This article was written by Rebecca van Raamsdonk, for NL TIMES, and published there October 2 2023
“Is it hot in Spain in autumn?” asks Kathy, a Dutch teacher. “No, it’s not that hot. It’s only fifty degrees.” replies Victor, who is originally from Spain. Kathy and the other students open their eyes wide in amazement. “Fifty degrees?!” they exclaim. Victor realises his mistake and corrects himself. “Sorry, I meant it’s only fifteen degrees!”
Those of you who are familiar with Dutch, will see that Victor’s mistake is understandable. Just as in English, the words “vijftien” (15) and “vijftig” (50) are quite similar. Moreover, Victor started learning Dutch only a few weeks before.
This is just one of the many conversations Kathy has with her students. They are all from different countries: Victor is from Spain, Ozlem is from Turkey, Daniela from Portugal. Other students come from Brazil, China, Germany, India and the United States. Since August, they have been seeing each other for an hour, twice weekly at NedLes in Amsterdam-Oost. What are they doing there on Monday and Wednesday evenings? Learning Dutch by following the very effective Delft Method, known for its focus on speaking the language from day one.
From the weather in Spain, Kathy moves on to cycling in the Netherlands. “Do you have a bike, Daniela?” she asks.
“No,” Daniela answers.
Some of the other students are surprised. Living in the Netherlands without a bike? But the teacher is more preoccupied with something else. She thinks Daniela’s answer is too short.
“No, ……” and Kathy gestures that Daniela has to complete her sentence.
This is not the first time Kathy does this, so Daniela understands immediately what she has to do. “No, I don’t have a bike,” she says.
“Very good!” Kathy replies with a big smile. And she continues: “And how about you, Ozlem? Do you have a bike?”
It is amazing to see how all eight students are able to have conversations in Dutch, for the whole 60 minutes of the class. Everybody is able to express themselves in Dutch, and no one feels the need to switch to English. The subjects they are talking about today, including the weather and biking, might seem like mundane subjects to discuss, but that’s how the Delft Method works. You start by learning the most common words in Dutch (and the Dutch, as you probably know, often speak about bikes and the weather.)
For every class the students learn around 50 new words, by studying a piece of text intensively at home. During the class, they speak and use these new words. All of this happens under the guidance of a teacher, who has completed a special Delft method teacher training to acquire the specific skills needed to teach with this technique.
Kathy completed that special training in March 2023, and she is now a huge fan of the Delft Method. “I love it! You can immediately see that it’s effective! The students take huge steps forward, in just a short period of time. I think that’s because they really have to study the texts before they come to class, otherwise they cannot participate. The fact that we’re speaking the entire duration of the class, makes it pretty intensive, for them just as for me. But that’s also what makes it so wonderful: it works!”
Kathy wasn’t a fan of the Delft Method from the beginning. “I am from Hungary and when I came to the Netherlands, years ago, someone gave me the ‘The Green Book’, as the beginners’ study guide is called. I didn’t like it at all, I thought it was boring! But then, years later, I attended a workshop on the Delft Method and I finally understood the method. I was just doing it all wrong when I used it myself!”
Clearly, Kathy’s students find the Delft Method intriguing. They are all very involved during the lesson. They laugh frequently, ask each other questions and help each other when needed. The class is like a safe space where you can practice and make mistakes, a key factor in the success of the Delft Method. “The fact is we only use words that we’ve studied before, and that also makes it feel very safe,” Kathy adds. “Students know they won’t be surprised by words that they’ve never heard before.”
The 60 minutes for this class have almost passed. For the first time this lesson, Kathy turns to the whiteboard. She briefly shows some regularities in the plural forms they’ve used during the class. That’s how she explains Dutch grammar: instead of using grammatical terms, she simply shows some examples the students have already heard and used. This is the Delft Method in short: speaking for 59 minutes, and then realising in the last minute that you already master a new grammatical rule just by reading, speaking and listening to real Dutch.
Do you want to learn Dutch with the Delft Method too? NedLes offers many courses, at different levels and intensities. New courses start almost every week. On 7 October the language school will have an Open Day! NedLes can provide you with the information you need about our courses. You can also join a trial lesson during our Open Day to experience the Delft method and see if it works for you. Have a look at their website or book a free intake to learn more!