Updated: Nov 25, 2020
Creating Dutch Habits
Why should we create Dutch habits?
When we do something new, it requires a lot of brain power.
Do you remember the first time you drove a car? Every action required an active thought: checking mirrors, switching gears, to brake before a curve, where to put your hands on the steering wheel while making a turn. Every action required a conscious thought, until they became automatic and your motor memory took over. You can now probably drive while listening to music, talking to the person next to you or going over a work problem in your mind. This is because once a set of behavioral patterns has become automatic, it requires so much less of the bandwidth of your brain.
This also goes for language learning. As soon as the words, the grammar, the sentences have become automatic, speaking and interacting requires only a hint of the energy and attention it needs when you just start to learn. But to get there, to get to the level where a casual conversation doesn’t leave you exhausted and confused, you need practice. And exactly that, finding the moment and the time to do so, is often THE challenge for most students.Especially when you live in a place like Amsterdam where everybody is equally happy to speak English to you.
Some schools try to solve this issue by giving you homework exercises from a book. Apart from the fact that even the students who religiously do their homework, usually are no better at actually communicating in real life situations than those who don’t manage to do them, homework itself tends to become such a struggle, that people loose motivation and throw in the towel.
A smart way to learn as you go along your daily life, is to incorporate your language learning moments into already existing routines and habits that you have. By creating routines, you make sure that it is just the language learning bit that uses brain power, and not the “getting yourself to do something at all” that takes up all your bandwidth (and self-confidence).
What is the challenge?
The challenge is to pick an already existing routine, and use this as a cue, to connect that to the new ‘Dutch’ routine you want to make part of your life.
Step 1. Choose a Dutch activity
First step is to choose one activity that you want to start doing on a daily basis to improve your Dutch. It needs to be FRIS: Fast, Relevant, Interesting and Small. Think of something that takes under 5 minutes and that will teach you something that is useful to your daily life. When focusing on vocab, make sure you first grow your verbs rather than nouns.
Here are a few ideas: Write down a new verb or word with an example sentence or synonym and a little drawing on a post-it and stick it in a place you look at several times a day (bathroom door, mirror, kitchen cabinet). Watch a short video from jeugdjournaal.nl, youtube, nos.nl, npo.nl or any other website or source that you enjoy. Read a short article online at jeugdjournaal.nl or nos.nl or nu.nl. Write a short text message to a friend about your plans for the day, or about an article you have read. Say a Dutch sentence out loud that you think might be useful at some point in the week. If you would do any of these things at least once a day, then your Dutch would soon be off the charts, right?
Step 2. Select a cue
The second step is to find an existing activity in your daily routine that can serve as a CUE, as a reminder to do the other, Dutch activity. For example: Every time my alarm clock sounds in the morning (cue) I read a short article on jeugdjournaal.nl and I look up words I don’t understand on mijnwoordenboek.nl or deepl.com. Every time I am in the bathroom, I say a sentence out loud (you might even stick a few post-its with sentences to the wall that you’d like to be able to say in public.) Every time I drink a cup of coffee, I look up a word that I need. Every time I cook, I listen to a Dutch podcast (vpro.nl). Every time I am in the car or public transport, I listen to Dutch radio (radio1, BNR). Every time I drink a cup of tea, I sent a short text message to a friend. It might take a few days before the new activity is part of your routine, but as long as the cue is clear and you keep trying, soon enough it will be a new habit!
Step 3 is to make the reward very tangible
A reward could be anything between a feeling of accomplishment, a delicious cup of tea, or something more tangible, like a star chart that you tick that off. After a few days, you will feel verrrry good about your visible perseverance.
Would you like to read more about habits and routines?
Photo credit: www.flickr.com/photos/waikin/2901106455/