Learning Dutch is turning out to be a lot of fun. In my last post I mentioned that I was learning it by reading a children’s book by Annie M.G. Schmidt (one of the best birthday presents I have ever received, I must say). Following the same topic, I thought it would be a good idea to show in detail how I use and deconstruct such a simple text and make it as effective as one-week worth language course. And I don’t really want to keep revising for tomorrow’s politics exam, so might as well do languages.
The initial plan was to read a story a day, but exams and life in general have prevented me from sticking to it religiously, so I read one whenever I have time (or pretend to have some). Today is the case, so here I am, I fetch the book, open it on page 33 and read:
Boodschappen doen. Moeder zegt: ‘Willen jullie een boodschap doen? Hier heb je een mandje. Haal een pond kaas op de hoek, weet je wel?’Jip en Janneke nemen het mandje. En ze gaan naar de winkel op de hoek. Takkie gaat mee. Takkie gaat altijd mee. ‘Kijk,’ zegt Jip, ‘wat een grote hond daar aan komt.’‘Dat is Hector van de boer,’ zegt Janneke. ‘Die is heel groot, maar hij doet niks.’Takkie begint te brommen. En hij blaft. En hij wil naar de grote hond toe. ‘Hier blijven, Tak’ zegt Jip. Maar Takkie blijft niet bij Jip. Hij gaat erop af. O, o, nou gaan ze vechten. Ze rollen en grommen. En de haren vliegen in het rond. En Takkie is zo klein en Hector is zo groot. ‘Kom dan hier, Takkie,’ gilt Janneke. ‘Toe, Jip, haal hem weg.’Jip is bang voor Hector. Maar hij krijgt zo’n medelijden met Takkie. Hij gaat naar de honden toe. En hij slaat met zijn mandje. ‘Daar,’ roept hij, ‘niet vechten!Hector kijkt op. Hij is erg verbaasd. Hij vindt het gek dat die kleine jongen hem durft te slaan. En Takkie loopt weg. Hij jankt een beetje. Zijn pootje doet pijn. Jip neemt hem op. ‘Stoute Tak,’ zegt hij. ‘Het was jouw schuld. Jij bent begonnen.’‘Ja,’ zegt Janneke ‘jij bent begonnen, Tak!’Takkie kijkt heel zielig. En Jip en Janneke nemen hem mee naar huis. ‘Waar is de kaas?’ vraagt moeder.‘O ja,’ zegt Jip ‘dat is waar ook.’Maar Takkie mag niet meer mee. En dan gaan ze kaas halen. En Takkie moet thuisblijven. In zijn mandje. En hij heeft erge spijt.
I will not ‘analyse’ the whole thing (God forbid) but I will try to show as briefly as I can how I work with a text in order to get knowledge on the language out it. I will focus on the first lines of the story, and please, if you feel like it, try to carry on till the end. You will be surprised to see how quickly you can grasp the gist of it!
Step 1. Read out loud.
I usually read out loud, trying to focus on the basic pronunciation patterns I have been taught. The G’s are pronounced down at the bottom of the throat, the IJ’s and EE’s that always trick me (it’s a matter of whether the jaw goes up or down – I think?) OE is like the English ‘oo’, UI/UY are rather weird and sound like a very posh ‘ou‘ like in house. And the S’s seem to have a very peculiar sound. Oh, and I also make sure that words like praten, grote, halen have a long first vowel. If my native-speaker friend is around I might ask her to quickly read the text for me, but if she’s too busy, online services like Acapela Text-to-Speech will do.
Step 2. Second reading and word-hunting. (And this is core phase of the process)
Phonetics is fine, now it’s time to get down to meaning. What does it even mean?
In this case, the title does not turn out to be a good start. Doen, easy, ‘to do’. But boodschappen? No clue. I google it, and the pictures at the top show trolleys full of groceries. ‘To do the shopping’, maybe? That’s it!
First line. ‘Moeder zegt’. You don’t really need to know German for the first word. It’s pronounced ‘mooder’. It’s one of those words that link all Indo-european languages together, from Latin mater, to French mère up to English mother. ‘Zegt’. Ok, here you actually might need some German. ‘Sagen’ is German for ‘to say’. Dutch did not like the S, because the Z is cooler. And here we have ‘zeggen’. So, what does the mother say?
‘Willen jullie een boodschap doen? Hier heb je een mandje. Haal een pond kaas op de hoek, weet je wel?’
