06 December, 2010


I can't believe it, but I just had a message from my teacher that I passed all components of my exams!  That means that I'm finished with the course and my obligation to the Dutch government is fulfilled and I will be allowed to apply for naturalisation (with a dual passport, of course) when I become eligible in May next year.

I must take a few moments to offer thanks to a some very special people:

Maarten.  What a tower of strength (to pillage a cliché).  He's held my hand, wiped my tears, endured my frustrated rants and laughed heartily at my lame attempts at humour in Dutch.

My sainted teacher Iva, without whom this would have been such a fun journey.  Such a gifted teacher who makes learning fun - an absolute inspiration.

My new schoon-familie.  A wonderful team of people who have never criticised, only offered their support and have kindly ignored my stumbles and tantrums.

My colleagues, especially Miki and Haris.  Two people who have taught me more about Dutch culture (and its idiosyncrasies) than anyone else.  Not bad for a pair of ex-Yugoslavians!

The Ttif Company.  What a fantastic group of people and support network.  I can't sing the company's praises enough.  If you're just starting out and looking for a school that is a good fit, this is it.  Believe me.  And they're not even paying me to say that!

And lastly, to you.  It's because of you that I've written about my experience, hoping that it will be easier and a less daunting process.  It doesn't have to be hard, it's just a shame that the government doesn't like to share that with us.

This will probably be my last post for a while.  I'm thinking carefully about taking the next step to study Staatsexamen niveau I and II, but am not sure if I have the energy for such a huge commitment.  Until I take that step,  I think it will be all quiet on this front...

Keep me posted on how it goes for you.  If I can help, I will!!



02 December, 2010

Exams are done, done, DONE!

It's been a hectic week.  Nerissa World is insanely busy right now.  This week is really the crescendo of it all, however.  Hopefully by Monday everything will be back to normal, whatever that is!

This week I've done all four of my Dutch exams.  Hopefully for the first and last time!  I'll try to go through them all and tell you what I thought, and how I think you can better prepare yourself.

First up was the Toets Gesproken Nederland.  This exam was what I was probably most nervous about.  I was terrified about the tegenstellingen (opposites), because it is something that I've really struggled with.  Poor Maarten has been practicing with me on the couch and I've been sitting there fighting tears because I was useless!

So, I was happy that it was first.  Get the worst out the way, and all that!  We met our lovely examiner - a really friendly guy who put us all at ease straight away.  Good quality for an examiner, hey?  He showed us all to little rooms with a telephone and a headset, then dialled a number for us and off we went.  There was a practice question and the computer gave me a couple of example questions.  The test was broken down into five sections, A-E.  A was Nazeggen - repeating a sentence verbatim.  It's important to note that you are scored in this section on each word, so if you don't remember all the words, that's fine.  Just try and get as much out as possible with the same intonation that you've just heard.  I was fine with most sentences, but as they became longer I couldn't remember everything.  There were 10 sentences to repeat in all.

Section B was Tegenstellingen (from memory, but it could have been Korte Vragen).  There were only about 10 words, but this is what I was most scared of.  I think I gave a couple of stupid answers, like mondeling - stilstand (instead of schriftelijk) for example.

Section C was another round of Nazeggen, with another ten sentences.  With the first three sections, I must tell you so you can prepare yourself, the voices were NOT clear.  The voices were a bit muffled and the words were not clearly enunciated.  For example's sake, to me it sounded like the team who put together the exam went out into Amsterdam with a mic and asked random people to give words/sentences.  The accents and speed varied greatly.  And not in a good way.

Section D was Korte Vragen.  Meaning, the computer asked a short question, and I needed to give a one or two word answer.  Again, from memory I think there were 10 questions in all.  This wasn't difficult.  It is only a problem if you don't know the answer in Dutch!

Section E (for me) was by far the easiest.  We listened to two short stories, and then within a 30 second time frame had to say what the point of each story was.  Basically, who the story was about, what they were doing, where and what etc.

After the exam was finished, a group of us discussed how we all went and what we thought.  We all agreed that it was difficult to understand the voices and that the speed was faster than we expected.  What I found interesting was that all the others thought that Section E was the most difficult, whereas I thought it was the easiest...

The best way to prepare yourself?  Listen listen listen!!  Listen to the radio, try to pick up different accents, but most of all relax in the exam!  Which seems ridiculous coming from me - the least relaxed person I know!  You have a reasonable length of time to answer each question, so the worst thing you can do is panic.  Also remember that you have to get the answer right first time, so if you say the wrong word then the right word, too bad.  The computer doesn't care.

After about a 10 minute interval (long enough to skull a quick coffee) we were called in for the Kennis Nederlandse Samenleving (KNS) exam.  This is based on the practice exams that I've discussed in the past.  You open a screen on the computer, watch a small film then answer a few related multiple choice questions.  Depending on how difficult your individual test is (as they are all different), you will have between 35 and 42 questions to answer.  I had 38 questions to answer and they were all a bit more difficult than I was expecting.  I had questions about discrimination, teenagers skipping school, going into ondertrouw and healthcare (with a particularly disturbing film of Mo stabbing himself with a screwdriver!).  There may have been a couple of others, but those were the main sections.  I didn't know much about the process of when you feel discriminated at work, but tried to let commonsense  play god.  I think I did enough to pass.  This exam lasted 45 minutes, and I was done with about 10 minutes to spare.  There were a couple faster than me, and looking at my immediate neighbours, they were in strife.  I think the girl on my left will be back in that exam room for sure.

Almost immediately afterwards we went in to the Elektronish Praktijk Exam (EPE).  This exam was for 60 minutes, and was the same format as the KNS and the practice exams that I've already done.  I found this exam to be by far the easiest.  The most important point to note is that the answer is invariably in the text/video.  You will never have to make up the answer that you think is correct (hello KNS, I'm talking to you).  You just need to concentrate and read/listen correctly.  I was done within 30 minutes.

Advice for the two last exams?  KNS - learn Welkom in Nederland.  Really.  Learn it.  Everything you need to know about this exam comes out of that book.  EPE?  Learn the language.  What you learn in class is enough, if you pay attention that is...  Basically if I can get to the stage of being able to take the exams with a reasonable level of confidence after only eight months, anyone can.  Plus, think about what you would do in the situation.  For example, one was Zara walking down the street pushing her grandson in a pram.  She came across a car parked on the footpath belonging to the neighbour.  She rings his bell.  Then the question is, what happens next?  I.e. what does she say when he opens the door, or what does he say in reply.

I walked out of the exams yesterday feeling as though I have done enough to pass.  If anything, it will be the TGN that lets me down, but I certainly answered far more than 50% correctly.  The big question is, did I crack 75%...?  Only time will tell.  I should have an answer in the next couple of weeks.

Today it was onto the big one.  The Panelgesprek over mijn Portfolio.  I have been working really hard on this one for the last few weeks, rehearsing scenarios and going through what I thought was difficult, easy, and most importantly, leukst ;)

The weather outside this morning was what could only be described as klote weer, so I made sure I left in plenty of time (taking bus 157 to Amstelstation and the metro to Wibraustraat - super fast and cheaper than the train!), so I rocked into the Ttif Company headquarters at 9.00, three quarters of an hour early!  But, better too early than too late right (do we need any more proof that I'm fully ingeburgerd)?  The interview began exactly on time, and instead of a team of daunting examiners, I met with two lovely ladies - Jamilla and Angelique, and we got straight into it.  Jamilla did all the talking (and the interview was recorded), and Angelique listened and took notes.  Jamilla asked me all sorts of questions, not just related to the portfolio, but how long I've lived here, where I work etc.  Although I was nervous, I didn't feel like I was drowning, and we even got in trouble with the group next door because we were too loud!!  That was a fabulous ice breaker, so after that I totally relaxed and just did my best.  Jamilla asked me about my buurvrouw (thanks Connie!!), and even what she looks like!  Sorry Connie, you've been described as a korte vrouw, but!  You're also described as a Nieuwe Nederlander (they could tell I was so proud of you!).

After the short interview I had to complete a sheet with six questions.  All very basic questions, like how many situations I had collected, what I found hard, important, nice etc.  I was expecting to have to also write a short note to a friend (as I have been practicing that), but it wasn't necessary.  I did find that I needed the full fifteen minutes provided though.  I only just finished it in time.  Angelique read what I had written, expressed that she was very impressed (yay!) and that she could already tell me that I had done enough and that I had passed the exam!!  She told me that a letter to that effect would be following, but that I should relax, because she was very happy and could understand me very well.  So basically, I rock.

