Monthly Archives: January 2014

It’s all relative (Or: B2 Dutch course #6)

Last night’s lesson covered relative pronouns. Some of which is easy (if you’re a native English speaker) and some of which is not nearly as easy unless you’re a native speaker of Dutch. Or German maybe. Quick and dirty summary: relative pronouns give extra information about a noun (person, place or thing).

Easy (just requires knowing whether the noun is de or het):

De man die daar loopt is mijn broer. The man that walks there is my brother. 1) man is ‘de’ 2) thus you use ‘die’. 3) extra information: that walks there. Technically it might be better to say ‘who walks there’, but that’s another topic.

Het huis dat daar staat is van mij. The house that stands there is mine. 1) huis is ‘het’ 2) thus you use ‘dat’ 3) extra information: that stands there.

Less than easy? When prepositions decide to get involved. Evil things. When that happens you have two different possible constructions — at least for now — waar + prepositie and prepositie + wie -> where + preposition (objects) and preposition + who (people).

Example with zien (to see) and kijken naar (to look at).

De televisie die ik zie is al 10 jaar oud. The television that I see is already 10 years old. There’s no preposition there, so you can use die.

But: De televisie waarnaar ik kijk is al 10 jaar oud. The television that I look at is already 10 years old. The preposition forces the use of waar rather than die. You can also split up waarnaar – it’s actually a bit more common to do so. De televisie waar ik naar kijk is al 10 jaar oud.

And finally: preposition + wie.

Hij is getrouwd met de vrouw van wie hij al tien jaar houdt. He is married to the woman that he (already) loved for 10 years. Dutch is a bit tricky here since the phrase for expressing love is “houden van”. See also: ik hou van jou, or I love you. So there is a preposition there that you would not have expected if you spoke English.

Of course, this little grammar exercise ignores one glaring problem: it’s fine to realize why something is the way it is but until you learn the rules for fixed prepositions or separable verbs (prepositions with verbs like opstaan — or ‘stand up’ — that can separate) you will not be able to do it naturally. So it really is a matter of practice, practice, practice…

I promise to write a non-grammar filled post next time. Hopefully!

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Surprises (Or: White roses from Marco

Apparently I have already written a blog pot with a similar title (I had to add in “white” to this one). I guess I am just not creative enough…

Marco randomly surprised me a few days ago with a bouquet of white roses:

white roses from Marco

Of course the other surprise is I haven’t managed to kill them yet. (I did manage to kill a different set of Dutch-themed orange roses within 36 hours last year. Sad.)

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Back to the present (Or: B2 Dutch course #5)

There was not much new grammar for this lesson (so at least Marco can rejoice that he does not have to read yet another grammar-filled entry). One thing that the De Finale textbook has is a grammar section at the back of the book. The teacher decided to go through it step by step, which meant starting with the present tense. The review of the verb rules wasn’t that hard – and then after we had to do an exercise which seemed full of inversion (where the verb comes before the subject).

I found it a lot of fun, but then I never claimed to be anything less than a grammar geek…

You would see a sentence. Your task would be to re-write the sentence, filling in the provided verbs 1) in the right part of the sentence 2) in the right form. Example:

(verliezen, hebben) Hij vaak, maar gelukkig hij toch veel plezier in het voetballen.

Translating that gibberish into English, you get:
(to lose, to have) He often, but happily he still a lot of pleasure in soccer.

(verliezen, hebben) Hij verliest vaak, maar gelukkig heeft hij toch veel plezier in het voetballen.
He loses often, but happily he still takes a lot of pleasure in soccer. (though ‘heeft’ directly translated would be ‘has’).

I did make two mistakes – conjugated one verb wrong (simple mistake) and I didn’t know that veel (a lot) is singular.  Though it does seem to be a murky question in English as well.

We also learned a few more rules for de and het words. As already mentioned earlier in this blog, words ending in -tie, -ing, -heid and -teit are always de words. Today we learned that names of flowers, trees, and plants are always de words:

rose and lilac: de roos, de lila
oak tree: de eik boom

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More than meets the eye (Or: Shop graffiti in The Hague)

A few days ago Marco and I were walking through The Hague and I spotted this unusual graffiti on a shop barricade:

random shop graffiti in The Hague

At first glance it didn’t look that unusual (not that most of the graffiti here can be considered ‘normal’) – but it quickly went from ‘pretty colors’ to ‘Hmmm. What am I looking at again?’

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Pieces of the grammar puzzle (Or: B2 Dutch course #4)

There was rain on the way to my class on Thursday night, though it has been raining on and off most of the week it seems. (Thankfully the only “snow” Marco and I have seen this winter the fake snow — made of tiny, foamy bubbles — that descended on us at Disneyland Paris to mark the Christmas season. Though who knows, we might be getting real snow sooner rather than later.)