Boodschappen doen, again. We know that already, we’re safe. The rest is basic grammar, jullie is the plural you and willen is the omnipresent verb to want (if you know German, that might sound familiar). Yes, because Dutch are more straightforward and do not really see the point of using those overly polite
expressions like ‘Would you like..? Could you please..? Would you mind..? Pointless waste of time. Next sentence, and the unknown word is mandje. No clue, back to google. Small basket, because we know that the suffix –je makes things smaller and cuter. (On a side note, ‘cute’ in Dutch is ‘schattig’, universally acknowledged as the least cute word in the Dutch language).
Hier (sounds like here!) heb… hev, have? Here we go!
Haal. No clue. The dictionary has the answer (mind the double vowel, although the base form is halen!). Een, a, basic grammar again. Pond kaas. Pond is kilo, sort of, or a pound, as older people might say. And the kaas… well, we are talking about the Netherlands. And my Dutch housemate is mad about Quesadillas. Because there is queso in it. Or casus, as Julius Caesar might have called it. Or cheese. Do you get it?
Weet je wel? Ok, this expression is EVERYWHERE in the book. After you read the first four stories, you can be sure you’ll know that it means, literally, ‘you know well’. In this case it’s more like ‘are you OK with that?’ for some reason. It’s one of those phrases you have to learn, so thank you very much Annie Schmidt!
Jip en Janneke nemen het mandje. En ze gaan naar de winkel op de hoek. Takkie gaat mee. Takkie gaat altijd mee.
Jip and Janneke, by the way, are the two kids this book is all about. And Takkie is their stupid dog (I love dogs, I am just reporting what they themselves say about the poor thing). So, we know what a mandje is. And the kids ‘nemen’ it. Now, here it all depends on whether you know German or not. If you do, you know that nehmen means to take. The Dutch did not like the h, but that tragic loss does not really undermine your understanding. If you don’t know German, the dictionary is the best option. And write this word down! – it’s quite common. What do they (ze) do next? They ‘gaan naar de winkel op de hoek’. Winkel is shop. Hoek (Ecke in German) is corner. Once you’ve looked up for this words you can easily infer that gaan implies some sort of movement (they go) and op is the preposition. So, they go to the shop by the corner. And their dog goes along. With them, as usual. (mee -> met -> mit -> with). Altijd. Tijd is basic vocabulary, it means ‘time’. “Altime” (?) = always. Besides, you have a clear grammar rule in front of your eyes. Jip and Janneke are two, and when they go they bring an N with them. Takkie has a T, because he’s ‘a third person’. As a matter of fact…
‘Kijk,’ zegt Jip, ‘wat een grote hond daar aan komt.’‘Dat is Hector van de boer,’ zegt Janneke. ‘Die is heel groot, maar hij doet niks.’
‘Kijk’. No idea. The online dictionary suggests ‘kijken’, to look. Easy, it’s an imperative. Oh, so this is how you form the imperative in Dutch! You take the verb, cut the –en off, and les jeux sont faits. (I apologize to any Flemish reader for my uncalled use of French). Zegt Jip. Now we know what that is. Wat, basics again. The Dutch must have issues with the letter H. Wat is what. What what? No, I mean, wat means ‘what’, ok?
Een grote hond. Hond (German Hund) means dog. Grote. Use your brain! Got it? Groß… gros… great… grande…? Yes, exactly. ‘Big’. There’s a big dog here. Which is not Takkie. Because this dog is ‘there’ (daar) and aan komt. Komt comes from kommen, which means to come (duh!). Aan is one those nice preposition that Germanic languages love because they always want to be super precise about where a thing is. Is it by, above, beneath, is it moving or is it still? So, this dogs ‘come by/at that place’ – the shop by the corner, we assume.
Your turn now!
It’s a game. Every word is a small challenge that gives your brain the right cues to think, make connections, understand, imitate and communicate in turn. The challenge makes memorising more interesting, a process that can be eased by using flash cards or sticky notes to spread all over your bedroom walls…
Step 3. Memorise!
The best way to keep all these information for the long term is to do a quickly summing-up (Zusammenfassung in German, a word that I really fancy!) of all the grammar rules detected throughout the text and list all the new words, My list for this particular text includes boodschap, mandje, hoek, winkel, brommen, vechten, grommen, verbaasd, medelijden. What’s great about children’s books like this one is that these words will keep showing up constantly, alongside new words that will just keep adding on to your personal vocabulary. Just remember what I said in my last post – remember not to focus solely on the reading/writing bit. What you ultimately have to do is communicate! Reading out loud is essential.