Now it's just the waiting game for the other three exams from yesterday.  I'll keep you posted.  In the meantime, please feel free to ask me ANY questions about the exams.  I'm sure I can be of some use!

Tot snel.

22 November, 2010

Useful Link!!

Although I've yet to try all the associated links from this page, there is a lot of useful information posted on NT2 Weblinker.

You can find links to practice exams and information about Elektronisch Praktijkexamen, Toets Gesproken Nederlands and Kennis Nederlandse Samenleving.  There are some links that appear to be broken (not all of the Staatsexamen stuff works properly), but the site seems to be maintained regularly, so the information should be quite current.

If you're looking for a comprehensive site to give you all the info you need, this appears to be it.  Go on, what are you waiting for?

15 November, 2010

Portfolio Interview Preparation

Now that I'm done with gathering proof and putting together my portfolio (it's been sent to Amsterdam for assessment, I should hear sometime soon when the related exam is), I have a further document to study, which will prepare me for the exam.  As a bit of preparation for your own exam, here are the basics that we will need to know when we go into the interview room:

  • The examiner will ask what was easiest, most difficult, the best and worst.
  • How each (or selected segments from the portfolio) went.  For example they will ask about your chat with the neighbour - where it was, what you spoke about, what did the person look like etc.
  • Why did you choose each written situation (they will select a situation to discuss) and how long did it take you to complete.
Possible questions taken from each section (this is in Dutch, run it through google translate if you need.  I would translate it for you, but google will probablly be more accurate!).  Forgive my spelling:

Algemeen vragen:

  1. Hoe lang bent u bezig geweest met het verzamelen van de bewijzen?
  2. Hoe vond u het om dit portfolio te maken? (obviously honesty with a positive spin is needed here!)
  3. Welk gesprek vond u het moelijkst en waarom?
  4. Welk gesprek vond u het makkelijkst en waarom?
  5. Welk gesprek vond u het leukst en waarom?
  6. Welk gesprek vond u het belangrijkst en waarom?
  7. Hoe bent u begonnen met her verzamelen van de bewijen?  Heeft iemand u geholpen met het Portfolio?  Hoe?

Vragen over bewijzen van gesprekken:

The examiner will chose a situation from the portfolio and ask you about it and say something like...  "I see you have spoken with Mr/Mrs Jones...." Then will go on to ask the following sorts of questions:

  1. Hoe ging dat gesprek?
  2. Waar was het gesprek?
  3. Waar hebben jullie over gepraat?
  4. Wat wilde u weten?  Of:  Wat hebt u gevraagd?
  5. Vond u het een goed gesprek?  Waarom wel/waarom niet?
  6. Wat vond u moelijk aan het gesprek?
  7. Wat vond u makkelijk aan het gesprek?
  8. Hoe hebt u zich op het gesprek voobereid?
Then, the examiner will choose another situation from the portfolio and ask different questions, still beginning with an opener as above ("I see you have spoken with Mr/Mrs Jones..")

  1. Wat junt u vertellen over dat gesprek?  Vertel eens iets over dat gesprek?
  2. Wat wilde die meneer/mevrouw weten?
  3. Welke vragen stelde hij/zij aan u?
  4. Waar was het gesprek?
  5. Hoe zag het gebouw eruit?  Seriously?  What did the building look like??)
  6. Wat moet je doen als je daar binnenkomt bij het stadhuis? Of bij de politie?

Vragen over bewijzen van schrijven

Much the same as above, the examiner will take a situation from the portfolio and ask questions about it, for example "I see that you have written a note or filled in a form..."
  1. Wat hebt u op dit formulier ingevuld/in dit briefje geschreven?
  2. Waarvoor kunt u dit formulier/briefje gebruiken?
  3. Hoe lang bent u bezig geweest met het invullen van het formulier/schrijven van het briefje?
  4. Vond u het moielijk of makkelijk om did briefje te schrijven/formulier in te vullen?
  5. Waarom was het makkelijk/moielijk?
  6. Welke andere formulieren/briefjes heeft u verzameld in uw portfolio?
  7. Welk formulier of briefje vond u het moielijkst?
  8. Waarom vond u did moielijk?
  9. Welk formulier of briefje vond u het belangrijkst?
  10. Waarom vond u did belangrijk?
So, this interview portion is supposed to take 15 minutes in total.  It's also important to note that you DO NOT need to know the contents of the portfolio by heart, but obviously you do need to know what you have in it!  It's probably more useful to study the exam preparation document that I've outlined above so you are not thrown by any questions that the examiner might ask (what does your local city council or police station look like??!!).  Oh, and most importantly, you're allowed to take your photocopy of the portfolio with you into the exam.

To accompany the spoken interview, there is a written section.  This is also supposed to be 15 minutes.  I can't answer whether the exam is limited to 30 minutes in total and if it's not completed in that time too bad, or if you can run over time.  Perhaps someone who has completed the exam can enlighten?

The questions that you need to be able to answer in writing (full sentences, no one or two word answers allowed) could be as follows:

  1. Hoe lang heeft u an uw portfolio gewerkt?
  2. Hoeveel bewijzen van schrijven hebt u verzameld?
  3. Welk schrijfproduct vond u moeilijk?  Noem een schrijproduct
  4. Waarom vond u dit schrijfproduct moielijk?
  5. Hoeveel bewijzen hebt u verzameld?
  6. Welk gesprekbewijs vond u moeilijk om te halen?
And finally, you need to write a short letter to a friend/family member about your portfolio.  Basically outlining the same points as above (like how long it took, how easy or difficult it was, which was the most important to learn etc).  I would say, between 50 and 100 words or 4 or 5 sentences.

It all sounds very daunting to me, but as we know, I'm a panicker.  I have a practice interview this Wednesday at school to help me prepare.  I'm also spending most of the each night awake thinking about what I need to be able to answer. Hopefully it will see me well prepared!

I'd love to hear about your own experiences with the portfolio exam, the more information the better as far as I'm concerned!!

11 November, 2010

Ik ben KLAAR met Portfolio!

Excited much?!

As I've finally finished the portfolio and am going to hand it in at school tonight to be sent off for assessment, I thought it was time to share with you exactly what I did and which portions I found easiest and most difficult.  I have described the basics of what is expected in the portfolio here, so if you want a refresher, go and have a look.

Are you ready?  Let's go.

So, my portfolio was based on the Werk (work) traject, which unless you already have a job is quite difficult (as some of my friends have experienced first hand).  I'm not sure how the Gemeente comes up with the idea that a stay at home mum would find it easier to deal with the work traject than one of the others available, but hey.  Only the Gemeente understands its own logic...  I must also clarify, I opted to complete the 20 part portfolio.  You can also opt for half portfolio, half assessment, but the 20 part portfolio has less stress attached than the exam-type situation of the assessments.  Plus, I think you should have a strong level of Dutch to be confident in the assessments.

So, I needed to complete three sections:  Burgerschap (citizenship), Werk Zoeken (looking for work) and Werk Hebben (at work).  One by one I'll go through each situation.  Try to stay awake, it will be helpful.  I promise.

Situatie:  Ik meld bij de Gemeente dat ik ga trouwen (I inform the City Council that I am married)
Basically Maarten and I had to register our recent marriage at the Gemeente and I'd been putting off the Gemeente tasks for oh, eight months or so, so I bit the bullet and also asked the lady about completing my portfolio form which she was happy to do.  It wasn't that difficult to be honest.  As is also true in the experience of others, they just want to rubber stamp you and get on with the next task.  It was also easier because Maarten was there for a bit of support.  My advice:  Take a friend.  Get yourself an 'inburgering buddy' and do it together.  Half the work with twice the result.

Situatie:  Ik maak kennis met de buren (get to know the neighbour)
I won't lie to you.  For me this was the most difficult task.  Not because it was actually difficult, but I'm chronically afraid of approaching random people (i.e. neighbours) and talking to them.  You know those survey takers you always try to avoid in in the city centre, well that job is what hell would be for me.  So, it's no surprise that it was the absolute last task on the list that I did.  This shouldn't be a chore, but for me it was.  And there's nothing wrong with my neighbours, by the way!

Situatie:  Ik pin geld bij de bank (I withdraw money from an ATM)
I kid you not, this is an actual task.  And the proof?  An ATM receipt.  This doesn't need any further discussion.  Aside from the fact that it was the first task I completed!

Situatie:  Ik doe een cursus of opleiding (I undertake a study course or training)
This is the second easiest task.  You're already doing a course (Welkom in Nederland), and an extract from the course book is sufficient proof.  Get yourself to a photocopier NOW!

