A Dutch course for the rest of us

A Dutch course for the rest of us

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Expatica tries out 'Dutch for Dummies' in the hope of learning to speak like a native. Find out how we got on.

Most expats who tackle Dutch, whether by choice or necessity, will in time end up with a bookcase full of language textbooks. Over the last eight years I have accumulated readers and exercise books from eight different Dutch courses courses.  Three sets are from courses I followed with moderate success, and the rest were donated by friends. One was a birthday present.

If you are going to receive or give any Dutch language textbook, you could do a lot worse than 'Dutch for Dummies' by Margareet Kwakernaak. Described as a 'reference for the rest of us', it is a welcome addition to my bookcase. I am not too proud to say I have already learned a thing or two from it.

Unlike some of the lesser specimens on my shelves, 'Dutch for Dummies' helps you learn "real-life Dutch for real-life". The book is divided into five sections: Getting started, Dutch in action, Dutch on the go, The part of Tens, and appendixes with verbs and a mini dictionary.

My favourite is Part IV which includes  'Ten ways to pick up Dutch quickly', 'Five things you should never say' and 'Ten phrases that make you sound professional'.

But to begin at the beginning, the first section deals with the basics: pronunciation, stress, basic grammar and "all kinds of counting". Kwakernaak likens these elements to foundations of a house.

Never a willing scholar I rushed over the "foundations" when I began learning Dutch, and I have regretted it every since. You may have the vocabulary but your Dutch won't get you far if people don't understand your pronunciation or the word order is wrong.

Kwakernaak has a good suggestion: you can jump ahead to some real conversations and go back to the basics when you need it. This section is useful to everyone, not just beginners. I can testify to that.

I was delighted to see the other sections deal with the practical situation many expats have to face — such as working in an office where Dutch is spoken.

Several years ago I paid the equivalent of hundreds of euros for a two-month Dutch course based on newspaper articles. I 'passed' the course but still didn't know the right responses when taking a phone call in the office, or how to write a simple email in Dutch to a colleague.

The course didn't prepare me either for going to the shops and dealing with the infamous Dutch bureaucracy. Bearing in mind 'Dutch for Dummies' is not intended to be exhaustive, it provides the essentials you need in these situations, and more.

When pointing out an item to a shop assistant, do you say 'die', 'dat', 'deze'? It's all here.

As you would expect from a 'for Dummies' publication, the book is well written, clearly laid out and easy to navigate. It features helpful icons to make certain types of information more accessible: one for non essential but nice to know grammar rules; one on culture and one to indicate material included in the audio CD.

Personally I found the audio CD to be the weakest link. It had the appropriate conversations but they were flat. I found it was difficult to remain focused on what the speakers were saying as the dialogue on the CD reminded me of a news reel from the 1950s.

Nevertheless 'Dutch for Dummies' has pride of place on my bookshelf — when I am not using it.

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Dutch for Dummies
(plus audio CD)
Margreet Kwakernaak
Pearson Education Benelux
367 pages
Published: 2006
ISBN-13: 978-90-430-0892-1
ISBN-10: 90-430-0892-3  

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