One interesting thing about The Hague – a lot of the public bike paths and walking areas dry pretty fast. The bike paths dry the quickest. That’s in comparison to our inner courtyard for our apartment, which stays wet all day even if it hasn’t rained since the morning. So of course, everything on the walk home was pretty dry by the time I got out of class 3 hours later.

Thursday’s lesson in general was pretty good. A lot of it seems to be review at this point, which makes sense, but sometimes there is something completely new. On Thursday we learned about bijwoorden. or adverbs in English. You start learning adverbs in your very first Dutch course, but they aren’t called adverbs and they don’t throw the harder ones at you like they are doing now. And I must say, adverbs are probably one of the things that still give me a bit of trouble in English from time to time.

Unfortunately each word seems to have their own rule on where to go in the sentence – some of them have to start the main clause, while some of them can come before or after the verb (thus, 1st or 3rd place).

3rd place, adjective, anders: De school is anders dan vorig jaar.
The school is different than last year.
1st place, adverb, anders: Ik moet me haasten, anders zal ik laat zijn.
I must hurry (myself), otherwise I will be late.

Thus the placement of the word can also dictate what type it is (adjective or adverb). Crazy! I learned anders in both the adjective and adverb sense listening to others talk – on tv or around me – not from a book. I didn’t know the rule (and usually I do beforehand). Because of this I did not realize the word order was backwards from English:

…anders zal ik laat zijn. The verb “zal” (will) comes before “ik” (I), thus it is more like “otherwise will I …” But because I learned it from listening to others, and not from a book, I had no trouble ignoring that issue.

Last week, we had the adverb ook al at the beginning of a sentence. I was very confused by this, as 1) it is two words, not one. 2) this would require the verb to come directly after, as the verb must be in 1st or 2nd place, which created interesting word order. If only I had remembered anders

Ook al ging ik naar Amsterdam, ik kon haar niet vinden.
Even though I went to Amsterdam, I couldn’t find her.

So it was an interesting class, that’s for sure… but even I don’t understand it all. But it is another piece to put in the grammar puzzle.

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Corrections (Or: B2 Dutch course #3)

Last night was the third lesson at ROC Mondriaan. Time seemed to go slower… but there are always new things to learn. One of the things we covered today was conjunctions. You have two types – coordinating (where the word order doesn’t change) and subordinating (where the word order undergoes a change). The names make sense – coordinating implies that the two parts of the sentence are equal. Subordinating implies that one part of the sentence is less than the other. This effect is present in both English and Dutch. Dutch just takes it a step further and changes the word order for the lesser clause.

Coordinating: en (and), maar (but), of (if), want (because), dus (thus)

Subordinating: almost every other conjunction. This implies that word order changes frequently in this language! There were a few that I did not already know by heart:

mits = alleen als = provided that
tenzij = maar niet als = unless
aangezien = because

You can see more examples at (random Google search!)

And then there is the writing exercises… I don’t mind them – writing Dutch isn’t terribly difficult. The teacher does have an interesting system of corrections. First, we are required to skip every other line, leaving a blank line in between for corrections. She then uses a shorthand for corrections, generally saying where the problem is but not *what* it is. When she returns the paper we are required to correct it (with either a different color pen or pencil, depending on what we used the first time) and hand it back in.

For my first assignment there were only two errors – one verb conjugated wrong and one wrong word. (I wrote that prices would be getting larger, when ‘higher’ or ‘more expensive’ would be better. That one took a few minutes to figure out!)

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Grammar review (Or: B2 Dutch course #2)

Last night was the second lesson. It went pretty well. I realized a few months ago that I don’t really have that slightly scared feeling in my stomach when I go to work or class anymore – I used to be very nervous that I wouldn’t know what was being asked or said. And that it would be painfully obvious. But these days I don’t feel that much anymore – I would say I understand about 97% of what the professor says. Work is a bit less, but that’s because it’s dealing with strangers and accents I am not used to yet.

The first part of the class was a review of the grammar that we had already learned, mostly word order. As it is something I’ve already covered a lot in the previous class-related posts, I’ll spare you the boring details. (Well, it’s not boring to me!). We did cover something that I didn’t know yet though.

Het schip strandde op de kust. The ship stranded on the coast.
Het schip is gestrand. The ship was stranded.
Het gestrande schip trekt veel aandacht. The stranded ship drew much attention.

The last bit in bold is what I learned – voltooid deelwoorden (past participle – used in the perfectum/perfect tenses) can be used before nouns. This turns them into adjectives! In most cases you need to add an -e after the past participle. Two exceptions are:

1. before een/a with a ‘het’ word. een afgebrand huis. A burning (down) house. (This rule isn’t any different from the basic rule. Een/A means that the object is not known. If it was, you would use de or het [the] before it. If the object is both unknown and a het word, you do not add an e.)