Situatie  Ik vul een verhuisbericht in (I complete a change of address form)
Again, very easy.  Go to the Gemeente and ask for a new address form and take it with you.  Fill it in at home and you're done.

Situatie:  Ik reageer op familieberichten (responding to family news)
This isn't really obvious from the title, but basically it is a greeting card.  Write a card to your neighbour for their birthday/christmas/graduation and that's your proof.  My sainted teacher's advice was that this shouldn't be a family member, even though the situation specifically mentions that it is...

Situatie:   Ik begrijp de jaarafrekening (I understand the yearly energy bill)
This is one of those situations where you don't actually have to do anything except dig through your old bills.  Find your energy bill (remember it doesn't have to be from 2010, it can be any yearly bill after 2006) and make sure you understand it and you're done.

Situatie:  Ik begrijp het ophaalrooster for afval (I understand the rubbish collection roster)
I confused myself with this one.  I at first understood that this could include the old paper roster that we have, but found out that it is not good proof.  So, as the Gemeente hasn't delivered any sort of roster to us for the rubbish collection (at least not this year and not to our address), I went to the Almere Gemeente website and printed the page.  Try it here for Almere.  I should point out that even though Maarten helped me find the page 6 months ago, I could understand enough to navigate through the 'texty' site that is almere.nl.  You really have to be able to understand Dutch to find what you're looking for.  Good luck!

Now, that's eight Burgerschap situations.  As a failsafe, I have two extras (for each section) in case one is not acceptable or one reason or another.  They were:

Situatie:  Ik betaal een rekening (I pay a bill)
This is another situation similar to the energy bill situation.  Find an old bill with an acceptgiro attached, fill it out and it's good proof.  Just remember, must be newer than 2006.  If you don't know what an acceptgiro looks like, see below:

Situatie:  Ik nodig de buren uit (I invite the neighbour out/over)
When you get to know the neighbour as per the above situation, also take the time to extend an invitation to them, for coffee or an imaginary birthday party etc.  Then they can complete both forms at once.  I just love killing two birds with one stone (but not real birds, obviously!).

Werk Zoeken
Situatie:  Ik vraag informatie over vacatures (I ask for information about a job vacancy)
For this task I went to visit an Uitzendbureau (job agency).  I chose Tempo Team.  Mostly because Maarten used to work there and I knew the staff so I was quite comfortable going there.  I imagine if I had to walk into a random uitzendbureau I would have really struggled to find the courage.  We chatted about a call centre job for about 15 minutes.  Not difficult.

Situatie:  Ik zoek vacatures op internet (I search the internet for vacancies)
Go to Monsterboard and search for a job you think you can do (in Dutch).  Print it out.  Done.

Situatie:  Ik vul een solicitatieformulier in (I fill out a job application form)
Basically, you need to go into a shop/MacDonalds/supermarket and ask for an application form.  Fill it out and there's your proof.

Situatie:  Ik heb een telefonisch solicitatie gesprek (I have a telephone interview)
So, in this situation you should be having a telephone interview about a job.  This can also be simulated by asking your actual boss to have a 'pretend' interview if you didn't have a telephone interview for your job.  However if you did actually have a phone interview, use that as your example!  Think back to the actual date (provided it wasn't too long ago) and think about what was discussed.  As it is a telephone interview, the person you 'spoke' with doesn't have to complete the form...

And now for the extras two:

Situatie:  Ik zoek werk.  Ik schrijf mijzelf in als werkzoekende.  (I'm looking for work.  I register as a jobseeker)
Now, this is the one situation I have some concerns about.  What I did was register myself on monsterboard and took a screenshot of my profile and printed it out.  I'm not sure if this is acceptable or not, and my teacher isn't sure either.  We'll have to wait and see what the assessors have to say.  I am using it as an extra though, so it shouldn't matter too much!

Situatie:  Ik bereid het sollicitatie gesprek voor (I prepare for an interview)
Write a quick few sentences that are key points to be discussed in an interview; your motivation and experience.  Basically why you want the job (offers a challenge, has a good salary and opportunity for growth etc) and what your experience is.  Simple.

Werk Hebben
Situatie:  Ik schrijf op een formulier wat ik allemaal gedaan heb en hoe ik dat gedaan heb (I fill in a form with what I have done and how I did it.)
Some jobs require that you fill in this sort of form each day, especially if another employee shares your job, or you need to account for what you have done for the day (like a timesheet or logbook).  In my office, the cleaning staff have to complete this sort of form, so if you don't have to do one yourself, perhaps ask your cleaner if they have such a form and photocopy it.  Fill out a couple of points and you're done.

Situatie:  Ik lees teksten over gezond, hygienisch end veilig werken (read a sheet with good work and hygiene practice at your place of work)
Every work place should have such information on display (perhaps in the bathrooms for hand washing etc).  Photocopy this sheet and that's your proof.

Situatie:  Ik praat met collega's over persoonlijke dingen (chat with colleagues about personal things, i.e. what you did at the weekend)
This was one of those situations that I discussed with my colleagues for months about doing.  At my office we talk mostly in English.  The company is international and the official communication language is in English.  So I don't really need Dutch to work here.  I finally had the motivation to do this when my teacher gave me a deadline.  Very easy, quick chat over something that you did in your own time.  Your colleague fills out the form, and that is that.

Situatie:  Mijn wek is klaar.  Ik schrijf kort op wat er nu nog moet gebeuren (I'm finished.  Now write a short note for colleagues as to what needs to be done)
Very simple, write a quick note to your colleague saying "Mijn werk is klaar," and ask them to complete one or two extra tasks (eg. call a customer or send an email or order more paper).  The more you write, the more opportunities for error.  Use the KISS (keep it simple stupid) principle on this one.

Situatie:  Ik vertel over het wek dat if heb gedaan (I tell a colleague what work I have done)
Again, you can do this at the same time you have the other chat with your colleague (bird and stones).  Tell them what you have done that morning/yesterday, i.e. called a customer, cleaned the toilets, whatever.  Very quick.

Situatie:  Ik bel mijn baas om te zeggen dat ik beter ben (I call my boss and tell them that I am feeling better)
This can be simulated.  Make a 'phonecall' to your boss to tell them that you are now feeling better and will be able to come back to work tomorrow/next week.

Situatie:  Ik praat met collega's over de wek verdeling (I discuss the distribution of work with my colleagues)
Very quick, chat with your colleague about who will answer the phone/clean the toilet etc for that day.  Get them to complete the form.

Situatie:  Ik schrijf een verslag tijdens en werkoverleg (take notes at a department meeting)
Write some notes from a meeting that you have had.  I would say that this can also be simulated.  Note who from your office/team was at a meeting and who was not there, then a few points that were discussed; i.e. upcoming holidays, any changes within the office etc.  Again apply the KISS principle to this one and write only a few points.

And the extras...

Situatie:  Ik bereid een functioneringsgesprek voor (I prepare for a performance review meeting)
Make a few notes (KISS principle) about what you would say in a performance review meeting.  Items like:  How you find the job, if your boss is happy with you, if you want more training etc.

Situatie:  Ik bereid een gesprek voor over arbeidsvoorwaarden (I prepare questions to ask about a new job)
Write a few short notes re questions you would typically ask a new employer, i.e. how many holiday days, what your work times will be, will there be over time etc.

And, you're done!  Lengthy, but not difficult.  It all depends on your personality as to how hard the portfolio will be.  Like I noted earlier, get yourself an inburgering buddy.  A problem shared is a problem halved and all that.

I must say, I was very lucky.  My teacher has been nothing but helpful in this process.  I know that other students have quite the opposite experience with their teachers, so I'm most grateful for the help and occasional kick in the butt to get this done!

Now we will send the portfolio to the assessors and wait for news as to whether or not I am through to the interview stage of the process, and if I pass both, I'm free of the portfolio forever!  It really has been like a black cloud hanging over me and I can't wait to feel the satisfaction of completion.  I'll keep you posted.

09 November, 2010

Back and straight into it!

So, we're back from our "Trip of a Lifetime."  We had the most wonderful four weeks in Australia!  The wedding was fabulous, we had the best time and it was all over in a flash - thank goodness for photos to help me remember it all!

As I've mentioned, we went to Western Australia for our honeymoon, spending 10 days basking in the sun.  Well, it wasn't exactly like that, we did drive 4000 km, snorkel with sharks, saw all sorts of amazing wildlife and marine life (hammerhead shark, humpback whales, dolphins, dugongs, turtles, tropical fish, and of course kangaroos!), had a flat tyre in the middle of nowhere, got a sunburned butt, all while sleeping 9+ hours a night!  Absolute bliss.

