
Not having the luxury of being able to immerse myself in Dutch by moving to another country, I’m going to have to settle temporarily for some basic self study until A) I can find a Meet-up group of Dutch learners and/or speakers, or B) I can travel next year.
So, where does one begin to learn the basics on the cheap without dropping a few hundred on Rosetta Stone or Berlitz?
Unfortunately, PBS doesn’t offer a Dutch in Action immersion course. I’ve checked.
Last year, I purchased a Groupon for Livemocha and created an account. I liked the social component because there’s an opportunity to interact with native speakers who will critique your work. You can also get the basics by following lessons based on your language choice and even switch languages with your membership. What I didn’t like was the amount of e-mail spam I received and the points/tokens system which was confusing and reminded me of some sort of “Weight Watchers for Language Enthusiasts” scheme.
Byki Express, a free, downloadable program, offered some great flashcards and vocabulary lists, but the interface seemed clunky, and while I like repetition for learning a language, I received too much reinforcement on my way to progressing to the next lesson. Biki Deluxe offers more flexibility (e.g., mobile access) but at a cost of $69. I’m not knocking the learning system, nor have I tried it. I’d just like to find something cheaper that works well on my aging Smartphone.
Since I wanted to gain exposure using available resources without paying a lot, I did a search on what would be needed to master Dutch if someone wanted to move to the Netherlands. Simple enough. I happened upon Expatica which led me to Dutch Grammar. It was there that I found basic courses in a clutter-free format to learn (with mp3 audio) basic pronunciation and grammar. Dutch Grammar is a no-nonsense site that is rich in content.
My search continued. I love YouTube, not only for movie and music clips, but also for educational reasons.
Taalhuis offers some great resources that go over Dutch-language basics by way of YouTube videos with a recap of vocabulary words at the end of each lesson. The lists also cover the articles for nouns de and het that can only be learned through memorization.
Where does this all lead and how does it connect to immersion learning? Our world is getting smaller and more personal due to the Internet, particularly, social media. Not having the luxury of taking time off to live in a foreign country is a valid roadblock to immersion learning. However, you can log onto Facebook, Twitter, Livemocha, or other interactive site and connect with others who can comment, correct, and add confidence to your language skills. You can find or start a Meetup group in your area.
Whatever your reasons for learning a new language, know this: you will learn a lot if you get out there, try, and humbly ask for help; apologize up front for not being fluent, but eager to communicate; and ask how you can improve. Have patience and diligence and the language will follow.
I’m taking these words to heart on my adventure into learning Dutch.
Dank-u en tot later.