2. to adjectives that already end in -en, regardless of de or het.
de gouden ring / the golden ring
de houten tafel / the wooden table

Finally, here are two more situations of knowing when to use de of het – I already said that words ending in -ie or -heid are ‘de’ words in the previous post. The same is true for -ing and -teit.

de woning, de oplossing, de leering (the home, the solution, the student)
de nationaliteit, de autoriteit (the nationality, the authority)

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Een beetje moeilijker (Or: B2 Dutch course #1)

Currently sitting at home listening to workers upgrade the heating unit – they are looking to upgrade them in all of the apartments, thus it takes a while. They’ve been here for a bit more than 2 hours as of this writing… with occasional loud drilling to keep me awake. [Edit: Seems to be done now, about 3 hours in total.]

Last night was my first B2 course by ROC Mondriaan. As a recap, the main reason this course is a good one is the price – €30 for 20 weeks (6 hours per week) provided you live in The Hague. The school receives a subsidy from the city government for what would otherwise be a very expensive program. And as an added bonus, we found out that the government had some left over money in this budget, therefore we also received our textbook (De Finale – €31.50) for free. Unexpected, but nice! I guess that means I was paid €1.50 to go to this class for 20 weeks. Maybe.

In the end there were about 15 or 16 people in the class. The teacher seemed nice enough. A bit of a soft speaker (due to a medical issue) but as I usually sit closer to the front it is not really a problem for me. Similar to the last course, the focus is again on writing, reading, listening and speaking as the textbook aims to prepare you for the NT2 exam after the course. Surprisingly, more than half of the class said that that they were interested in taking the exam.

Although the first night covered a lot of administrative things, we did also get started with some websites and the textbook. One of the websites she mentioned was Beter Spellen (Better Spelling). You can create a free account and receive a daily email with quizzes tailored to your difficulty level (there are three levels). I still need to make an account there, but she did show us a few example tests in class. The one thing she asked was that we not do the quiz on Tuesdays and Thursdays, because she wanted to do them in class.

We also looked at a few things in the textbook and did a speaking exercise. Luckily someone from the previous B1 class was assigned to this class, so we sat next to one another and also did the speaking component together. Though we still have a bit of trouble with our respective accents… I find it a bit difficult to ask people to repeat themselves, so sometimes I “smile and nod” even if I missed the meaning of the sentence. I really must work on that!

Lastly, she did mention that she would try and teach us a few rules everyday about when to use -de or -het for “the” (in English you only have “the” but in Dutch you have two choices, though de is much more common these days). Just a few rules per class – not too many.

-de words:

words which end in -ie: politie (police), concurrentie (competition), vakantie (vacation), koffie (coffee).

words which end in -heid: overheid (goverment), zekerheid (security), vrijheid (freedom), gezondheid (health)

All in all an interesting class. Definitely a bit more difficult – or een beetje moeilijker – which is what I like.

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De Brief voor de Koning (Or: A classic Dutch young adult book)

For the last few months I have been reading a Dutch classic by the name of De Brief voor de Koning (The Letter for the King).

De Brief voor de Koning boek

As I am a fan of books with a medieval setting, with knights and castles and the like, I jumped right in. Tiuri, the main character, is unexpectedly tasked with delivering a letter to a King – and this task required him to slip away the night before he was supposed to become a ridder (knight), dashing his hopes of ever becoming one. But the task soon grows complicated, as he watches a knight die, is chased by thieves, and is captured by other knights who believe he is the murderer. (Review in English | Dutch wikipedia page)

At SamenSpraak Café last Wednesday a friend asked another person if they had heard of the book. I was surprised to hear that they knew the book so I looked up the book next day. I had not realized that De Brief voor de Koning was actually a Dutch classic, written in 1962, so it made (more) sense for people to know about it.

For the most part I have listened to the book, rather than read it. I was able to get the CDs from a local library and then place them on my iPhone. But occasionally I do read the book as well, either with my taalmaatje or alone. At the moment I am about to begin the fourth part of the book, pg. 140, with about 300 pages to go…

vierde deel van De Brief van de Koning

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B2 (Or: Another Dutch course begins)

I received the letter I was waiting for on Friday afternoon.

letter from ROC Mondriaan

The purpose of the letter was to let me know that my next course – B2 – would be starting next week. This is the final class that I need before taking the NT2 exam. The class itself lasts 20 weeks and should be done sometime in June (after factoring in the Easter holiday and similar).

I’m looking forward to this course. While I had fun over the holidays it felt pretty weird not to have anything to study. While I do know what the textbook will be (but not the particular edition the class will be using) I’ve tried to stay away from peeking at the book too much over the holidays. That only leads to boredom during classes…

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