So, why are you still reading and not booking a WA holiday??

Well, I'm having mixed feelings about being back 'home' now.  Returning home really gave me a lot to think about for the long term.  The biggest being: how long do we stay in the Netherlands?  It's not an easy decision, and not one that can be made quickly.  We have too many commitments to up and go, plus Maarten's parents (mum especially) would freak out if we did!

In all honesty, Australia is just so much easier than the Netherlands.  Bureacracy is not such a fight.  It was a relatively simple process to change my name (I'm now a Muijs) - I just had to apply to get a legal copy of my marriage certificate.  From there I could go to Transport SA and change my drivers license (I didn't even need a new photo, they could use the one on file!) and then the bank with the same certificate.  I also have the paperwork to change my passport, which is free to change within the first 12 months of getting married, and can be done via post/Australian Embassy.

However, to make our marriage legal in the Netherlands I needed to get the marriage certificate apostilled ($60 thankyouverymuch) and to register the marriage internationally at Den Haag I needed my birth certificate apostilled (for the second time as they won't accept an apostille older than 6 months and I already had to supply it to the Gemeente 2.5 years ago).  That was a cool $80 as they needed to attach a second sheet to my birth certificate as they can't apostille the same page twice...  But, it's done now and I've been to the Gemeente to register the marriage.  And, I could use the registration process for my portfolio!!

On that note, big news.  I'm scheduled to have the exams on the 1st of December.  1st of December!  That's less than a month away!  I'll be doing all three tests on the same day.  If I pass, Ik ben geslaagd!  But if I fail one of the tests, I can redo that test only.  I don't need to redo all three.  I'm a bit concerned about the toets gesproken nederland exam, but I've been doing the two main practice exams, the Elektronisch Praktijkexamen and the Kennis Nederlands Samenleving from the inburgeren.nl site that I've already shared with you.  I have cracked the 90% mark for both tests, so I'm not terrified any more.

My portfolio is also almost done!  I had hoped to be able to post that I was klaar, but I still have two portions to complete (hopefully before tomorrow).  It's been a real thorn in my side.  I started collecting situations way back in March, and it's taken me until now to get a handle on it.  It's something that you must be motivated to do.  If I had done what I said I would do way back in my earlier posts, this would have been out of the way months ago!

If I pass, and get the portfolio and it's panel interview out of the way in the next few weeks, I can enrol in the Staatsexamen level course so I can then go on to study at university level (if I choose to).  I'll especially jump on this ship in case all the rules change next year and the price goes through the roof.  I've missed all of the drama with the new government and what the planned integration policies are, so if anyone has a clue and would like to enlighten me, please feel free!

20 September, 2010

MIA - about to disapper and get married!

I've been out of action for a while, I must apologise.  Life has been very hectic recently; more hectic than usual if that's possible!  Next week we fly to Australia for a month to get married and have a honeymoon to Western Australia.  The plan is to drive the coast and stop to enjoy the glorious beaches and snorkel amazing reefs and see an incredible amount of wildlife like 14 metre manta rays, dolphins, and hopefully a few Southern Wright or Humpback whales.  Just because I like to brag, feel free to check out the website for Western Australia and get planning on your own holiday!
Handcock Gorge, Karijini National Park
When I come back I hope to be focused and dedicated, all to get my exams out of the way by the end of the year.  I'm taking some Toets Gesproken Nederlands practice info with me to Australia, because let's face it.  WA is one third of Australia, so that's a lot of driving!  I haven't even started to think about how far we will drive in total.  We'll certainly have driven as far as Munich from Amsterdam in just the first day!

Have a wonderful October, and wish me luck!

03 August, 2010

Epiphany (well, language equivalent)

We all know by now that I'm not adverse to a bit of complaining, and that I don't normally have a lot of confidence in my ability to speak Dutch, but I had such a good experience today that I just had to rush home and share.

Six months ago, the prospect of a stranger approaching me and speaking Dutch to me almost kept me locked inside my house, but today when a man stopped me in the supermarket I was only mildly concerned, but thought "Let's just see how this pans out."  As soon as he started talking, I was answering, giving my opinion (on the best sauce for hamburgers) and just generally having a bit of a chat.  Then it kind of hit me.  I was doing it in Dutch.  In Dutch!  Mid conversation the lovely man realised that I wasn't actually Dutch, so asked where I was from.  When I said Australia and had been here for about two years, he nearly fell over.  I'm not even exaggerating!  Turns out he's Iranian and has been living here for 15 years and couldn't believe how well I could speak in Dutch, especially as he struggles with the language himself.  He was full of compliments, and it felt (still feels) fantastic.  After all the praise and encouragement from Lovely Maarten (that I didn't really believe) it has finally hit home that I'm really getting there, and getting there fast!

So, if you're struggling (like I'm sure I will be again next week), take heart.  It will get better, and you're going to really surprise yourself.  I had the wind in my face on the bike all the way home today, but I didn't care.  Life is good.  Now pass the wine.

P.S. I know that all of my thanks MUST go to my teacher.  She does such a wonderful job and is so patient.  Never makes me feel self conscious and is never critical.  If you're still shopping for a course, you really can't go past the Ttif Company in Almere.

15 July, 2010

KNS - more dreaded than the portfolio (if that's even possible!)

Every Thursday in class is KNS day.  Or Welkom in Nederland (that is the course book).  I hate it.  No, hate is a strong word.  I love learning about the Netherlands and the history and the culture.  I do not love learning about the bureaucracy.  Not one little bit.  Last week we had a series of tests from the first five chapters of Welkom in Nederland and one of the tests I failed!  I was absolutely mortified with myself (I only failed by two questions, but fail=fail).  I don't fail.  Ever.  Well, except that one exam the day after Melbourne Cup 1998, but we won't discuss that...  I thought that I would be good to go by now with the KNS exam, but clearly I need to spend some more time learning how long the Consultatiebureau will be poking their noses into my life once I have children. 

The site I posted about last week has been really helpful, I've been using it regularly for the tegenstellingen oefeningen and I also have an even bigger list of words given to me by my teacher to study.  Yesterday I downloaded and installed the elektronisch praktijkexamen,which if you haven't already done run, don't walk!  I've already done the practice test once, and this time around I scored 90% (which I think is the same as last time - I must have made the same mistakes), so if I can score that well, everyone can!  The downside is, you don't find out which answers were incorrect to improve.  I'll have to sit down and do the test again with Maarten to ensure I get it right.

My next plan is to download and install the kennis Nederlandse samenleving which I've also already practiced (82%) so surely can improve upon that result.  My biggest problem is that I have such strong opinions about the samenleving and I need to remember to give the answer that they want, not the answer that I believe is correct!

If you've done the practice exams, tell me how you went.  If you haven't do them, then tell me how you went!  And to those of you who are studying, enjoy the summer holidays!  I can't wait to have a couple of extra nights to myself each week again.  I don't know what I'm going to do with myself!  What plans do you have?  Extra study?  Knocking the portfolio on the head?  Taking a break from the entire business?  I know I've got a wedding to plan - I've got less than three months to go!

available at bol.com if you don't already have it.

05 July, 2010

Practice Practice Practice!

Last week at school, my teacher gave us a new learning tool.  It is a website with a lot of different practice tests, and then at the end of each you can do a small test to see how you went. You can use it here:  wandel-abc.nl

I've so far found it to be invaluable.  I feel like I have most of the inburgering exam stuff under my belt after completing one of the practice exams in class, but I was finding it difficult to learn opposites (eg. 'dik' and 'dun').  This site is brilliant for that!  I obviously have no clue as to the actual usefulness of the site when it comes time to sit the exams, but it's teaching me vocab, which is the most important thing for me now (now that I'm learning how to make sentences properly and understand grammar better thanks to my last post).

Now, as usual the KNS oefeningen is very preachy.  Example:
Perhaps it's just me, but I don't feel that preaching healthy behaviour is essential for immigration..?  But hey.  I was born under a rock (in the minds of the creators of the inburgering course), so I clearly do not know what is good for me.  I need to be told.

All jibes aside, check out the site, it is VERY useful!

11 June, 2010

Why is that word where it is??

A couple of weeks ago I had a small melt down in one of my lessons.  We were set a task to re-write sentences using different tenses and I just couldn't do it.  Maybe it's because I'm a native English speaker (or just a bit slow haha) but switching the words around in a sentence is completely strange to me.

