Tuesday, March 1, 2011

At the Dutch language test

I had my examination for the inburgering today – a bit of a surprise since it was in my calendar for tomorrow, but at least that prevented me losing sleep preparing for or worrying about it.  Fortunately, reviewing my mail after breakfast, I picked up that I needed to bike across town by 11.  A sunny morning, I arrived early and was well composed when the interview began.

I could best describe the process as comprehensive.  There was a detailed review of my biography, work history, family situation, degrees, bank status, arrest history, volunteer work, reasons for taking the course.  Then we moved on to a series of cultural questions: in various situations, what would I do or who would I call?  Doctor, utilities, police, legal, real-estate…  I hoped to be asked where to find things in the Albert Heijn, but instead got challenging queries about pregnancy services, children’s schools, and unemployment assistance.  Sorry, not my specialty.

Then followed a long series of abstract reasoning exercises, I suppose to establish that I could do the course work.  There were problems in completing patterns (number and letter series), classifying and conjugating nonsense words, inferring the correct figure when I was given an example.  Some were pretty tricky: who knows if ‘meemi’ is more like a ‘1’ or a ‘2’.

Then we launched into the Dutch.  Read from a list of words to test pronunciation.  Write short answers about my favorite (healthy) food or vacation spot, my least favorite holiday, and my most-favored sport.   Listen to recorded conversations and answer questions aloud, read a story out loud, answer questions about a story I was given.  Half of language learning is courage and confidence, so I just plunged on, backtracking to correct word order and verb tense after the thought was down.

Most of it was pretty straightforward: my biggest problem came with understanding spoken conversations.  Without context, it’s easy to go down the wrong track (picking up a gift for a daughter vs. picking up a prescription from the doctor).  Several times, I just remembered the wrong information (the train to Rotterdam left from Track 9 in 20 minutes, but I didn’t pay attention to where the sneltrein stopped along the way).

The woman doing the test was very nice – it took an hour and a half and her assessment was pretty close to my own.  They offer a “course-buddy” to help with conversational skills, and I’m happy to go that route if I can work through the schedule details.

And it does reinforce how much local knowledge and vocabulary one picks up just by daily living in an adopted land, even in the absence of formal training.

And, yes, “I will work hard, I will finish what I start: I will do my best.”

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