A year ago I volunteered as a “language coach” at a refugee organization here but then my dizziness hit and I became ill and I wasn’t able to go through with it. Now that I’m better (and out of work) I volunteered again just after the summer but was told they don’t need anyone anymore! So, I searched for something else and found a volunteer organization here that gives Dutch lessons to foreigners. Mostly to people who have come here through marriage but also some asylum seekers and refugees. It’s not an officially certified organization but they do give serious Dutch lessons. I asked whether they needed help there and after meeting with the coordinator, she has asked me to help her with coordination activities. I will be doing more work there now while I don’t have a job yet and once I do get an actual job, I will scale down the hours (by agreement with the coordinator).
While getting to know the organization, I am looking in on the language classes. In the future, I will possibly be asked to sub for some of those classes occasionally myself, so it’s good to know what they’re up to. I have a particular interest in the lowest level classes, how to even get people started on learning the language! Dutch has some sounds that I don’t think are known in any other languages (like “ui” or “ij” or the hard “g” that sounds nowhere near what an English “g” sounds like) and learning the language can be tough…
So, this morning I sat in on an “A1” level Dutch class (for absolute beginners). Apparently this A1 class is a stable group of Moroccan women who have been stuck at this level for years. These woman have never been to school before or have a very basic education level, they came to this country through marriage and have lived here for many years. These women speak some very basic Dutch. So, communication is possible, but not flowing. It was a two hour class but very soon I caught myself participating and correcting and explaining as well, along with the two volunteer teachers already present.
The first hour was made up of a game where a random letter is picked, then on a picture board the woman has to pick an object starting with that letter, construct a simple sentence around that word and then everyone writes it down. Constructing a full correct sentence and especially writing it down was very difficult for these women. I helped a woman who said she has never been to school before and that she learned to write here! It took a full hour to do this for 6 sentences…
The second hour was dedicated to word bingo. I did that with one teacher, while the other teacher took single students in turn who had to read with her for 10 minutes or so. The reading teacher later told me that one of her students has just finished reading her first children’s book. This woman was completely illiterate when she came in some years ago and had been told she’d be too old to ever learn to read and write but she had now actually finished her first book! The teacher was beaming from ear to ear at the success of it.
So, the word bingo: each student got bingo cards with basic words on them. The teacher and I took turns reading out a card with a word on it and they had to figure out whether they had that word on their bingo cards. We’d also discuss the words that came up, look for opposites (like dry – wet) and they came up with fun answers. For instance, one of the words was “fruit” and the teacher asked, “where can you buy fruit?”. The woman next to me triumphantly called out, “Lidl!”, which is the name of a supermarket and not the word “winkel” (shop) or “(super)markt” or even “groenteboer” (greengrocer) that the teacher was looking for. “And Albert Heijn,” the woman added (the name of another well known supermarket here), but “Albert Heijn is duur” (duur= expensive) she ended. Cracked me up! But hey, that last bit was a real Dutch sentence, so that was good. 🙂
Suffice it to say I had the best time ever! These women were serious about their work but a ton of fun as well and I was just beaming by the end of class. They asked me to come back next week and hell yeah, I will be there! Learning Dutch is extremely difficult for them but they keep at it, despite minimal progress… I so won’t mind subbing for this class one day, should it be necessary.