I discussed it with my teacher and we came up with a new plan.  Clearly the level that I have been placed in is slightly above me.  I don't struggle to understand, just struggle to answer using correct grammar.  I think it's great that the level is difficult - better than the opposite, right?  The problem really is though that the course I'm in assumes that I already know the basics.  That I have been studying to get to A2 already, not just taking an entrance exam and being put into a class when I hadn't done anymore than just try to pick Dutch up as I went along.  Because that was how my Dutch was (who am I kidding, is), making sentences and knowing the grammar was way over my head.  I just don't understand why there is some times a random zijn or is at the end of a sentence.  I find it so frustrating not knowing the rules!  I'm here waiting for that light to go on, you know?  Then I'll just have gone over the hump and everything will be much easier (you can see I'm something of an instant gratification type person).

We decided together that aside from our regular course work, I needed to do some extra work to pick up the grammar and be able to make a damned sentence properly.  The Lovely Teacher loaned me one of her books, Eenvoudige Basisgrammatica NT2 and I need to complete 3 or 4 lessons from the book each week as home work.  There are 40 lessons in the book, so if I complete 4 lessons per week I'll be fluent and ready to take on the world in 10 weeks (I kid, obviously)!

The thing is, this book might really do the trick for me.  It's teaching me how to do it all, right from the very basics of how to put a sentence together, i.e.wie / doet / (wat, waar, hoe).  I'm loving it!  If you're like me and have been struggling along with Pigeon Dutch for a long time, this is truly the book for you.  Loads of practice tasks, loads of verbs and their tenses, plus a long list of words with their prefixes and suffixes (haven't used those terms since about grade 4 at school!).  Obviously I'm only a few lessons in, and I expect the grammar to get much more difficult, but I'm excited about completing it.  After borrowing it from my teacher I went out and bought it.
Take a look.  It will help make learning less of a chore.  I promise.

26 May, 2010

Hitting the Wall

So, it would seem that language-wise, I've hit a wall.  I've been hideously busy lately.  I swear, May is busier than the Christmas season!  So, with all of the public holidays, the school holidays and weekends away, my Dutch has stopped improving.

Last week was my first week back at school after about three weeks break, and my original class seems to have disappeared!  They are all either Geslaagd or have changed their schedules, or perhaps have just stopped turning up!  My class has also merged with another, so my nice cosy class with 10 people has jumped to 24!  I really enjoyed the intimacy of my old group - there was lots of one on one with the teacher and each other.  Now we are struggling to fit everyone in the room.  Don't get me wrong, the new group is also lovely - most of the students are people that were in my introductory classes way back at the beginning of this process, so I know them all.  I just miss my small group.

Because I've hit a wall and need to get over it, the obvious solution is practice practice practice!  It's just difficult to find the time and motivation right now.  Next week I'm back into the full swing of the classes, but that's only until we go on summer holidays in July.  I'm really hoping that I can keep the motivation going through the summer, but I feel the year slipping between my fingers in between preparing for the impending wedding, visiting abroad, having visitors from abroad, planning a wedding celebration here later in the year, going to concerts and festivals, and seemingly endless family parties and commitments!  Not to mention International Almere events that are potentially every week.  At least the upside is that I have no time to be lonely or miss living in Australia!

I did have a nice 'Up Yours' moment a couple of weeks ago at a family party.  I was managing ok talking in Dutch to a couple of elderly relatives (struggling a bit, but getting my point across) when Maarten piped up and mentioned that we rarely speak Dutch at home.  Cue the usual finger wagging and "You must talk Dutch" from one of the ladies.  Instead of staring gobsmacked with my mouth hanging open as I would usually do, I said politely that I work 40 hours and go to school two nights per week, so I and I do not want to have to work at home too, and Dutch is hard work for me.  Shut her right up.  I think the finger wagging seems to stem partly from ignorance.  I get the impression that for a lot of Dutch people, learning another language is just as easy as taking up a new hobby and if someone who is trying to learn their language but struggling is not doing enough or making a reasonable effort (I don't get this impression from everyone, of course!  I have a LOT of support from family and friends and I'm extraordinarily grateful).

How have you coped when you hit the proverbial language wall?  How do you manage to find the motivation again?  Or are you just always keeping it together and practicing everywhere you go?  Do you ever experience the finger wagging, or is it just me?

In the near future I have loads to discuss, more on the Exemption Test (congratulations to Connie for passing with flying colours!!), plus more bits on the course books and how my portfolio is going (in the sense of not at all).  I just have to find the time to fit it all in!!

07 April, 2010

Nieuwe Buren - the Language Course

I thought it would be useful to give a bit of an overview of the course books I'm using in the Inburgering Curses. That way, you will at least know what course books will be studied and what level they are at. Each week we have two separate course book, Nieuwe Buren and Welkom in Nederland. Today I'll talk a bit about my Nieuwe Buren (NB).

Now, first of all, I must note that the NB book that I'm using is aimed at A2 level learning, so is book 1.2. I cannot comment on any of the other books and the different levels, but I'm guessing that the same course with different levels are used from beginners through to NT2 and possibly beyond.

Depending on when you join the class it is all very random as to where you are in the course work. I was very lucky in that I wasn't alone starting my classes, so my teacher started the book from the beginning. This means that some of the older class members are now repeating sections of the course, which does not seem to be particularly beneficial for them. It also means that latecomers will start the course half way through the book. I don't believe that the language is any more advanced the further you go through the book, only the vocabulary is extended. Meaning, you can start at chapter 9, complete the book and start again without it being too challenging or simple. If I were in charge (this is one of my great fantasies), I would set the courses up more like a traditional school with separate intakes so the students are all at one level, but alas I'm just a student and have no influence on such things.

We are just completing the first chapter of the of the book, called Naar de Bank. The chapter covers topics like making a telephone appointment to have a household item repaired, reading the Gouden Gids (yellow pages), reacting to an invitation, offering help to a friend or colleague, making an appointment with the bank, using the ATM, writing a greeting card, and filling in an official form.

Each of the above sub topics is covered in one lesson, but sometimes there are more than one topics covered. As a rule, the teacher will dictate the key words from the topic and we will check our spelling, then we will take turns reading out loud and answering questions as a group. There is also some writing, where we will have to fill a correct word in a sentence. For example, Ik ______ je veel plezier, becomes Ik wens je veel plezier. We also have to choose a situation where a particular sentence may be used. For example: Van harte gefeliciteerd can be used to wish someone happy birthday, but not if they are sick, or as a condolence. One type situation that I found most strange was that it is appropriate to use Tot ziens as a form of condolence (when writing a card or offering your condolences in person). I discussed this with Maarten who was horrified and strongly disagrees that one should ever use that term in such a situation. Strange indeed.

We don't always stick 100 percent to the course book either. For example, last week we were learning how to write greeting cards, and were given four examples to complete - a get well soon card, a happy new year card, a condolence card, and a new baby card. We had to use appropriate language and tone as well as create a sentence with the correct grammar. Writing is by far my biggest challenge. Not the spelling, I have a good grasp on the spelling rules there, but the verbs are a bit difficult, and my vocabulary level is still very low (in comparison to others in the class). My verb creation is getting much better very quickly I must say, I just have to work on the vocabulary. What I'm also finding is that my English grammar is becoming worse. For such a stickler to the rules, I found myself making not one but TWO there/their/they're mistakes in the last week! It's one of my pet hates, and I didn't notice it until after I'd hit submit.

As I go further through the course book I'll post regular updates. So far the course has been great for my language level, although the tone of it does tend to lean towards the "You must have lived in a cave before coming here" end of the spectrum. it seems to assume that common sense is non-existent in the students following the course. Having said that, it's no where near as preachy as the Welkom in Nederland book, which I'll get to in coming days.

What course are you following? Are you finding it beneficial? Would love to hear your thoughts on the coursework we have to follow to become integrated into Dutch society.

25 March, 2010

The First Hurdle is the Highest - Portfolio Underway!

