lundi 16 novembre 2009

Three weeks of Dutch

Back at the end of September, I started three weeks of Dutch study. I used Assimil "Dutch with Ease", Michel Thomas "Dutch Foundation", Pimsleur "Dutch I", and "Teach Yourself Dutch Conversation" / "Teach Yourself Dutch" as my materials. This post is a summary of those weeks and how I felt those courses worked for me.

Michel Thomas. No example dialogs I could listen to, or any substantial chunks of the language. Everything is in bite sized pieces, which I suppose is nice unless you're looking for the kind of immersion Assimil provides you. MT is basically a collection of example sentences. It's a basically a collection of "Look what _else_ I can say" moments, some of which aren't always obvious when you're just shown Assimil's dialogs. However, I feel the other learners are very distracting for me, and the sentences themselves feel very artificial and confined, whereas Assimil's texts feel more "real". In the end, it's a lot of mileage out of a very small vocabulary. I only did 3 of the 8 Foundation CDs.

"Teach Yourself Dutch Conversation" and "Teach Yourself Dutch" both suffer from the same problem of simply not enough examples. There isn't enough extra to help you in formulating sentences that aren't straight from the dialogs. It's hard to use the dialogs to extrapolate either using the vocab in another situation, or replacing pieces of the sentence templates with the words that _you_ want to say, rather than parroting the dialog. At the same time, Teach Yourself also has chunks of isolated vocabulary presented without context -- the only way to learn them it rote memorization. (Flash cards -- more on that below..)

"Teach Yourself Dutch Conversation" is a set of 10 conversations with some audio lessons in between. The conversations are very short and suffer the same problem of not enough extra context for what they're teaching. In an effort to be short, everything is presented only once. TYDC claims that when you finish the course, you'll be at CEFRL A2. If that's true, then I think my vision of the CEFRL levels placed them much higher than they actually are. Which means that Assimil's claim of B2 is perhaps true. Which also means that I was underestimating my level in French. Oh well.. I finished TYDC, but I find it unlikely I'd claim A2..

Only the Assimil course really mentions Dutch Word Stress. The MT course occasionally says something, and I guess the TY people just assume that English word stress is "close enough". Pimsleur, being only an audio course, means that correctly mimicking the native speakers means you'll pick up on Word Stress, but it didn't seem to be addressed directly. Perhaps Assimil's French (and so unstressed) background meant that it ended up being more important for them?

Pimsleur (and TY to some extent) both give you lots of usable sentence without having done the entire course. In fact, almost from day 1 you're learning things that will be immediately useful. You have to get further into Assimil before you're producing things that you havent't necessarily seen before. (Although, this is where I liked the combination of Assimil and MT -- Assimil for actual course material, and MT for more example sentences and combining bits. I don't think I'd like MT on its own.) However, especially after working with Assimil, Pimsleur just seems so _slow_ and not dense enough. When I would start another Dutch lesson, I'd quickly get the feeling I'd be better served by listing to the Assimil lessons instead of another half hour of Pimsleur. I only did about 5 or 6 lessons of Pimsleur before giving up.

I also find TY's lack of parallel texts makes studying hard. Having the vocab sections after the dialogs (and with no surrounding context) is non-optimal for me. For starters, I found occasionally that the word I wanted to look up wasn't always in the vocab section. It had been presented maybe in an exercise in an earlier chapter and so TY assumed that I knew it. With Assimil, you just read the translation and you're done.

TY feeds my left brain with logical rules to follow. Assimil is more intuition -- right brain. My brain clearly wants both. I need the rules to understand "why", but TY doesn't let you "live the language" the same way you feel immersed with Assimil.

For vocab, I also find that the things that I figure out, I tend to remember. Assimil's parallel texts help with this, since you're always comparing the two sets of sentences that you really do gain an understanding of sentences as a whole. The TY vocab sections "a = b" block that process for me -- there's no thinking. You're not learning an intuitive mapping between the English and the Dutch, it's just raw facts. (Note that for me raw vocabulary facts are different from me saying I needed rules to learn -- the rules were grammar and sentence constructs, not just vocab items.) For me, TY as presented in insufficient.

"New French with Ease" has a dictionary in the back with lesson references for all the words so you can see them in example sentences. "Dutch with Ease" does not have a dictionary, let alone one cross-referenced to the lessons.

I tried using flash cards again. I was hoping that it would be different not being at the advanced level I was with French, but as usual it didn't seem to stick. I'd rather listen to dialogs than load up anki. However, Real Life interfered with my studies, so I'll probably try again in the new year.

Speaking flash cards, I really need to knuckle down and starting learning the "het" words. I didn't really pay attention or record in any special fashion the two classes of words.

I found a "Learn Dutch" podcast, but I'm unlikely to use it as my primary source.

I've noticed that a lot of the tools I used for learning French were actually only filling in missing pieces of existing French knowledge. So, when I try to use them for Dutch, they aren't sufficient. I'll have to go back to those when my level is a bit higher.

I also need to figure out the deal with the Dutch spelling reform. I know my desire to only use the new, updated spellings kind of screwed with my French learning (few materials used them, lang-8 users "helpfully" correcting my spelling to the pre-1990 standard..).

I did the TY exercises up to unit 5. I had studied TY up to unit 6, I think, so I wasn't far behind. Laoshu505000 says to make up your own exercises, but I'm not so good at that.

I also want to try generating output sooner rather than later. Sharedtalk has redone their rooms so there is in fact a Dutch chatroom, but I've heard it's always empty, or populated but only 1 or 2 non-native speakers.

When I restart Dutch (in a bit, when my life is a little calmer), I'm going to try a notebook. Probably a personal wiki or something. And I do really want to give Anki another chance. Hopefully more Dutch people will show up on Sharedtalk. This three week TAC as it were certainly showed me with courses I'm going to stick with and which ones I'm going to ditch. I also found the Linguaphone Dutch and the DLI Dutch (intermediate.) They'll probably go on my list of follow-up courses after TY and Assimil.

If you got this far, thanks for reading. I'll post something new when I have news.

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