Updated: Dec 23, 2020
If you’ve been following our blog posts this year, you’ll remember that we made a post about easy New Year’s Resolutions you can make for each month to improve your Dutch skills: we’ve already discussed watching Dutch television series, using language-learning apps to practise your Dutch, and WhatsApping with native speakers in Dutch to squeeze in a little bit of daily practise.
This month, we’re going to talk about one of the fundamental aspects of the Rubio Dutch Method: practising in an environment that is part of your daily routine. An easy place to start could be the supermarket, for example (more hints about how to incorporate Dutch into your supermarket visit).
Even when you’re more advanced in your Dutch skills, it can sometimes be difficult to switch over to Dutch when you may have started out speaking English or your native language in that location for so long. If you started working at your company 5 years ago before you knew a word of Dutch, it may feel slightly uncomfortable to switch over to Dutch; in this case, you may want to do it gradually — switch to Dutch with your favorite colleague in her office, or in the cafeteria, for example.
In this blog post, we’ll use visiting your child’s school as an example, but these tips are applicable to whichever environment you choose. Pick and choose a few techniques depending on your level and what you think would be most useful to you.
1. Write a story (in your native language) about what happens during your interaction in this place now. For example, when you go to pick up your child from school, you hear a lot of other parents speaking to one another in Dutch, the teacher wants to tell you about your child’s performance in school but she’s not entirely comfortable speaking in English, you might feel embarrassed for tripping over your basic Dutch, etc. Think about how this story (especially your feelings/emotions attached to this story) might change if the story were written from the perspective of your child or from the perspective of the child’s teacher. Perhaps you feel too embarrassed to try to speak Dutch, but the teacher may feel flattered if you try to practise. This is helpful for you to get perspective on your feelings and your role in these situations.
2. Make vocabulary lists relevant to the environment of your choice. Start really simple and small and then work bigger and more complex as you get more comfortable. This will help to grow your vocabulary and to increase your confidence and comfort to speak and listen to Dutch in this environment. This will also help you to master one specific area and make it feel more feasible to conquer other areas of your life in Dutch too.
3. Make a few different sentence frames (ex. “I would like…” = “Ik wil graag”) that can help you to express yourself more. Try using these sentence structures to say a few different things in your environment of choice by switching some of the vocabulary in the sentence frames. This can help to give you flexibility while maintaining a level of comfort and safety as well.
4. Tell people that you’re trying to practise in this location (tell the parents, the teacher, your child). The support system will benefit you; if you’re struggling with a sentence, they can help you with the grammar or with some words, rather than you feeling like you have to do it perfectly all on your own. Allow others to help you!
5. Practise with your child, partner, a friend or a fellow student from your Dutch class. Make it into a sort of play/theater game; your partner can pretend to be the teacher and you can play your own role so you have already practised some possible conversations before attempting these conversations in real life. This can also help you to discover your gaps in knowledge (e.g. what sentence frames would be helpful or what vocabulary you still need).
6. Set clear and concrete goals for yourself: if you’re a beginner, speaking Dutch with one or two people for a few minutes each at the start might be a good goal. If you’re more advanced, you can probably try to limit yourself to Dutch in this location. Once you’ve reached a smaller, concrete goal that you’ve set for yourself in this environment, you can try to create a more challenging goal (e.g. First, try to speak with another parent for a few minutes in Dutch each day. Second, ask the teacher to speak to you in Dutch while you respond in English/Dutch. Third, begin to respond to the teacher in Dutch… And so on).
Remember that it’s completely okay and normal to feel vulnerable, shy, or confused when you try to speak Dutch. Learning is about doing challenging new things, especially when you find them a bit scary. Learning is about finding the courage to go beyond what you know well and continue in spite of feeling disappointed with yourself at times, angry with others, scared, frustrated, or unmotivated. Accepting these feelings as part of the process instead of wasting your energy fighting them is when real learning can take place.