My homework for this last week was to go to job agency and get at least one of my portfolio forms completed. It was something that I was really tempted to put off until this very morning when Maarten asked me to call into Tempo-Team on my way to work and drop off his keys (he used to work there and still hadn’t handed back his keys – let’s hope they changed the alarm code by now).
So, there was no way out of it. To not get the form signed would be the height of laziness and just plain ridiculous.
So off I went. It was really nice walking into Tempo Team actually. Maarten finished working there about a month ago, and I used to visit him regularly and quite like his colleagues. Today it was almost like I was popping in to visit my own friends. I dropped off the key, made some small talk, then dropped the bombshell – can someone help me with my inburgering?? No problem. I sat down with Eloi (Maarten’s main partner in crime) and I actually surprised myself with my ability to communicate! Eloi printed out a job that he has with ABN Amro and we discussed the hours per week, the salary, who I would be working with (if it wasn’t a purely hypothetical situation) etc. It was really very simple and I was comfortable. We talked about my current job and how I have just received a new permanent contract (yay for me!). Eloi was very happy, because he was the consultant who initially placed me with my company.
I walked out of the office with a spring in my step and feeling really good about myself. I went straight around the corner to pick up a bottle of contact lens solution and had no hesitation speaking with the woman behind the counter (although, I did only ask for the bottle of solution!) and have been in a great mood all day. Since then I’ve managed to complete four other portions of the portfolio, so am effectively already a quarter of the way through it.
The first hurdle most definitely is the highest. Although, I’ll have to keep you posted on how things go when I have to report my bike as being stolen to the police..!

17 March, 2010

The Dreaded Portfolio. How dreadful is it, really?

The portfolio. Or, the Death Sentence as I referred to it in my head. Just the idea of approaching random strangers in banks and at the police station and even in the street had my mind reeling and my blood pressure soaring. And when at my initial intake at the Gemeente (with our dear friend Anita) I could find out absolutely no information as to what to expect aside from having to complete 30 tasks to the satisfaction of said random strangers, I almost booked a one way ticket out. Really. Impending marriage, mortgage, job, all potentially out the window because of the legislative demands of a country that I only hope to reside in temporarily.

But! This is not a rant! I had one of those earlier this week. This is going to be an informative tool to prepare you for your own upcoming portfolio.

I had discussed the Death Sentence with my fantastic teacher who invited me in for a meeting outside class time. Honestly, the woman (so far) is a saint. Making time to help out, rather than just letting me get on with it. Anyway, I had expressed that I was going to take the assessment option of the inburgering exam because I couldn't face the humiliation of the portfolio, and she insisted we talk about it before I make up my mind. The assessments are designed for the more intelligent and fluent candidates, as it is in an exam type situation, where you go to Amsterdam and go through 6 role plays to demonstrate your knowledge of society and fluency in Dutch. At this point in my studies, this is clearly not an option for me, although I was prepared to work for it, if only to save embarrassment. Ridiculous, I hear you call me. But bear in mind that this is coming from a woman who lasted only a couple of hours in a cold calling job (they tricked me into thinking that the callers were expecting me!).

So as I was saying, my teacher invited me in for a discussion about the portfolio. She insisted that it was by far the easiest option, and that it had changed, so is no longer 30 different assessments. Instead, as part of the work portfolio, there are 20 assessments and then a panel interview discussing the completed portfolio. Perhaps it is merely a Life Sentence..?

The portfolio is divided into three sections. Burgerschap, Werk Hebben, and Werk Zoeken.

In this section you can choose 8 tasks to complete from a list of 35. For some sections written or oral proof (or either) may be provided. Examples include:
  1. Register as a resident in the Gemeente (written or spoken)
  2. Register a newborn baby in the Gemeente (spoken only)
  3. Notify the Gemeente of impending marriage or registered partnership (written or spoken)
  4. Request a document from the Gemeente (eg a passport application) (spoken)
  5. Reporting a stolen article to the police (written or spoken)
  6. Opening a bank account (written or spoken)
  7. Informing the bank that your pin pas has been stolen and needs to be blocked (spoken)
  8. An ATM receipt (written)
  9. Setting up a standing order at the bank (written or spoken)
  10. Requesting information about insurance (spoken)
  11. Cancelling an insurance policy (written or spoken)
  12. Reporting to the insurance company that your house has been broken into/something stolen (written or spoken)
  13. Choosing a house to rent from the housing listings (written)
  14. A discussion with the rental housing association (spoken)
  15. Paying rent (written)
  16. Paying tax to the Gemeente (written or spoken)
  17. Reading and recording the electricity/gas meter (written)
  18. Pay the electricity or gas bill (written)
  19. Speak to the electricity or gas company (spoken)
  20. Understanding the paper and rubbish collection roster for your area (written)
So, that's 20 examples to choose from. You must note that in many of the written cases, a receipt or a completed form is sufficient. For task 20, a copy of the roster is enough!

Werk Zoeken (Looking for work)
In this section only 4 tasks need to be completed. However, the list to choose from is much smaller. Here are some examples:
  1. Register with a recruitment agency (written or spoken)
  2. Provide an example of a job vacancy (written)
  3. Ask for information about vacancies (written or spoken)
  4. Show your preparations for a job interview (written)
  5. Simulate a telephone interview (spoken)
  6. Complete an job application form (written)
  7. Read an invitation for an interview (written)
  8. Prepare questions for a new job contract (written)
It is my understanding that for providing an example of a vacancy, a printout (that you understand, of course) is sufficient. You can also supply your invitation to be interviewed as an example.

Werk Hebben (At work)
Like the Burgerschap, you will need to obtain 8 examples from your work environment. But, the list is extensive, so if you are actually working it should not be too much trouble. Unless, like me you work 100% in English (even our contracts are in English). This makes the situation a bit more complicated. As does being unemployed!
  1. A discussion about your job function/description (spoken)
  2. Call your employer to report as being sick (spoken)
  3. Complete a form from the sickness governing body (arbodienst) attesting to your health and return to work (written)
  4. A discussion with your company's doctor (spoken)
  5. Participate in a work meeting (spoken)
  6. Write minutes from a work meeting (written)
  7. Discuss with colleagues task sharing (who does what) (spoken)
  8. Talk with your colleague about everyday occurrences (gossip??) (spoken)
  9. Discussions with clients/customers and what you will do for them (spoken)
  10. Write a handover for your colleague(s) (written)
  11. Explain to a colleague what needs to be done as part of a handover of tasks (spoken)
  12. Read a notice about the company's hygiene process (written)
  13. Discuss hygiene processes (spoken)
  14. Respond to a customer complaint (written and spoken)
  15. Read and understand instructions (written)
  16. Ask questions about received work instructions (spoken)
Quite a few of the required tasks look to be reasonably easy, for example calling in sick, or the point about hygiene. It is my understanding that a copy of a hygiene notice (from the bathroom for example) would suffice.

Once the portfolio is complete to the satisfaction of your teacher who will be helping you along the way, you will be invited for a panel discussion/interview regarding your portfolio. In the past, before the new 20 task portfolio was introduced, the candidate would submit the portfolio then answer in writing a list of questions within a 15 minute time frame. That has been abolished now, and the candidate will instead take part in a 30 minute discussion to answer questions about the different tasks undertaken, to ensure that there is full understanding, what was most difficult, what took you the longest/shortest amount of time, etc.

I think I can probably downgrade the portfolio to a Misdemeanor now. One point to note, you can supply forms that are post 2006 (or no older than five years). So, you can supply a bank application form that you filled out in 2007 for example.

My entire class has been asked to bring their portfolios tonight for discussion, so if there is anything I've missed, I'll add it to this post. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate.

12 March, 2010

Not Good Enough, plus the usual freakouts

I've now been attending classes for two weeks. I'm mostly positive about the experience so far. I'm still enjoying the classes, and still really like my teacher although now I'm plagued with enormous self doubt and confidence issues. I'm hoping it's all temporary, and that this time next week I will be all *bouncy bouncy* again about it all.

This week we were given not one, but TWO surprise tests! So I had one week of warm fuzzy learning, and the next filled with big angry tests. All at A2 level (obviously as that is what I am supposed to be learning!).

Wednesday was listening and reading. My two strongest points. We listened to different conversations, then needed to select multiple choice answers from the related questions. It was mostly quite easy, except for one set which was information on the radio (about roadworks). I could understand once I listened to the snippet for a second time, but at first it was somewhat difficult. The other sound bites were for subjects such as work instructions, and then we would need to answer a question like How often should the woman clean the floor? Daily, weekly, or monthly... so on and so forth.

For the reading test we were all given texts to read, and again would need to answer the multiple choice questions related. It was all quite simple and I felt confident with my answers (which were all correct, incidentally! *brag brag*).

Thursday was an entirely different scenario, however. The tests were for writing skills (including spelling!). Of all things Dutch, writing is my weakest point. The spelling is not so difficult as the rules are all consistent, but composing a sentence with the nouns, adjectives and verbs in the right order is almost impossible for me. Just thinking about it raises my blood pressure.

Then came the homework. Because we had not done any work on the Welkom in Nederland book during the class, an entire chapter was assigned as our homework for the week. I'm still not sure when I'm going to be able to finish it all! As soon as I arrived home I sat down with Maarten (we're still doing well with the motivation!), and started to go through. To be perfectly honest, it was all a bit much for one evening. So many new words and new scenarios. There was information on Dutch celebrations (feest dagen), birthdays, formal and informal communication etc etc. Basically expectations on how I must behave in Dutch society. Note here I said must, not should or could, because it really is that rigid. By the end of the chapter I was feeling quite stressed and upset. Not just because of the new words and having to remember so much in a short space of time, but because of the behavioural expectations!

I went to bed feeling inadequate and teary. Really like I would just never be able to grasp it all. I'm an eternal pessimist and always think the worst, especially of myself. I'm continually thankful for Maarten's positive balance in my life. He can almost always find the good in a situation and person. I just regret that I found him after the worry lines and grey hair had set in!

But then on a higher note, Friday evening Maarten and I went to dinner at his parent's home to discuss and plan their upcoming Australia trip (they are having a six-week holiday after we get married), and I tried to communicate as much as possible in Dutch. I thought I did reasonably well. They could understand me at least! I really just need to get this vocabulary down. I feel like I can only say the same ten sentences over and over.

What about you? What tricks do you have for learning words? I find I really struggle remembering particular words so am wondering if flash cards will really work for me. I have a large list of opposites that I am going to put together to begin with. There are a couple of hundred words there, some that I already know, but many that I don't. Your suggestions would be most handy!

08 March, 2010

The New Girl in School

This last week was the beginning of my Dutch lessons. Looking back on the process, I find it hard to believe how fast the process all was. In under a month I have gone from being summoned to the Gemeente to being in classes. If only the IND worked this fast! We'd all be integrated within months of arriving!

Way back when I was at school we lived on a farm and never moved towns, so I was never the new kid. I went to the same school from age 5 right through to the end of high school. With most of the same people. I graduated with about 10 people who I went to kindergarten with (of a 12 person graduating class), so starting at a 'new' school was a bit daunting, even at age 31!

According to my contract with the Ttif Company, I'm obliged to attend classes twice per week in the evening for about 1 year, with my official end date being sometime in August 2011. There is no problem if I can't make some classes, although the Ttif Company is required to inform the Gemeente of attendance (seeing as they are paying the 6000 Euros for me to complete the course and become assimilated, ahem integrated). We did have some concerns over what would happen in October when Maarten and I go to Australia for the wedding of the year as I will be out for the entire month and the Gemeente technically has the power to disallow that. Of course they can disallow all they like, but I plan to get married, in Australia, in October. That's just a personal struggle I have with the Gemeente acting as "Big Brother" and needing to know everything about me.

But, I digress. Wednesday evening I finished work and headed straight to class. Upon arrival there were about 30 others sitting in the waiting room, and I immediately spotted one person I knew from my introduction classes (another native English speaker, so within my comfort zone) so we had a bit of a chat like old friends even though we had only seen each other on a handful of occasions. There is just something about these types of situations that makes you cling to anyone you could call a friend I think. I also met my teacher, who is lovely. Everyone else drifted off into their respective classes, and we were left with only three. Slowly more people began to trickle into the classroom and by the end we were about 10 people. I was the only newbie, so I really was the new girl in school. Not only was I new, I was the only person who had never had any Dutch lessons. The group was made up with people of all different levels of spoken and written Dutch - some of the group have been living here for more than ten years.

We began with "OO" vs "O" and "EE" vs "E" etc, and spelling of words along with the correct verb construction. There was a lot of information to process in a short time frame, plus I was the weakest link in the class with the least amount of Dutch, but I left the class feeling positive and excited about the next one. Which was the very next day!

On Thursday evening I left straight from work again. I can see this business of staying at work until 18.00 then being at classes at 18.30 is going to be very bad for my weight loss campaign. It is already a hassle to arrange a decent evening meal in advance that can be healthy and that I can reheat at work and MacDonalds is right on my way to class! I'm hoping I can keep temptation at bay for as long as possible. Maybe you can offer me some dinner advice? Quick and easy recipe tips that can be carried to and from work in a laptop bag?

So, on arrival at Thursday's lesson I find that the class is not purely language, but to learn about the Netherlands specifically. We were all given a text called "Welkom in Nederland" and once we have completed this book (10 lessons in total), we will be able to take the exam re the portion about knowledge of Dutch culture and how everything works (bureaucracy and society). We focused quite heavily on geography, which I must say is my strongest point, always has been. I love learning about different places, so it was right up my alley. We went on to discuss the politics and how parliament works (only the very basics), and my lovely teacher tripped me up with "Wie is the president van Nederland?" (who is the Dutch president) I nearly launched myself out of my chair to shout ''Jan Peter Balkenende!" to discover it was a trick and there is no president! Of course I knew that, but I was so excited about knowing something that I hadn't paid attention properly. Maybe I should go back over my old school report cards to read how often the not paying close attention point was made (along with my inability to keep quiet in class).

The class ended on a happy note, and with homework! When I got home Maarten and I sat down together and went through the homework and re-read much of what we discussed during the lesson, which was really beneficial for my level of understanding. He told me about "Het Kofschip" and how with forming verbs, if the last letter of the verb is in Het Kofschip, the jij/hij/zij will end in a "T," and if the last letter is not in het Kofschip the verb will end with a "D."

All in all, I'm just hoping we (read: me) can maintain the enthusiasm. I'm sure Maarten will be able to, and I'll be happy to keep it up for a few weeks (maybe even months!). My big problem is that I'm not so good with open-ended goals (meaning I need to have a date to work towards). But more importantly, can I stay out of MacDonalds??

What about you? Do you have any tips on studying? What about quick and easy (healthy) recipes that I can use to make my dinner twice a week?

03 March, 2010

But what if I'm an Oudkomer? - Guest Post

Just recently, friend and fellow international Connie received her invitation to inburger from the Almere Gemeente and was somewhat concerned (if her Facebook updates are anything to go by!) about what would be expected of her.

But, Connie had a completely different experience to me, which has probably more to do with my poor Dutch communication skills and her brilliant skills than anything! On the day, everything was simple and Connie has been invited to participate in the Exemption Test rather than the full inburgering process. Here's what Connie had to say:

Firstly, she asked for my identification then we went through the city registry, which did happen to say I'm a parent.

After updating the registry with also how many years education I had in the US she turned to the reason we were there. She explained that since 2007 it is now required that anyone living in Holland on a permanent basis needs to have proof of their level of integration.

This means certificates or diplomas, just my test results from a NT2 course from 1997 is not considered proof, I needed a certificate or diploma. When I asked how I could now get one after so long she said that they'd do that for me, that wasn't a problem. They could send my test results in and I'd get a certificate of the current level I tested at. HOWEVER, she didn't think was all necessary since I'd been here so long, spoke good Dutch and seemed to be integrated enough to do the Short Exemption Test. She didn't think I'd have any problem with this after a little bit of studying. She told me it'd be only one chance and if I didn't succeed then I could go the longer route and do inburgering. She was very positive that I'd do fine with the exemption test.

We also discussed the craziness of the whole thing bringing in people that have been here so long, she agreed and said she had a guy on the phone that had been here 25 years!!! But because it's now the law, this is what they're required to ask of us.

I was there maybe 10 minutes and she gave me my registration form for the test and she wished me well. It was a very positive meeting which surprised me since I've found that most people working for the government here are usually NOT very fun to talk to.
Taken directly from the IND website, The Exemption Test is outlined as follows:
TheExemptionTest (Short Form) is a condensed examination that can be taken on a computer. This examination is taken at a higher language level than the standard Civic Integration Examination Abroad, namely B1 level. Individuals who pass the Short Exemption Test shall be issued an Exemption Test (Short Form) certificate. If an individual applying for naturalisation is issued this certificate, he or she will be granted an exemption from the obligation to take the test or the examination.
The page where this quote is taken is by far the most comprehensive information in English that I have been able to find regarding the inburgering process.

As Connie outlined, there is only one shot at taking this test, and if she was to fail (that won't happen!), the inburgering curses will then be the next route to take (and with her level of Dutch and integration this would be completed within the minimum three months anyway).

Please join me in wishing Connie the best of luck with the upcoming Exemption Test. I'm looking forward to hearing more from Connie at this week's International Almere get together at the Cafe Jordaan in the Almere city centre. See you there?

26 February, 2010

I have a Group!

So, I just had a phonecall from Jaenneke at the Ttif Company with my lesson plan! I begin next week, every Wednesday and Thursday evening until the end of time!

Obviously my results were processed much faster than I imagined - under 24 hours in fact.

There goes any possibility for a social life in the next 12 months (It's not like I was particularly active anyway!).

I'm excited and just want to get started now.

Wish me luck XX

25 February, 2010

The Entrance Exam

Today I had the exam to find out what level I am at with Dutch language and samenlevering (I'm not sure what the best word in English is for this. Maybe society?). The exam was at 11.30 in Almere, not far from the train station.

When I arrived at the office, there was no reception and no one around to check in with. I finally found a lady and found out where the exam was, so off I went only to find that it was actually another person's exam and I barged right in. Off to a good start then! It turned out that the examiner was running late, so I had to wait which was a bit of a shame because I could have still been at work, and if they had let me know I would have made other arrangements.

So I met my examiner, who was a lovely young lady. Very friendly and welcoming. The type of person that I would want to have as a friend to be perfectly honest. We sat down to begin the test, and first of all I was given a card with a long list of words to read aloud - for pronunciation. I didn't find it too difficult until the dreaded gefeliciteerd, which I really cannot say! I can sprout the Schipols and Goudas with the best of them, but gefeliciteerd trips me up every single time! You know how some people just can't say phenomenon or specific? That's me with gefeliciteerd. I don't even know how to spell it!

The second test as to fill in a form. First name, last name etc. Then came questions like: Do you think people should eat healthy food all of the time, yes or no? Give two reasons. And Do you play sport, and which sports do you play? After completing the form I was given a sheet with a small story that had missing letters from certain words. Like: Janice is jarig. Zij is 30 j___. There were sets of three stories whereby I had to find the correct words for the sentence. Not as easy as I would have thought because as much as I can understand, the vocabulary is my weak point. I just can't find the words to describe what I want.

After the writing test we took a small break and did something like an IQ test. There was a sheet with 30 questions and images where I needed to pick out the image that didn't 'match'. I had 7 minutes to complete it. Not sure why it was in the exam, but did it with not too many issues.

Then came reading. I was given some text to read, then had to answer questions. Quite easy actually. The first was a postcard, the second was an accident report in a newspaper, third was an advertisement for the UWV (Centerlink or social security) and the last was a notice about City Council working bees. I could understand quite a lot and think I managed quite well to answer the questions.

Next was listening. The first was a man at a pharmacy to collect medicine, the second was a couple getting to know one another at a party, and the third was a news item about car free days. I managed ok with the first two (I struggled with the questions at first because I didn't understand what she was asking), but the third was very difficult. Too much information crammed into a short time frame. I really couldn't get my head around much of it.

Lastly was samenlevering. Questions started out quite easy: Who is the queen, who is the prime minister, name three holidays in the Netherlands etc. Then it went on to ask about what you do if you want to change your license, what happens if you are asked for ID by the police and you don't have it (you get a fine, by the way), what you should do if there is a problem with your gas at home etc. Then, lastly was questions about children! But not to worry, pretty easy stuff. How old are they when they start and leave school, what is the name of school for children 5-12 and 12-18 etc. Then where do you take your children if you both work - I knew it was day care, but couldn't think of the words "kinder dagopvang ."

All in all it took me just on two hours to complete the test. I think that if you have almost no knowledge of Dutch you will take much less, because in each section you begin with easy questions that gradually get harder. Once you can no longer understand, you go onto the next set of questions. Somebody who has good fluency could easily take longer than two hours to complete the test.

The best news, I'm at level A2 - the level I need to have to pass the inburgering examen! So, I'm going to push myself to get through the exam as fast as humanly possible and then use the lessons to relax and actually enjoy learning at my own pace afterwards. Of course I need to find out if that is even a possibility. The City Council will probably stop funding the course once I pass the exam which would be incentive to draw it out over a longer period (to get my money's worth).

One thing I did notice, the woman at the Gemeente (prejudiced Anita) had noted on my file that I had asked why I should do the course and goodness only knows what else, so I was put in a position to set the situation straight and let her know exactly what Anita's reasons for me to study were....

I feel great now. I don't suck and my language skills are much better than I thought!

24 February, 2010

Introduction Roundup

I thought I would wait to post again until after I had finished with the four introduction sessions at the Ttif Company, but now it is somewhat fresh in my mind so I'll outline what went on.

Lesson 1: I pretty much covered it all in my last post, so I'll skip on to lesson 2....

Lesson 2: I was so busy right at the moment I had to leave work that I was almost late and forgot my notebook and pen. I was hoping I would be able to get away with it because the previous lesson needed nothing from me, but NO! We were all given a sheet with a list of questions, then put into pairs to ask said questions. My partner was the Lovely Raschida from Morocco (one of two Raschidas from Morocco in my class if you would believe me), and we were both pretty nervous. We had questions like where do you come from, do you have children, do you work, what are you doing on your summer vacation, and the most difficult question: Waar houd je helemaal niet van? Nobody seemed to be able to answer this question. I certainly couldn't understand the verb... I asked my neighbour and her sheet read "katten" which didn't make me any the wiser. We asked the teacher, who explained that it means what do we really dislike - hate, if you will. Then it clicked. Ik hou van Maarten, or ik houd helamaal niet van voetbal (I hate soccer).

Then we had a break. Mind you, the class had been running for 35 minutes at this point so we were all in desperate need of some time out. A break for 20 minutes, no less!

Once we came back to the class we discussed the Ttif Company House Rules (as in keep the toilet and coffee area clean), and finally how we can claim back travel expenses if we take the bus or train. Unfortunately those of us who will travel by bicycle are entitle to no recourse. Oh well, I'll have a healthy heart instead.

Lesson 3: We were given a handout which describes the inburgering examen, and then the teacher discussed what is expected and how it all works. Finally! After two years of waiting, two meetings with the Gemeente and two lessons all about inburgering, we actually found out what is expected at the end of the course!

The teacher kept telling us that we shouldn't think about the inburgering examen right now and that we should just focus on learning Dutch, but let's face it. More than half of the class I was in have been living in the Netherlands for more than 5 years. Some for almost 20! They clearly speak fluent Dutch and are only in the class to pass the A2/A1 level that is compulsory as an oudkomer. In my honest view, the lessons ans fluency are just a by-product of passing the exam, which is split into the following three options:

  1. The practical exam. This means that you will need to obtain 30 signatures from people in specific departments, positions of authority or local business that attest to your ability to converse with them in Dutch. This involves processes like making a police report, opening a new bank account, changing your address at the local council etc. The teacher went into no details though, nor did she provide any examples. She merely pointed to a folder with a previous student's work.
  2. The assessments. You may choose not to go down the portfolio path, and opt for taking 6 assessments instead. This is done in an exam type situation where you take part in a series of role plays that are similar to the scenarios that you would have to undertake if you were completing the portfolio option. You would have three hours to complete the exam and this is held only in Amsterdam. The teacher stressed that this is not an option for everyone. Most students opt to complete the portfolio (which sends me into fits of panic just thinking about it), but depending on your level and whether your teacher agrees, you may take the assessment option. Basically, it is only for the best students.
  3. The combination. This is a hybrid of both options. You may complete 15 portfolio items and complete 3 assessments in the exam environment. It was not clear if you are given a large list of scenarios to obtain signatures for in your portfolio, or if you have only 15/30 and you must get them all signed off.
When I understand more, I will elaborate.

Then it was break time again for 20 minutes.

After the break, we played a game called Rondje Nederland. It is a game specifically developed for students of the inburgering curses, which could be very handy! It covers history, cities and provinces, culture etc. Much like Ik Hou van Holland, but more specific.

Lesson 4: This class was held completely independently on their custom computer system "Nieuweburen". We were all given logins and were left to our own devices. It's an online lesson system very similar to the course book "Nederlands voor Buitenlanders" and you watch a video then answer questions. The best part was that the system is all 100% online, so it can be used at home. The worst part is that the software is so old that it is not possible to use on either my work or home computer.

I discussed my future classes briefly with the teacher, and because I am yet to do the language level test (tomorrow!) (I have now done the test, see my new post The Entrance Exam), they do not know which class I should go into as yet. In the meantime I should begin learning by using the online program which I find is not possible.

All in all, when I look back at the four classes that I took time out of work specifically to attend, I feel they could (read: should) have been condensed into to two blocks. A class never lasted the full two hours and the time could have been used in a much more efficient manner.

I do feel better for knowing slightly more about the inburgering examen at the end and knowing that I can begin the portfolio almost immediately if I choose to follow that path.

Next stop: language test tomorrow at the Geldergroep here in Almere. Cross your fingers.

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