Using my Dutch

I’m visiting with Dutch relatives and naturally thinking about language use and comprehensibility.

I spoke Dutch for about a year when I was five, and then used it again for a summer when I was ten. I’ve had occasional exposure to it since, and started reading when Alike (see right sidebar) gave me some children’s reading last summer, but haven’t really tried to keep it up.

What saves me in conversations is first that I know all the “little” words. But, also, for, from, is, was, all, of, there, then, always, not, no, yes… all these and who knows how many more are not even a question for my brain. It makes me think that I need to make sure that my kids know these words especially well. More about that in a moment. Then the next thing is all the cognates. There are a lot of them in Dutch for an English speaker. And finally, since I am writing this as my cousin shows his mother pictures of his trip to Turkey, I am again astounded by how much the visual helps with context. She is asking questions, and he is answering them. I could do that in class with a native speaker.

Back to those little words. There is a reading site that I’ve kind of lost track of. Valerie Thornbur (Thornber?) explains that most of French can be comprehensible with only 12 little words, and she is right. She has pictures and three levels of reading on her site, which basically is the same thing as Embedded Reading, but she is concentrating on it as continuing to use those little words. I like them also as sight words; kids need to be able to read them in Cyrillic instantly as well as being able to understand them instantly. I think that I might do well to go back to my “sight words” list at the beginning of the year again.

I may be on vacation, but I am missing my TPRS community!


12 responses to “Using my Dutch

  1. Hi,
    LOVE your insights and obviously brilliant teaching! I teach French and would love to get a link to the site you mentioned (Valerie).


    • It took all day, but I remembered what it was: Check it out…I know that there used to be free access for people who wanted to see some examples.


  2. Merci mille fois! It’s on my “sites to explore” over the summer list! Спасибо! I hope you’re enjoying your vacation! Sigh… one more week here!


    • Natalia, I went to the site but didn’t find the woman’s name, the French 12 words or the stories. What did you find? If you have a link or a path to take can you share? Thanks!
      We have two and a half weeks to go and I hope I make it! I’m feeling done!


      • Hi Ruth! I can’t find her name either, but I think if you go to contacts, you will be in touch. She had a newborn last summer, so her life has changed! Here’s a link to some explanations:


      • Ruth, I didn’t have time to look (finals here) so I put it on my ever long summer list of things to do. With a busy dancer and an active almost 4 year-old I’m not sure how far I’ll get. 🙂 From what I understood, however, if you sign up for a free trial, you’ll keep getting freebies later. I hope I’m right.



    This pdf is useful – Valerie Thornber and her list of basic words. She makes good points.

    Thanks for this MJ. It’s useful for me for a few reasons

    1. A French speaking teacher works in my classroom weekly and the methods are a long way from tprs. We do topics such as animal names and body parts. But as Valerie points out if the students knew J’ai they could do quite a lot with these lists. At the simplest level they could make cartoons. Knowing j’ai is so much more useful than knowing cheval. So I can do some background work on this.

    2. I’ve worked with a lot of students from all over the world, who are learning English and I’d confirm these are pretty much what students learn first (except the first thing young students usually say is ‘she pushed me’ !! Complaining and dibber dobbing come very early in language learning. Maybe this is like adults learning swearing first.)

    2. I’m about to venture off to Europe myself in a few weeks and am horrendously monolingual Australian, as many of us are, and will encounter several languages which I will not have any hope of understanding. I learnt French during my secondary schooling for a few years so this is the language I have the most chance of speaking a little. Becuase it was so long ago it seems like my learning is a little pocket of knowledge stuck in time and I have a couple of observations relevant to your blog. I guess I could be a 4%er but knowing the literal translations, as Valerie talks about, helps me a lot , so when our principal greets the school ‘Bonjour tout les mondes’ I go back to my class and explain the literal translation and try to make other connections clear for the students. eg Le Monde, whatever I think they can cope with.

    But and this is a big one, the learning of lists of verbs, is really not the way to learn. Now, about 30 years after the learning happened I still get confused with the most minor details such as the difference between nous allons, nous avons. And you know this would never happen had I learnt this in a tprs context where the learning was meaningful rather than list based. I am walking language disaster to prove it!!

    Enjoy your holiday,



  4. ‘k next time I’ll try to learn to count!


    • Laughing out loud! I also don’t know how to count, so hadn’t even noticed.

      As you travel the world, get those lists…they’re on the Denver word list page (available by searching this site) and you’d probably do well. I think that our brains also keep working on languages in our seeming absence from them, so you might do better than you’d think.

      Thanks SO much for finding that link, by the way. I might have to put it on the “useful links” when I get back to a computer where I can get mail, see my stuff, and do more than basics.


  5. My moment came today MJ. The French teacher was away but French went on!

    I revised j’ai and the kids drew “Mon monstre” with however many heads, mouths, tentacles etc they wanted. They are 8-9 so keen to draw at any moment and impress each other with monsters. They wanted to know more and more body parts, scar, dimples so I let them use google translate. As long as they used j’ai and the numbers I let them use many ‘low frequency words’. Strong students took it a long way with keys and axes embedded into monster bodies. The less capable students ended up with 2 basic sentences.

    Never have we had this level of enthusiasm in French class. I’m not saying it was remotely tprs but it did provide an opportunity for the students to produce their own language. I could see from this tiny sample who is understanding and using the numbers and that no-one knew un/une.

    I think the 5 phrase skit looks fantastic. My kids are real beginners. I try it with four phrases.

    Thanks for posting such great links. As I’ll be in France soon I will be figuring out to say ‘love your necklace, cardigan…’ also. (from the Creative Langauge blog)


  6. Hurrah! Isn’t that fun? I bet the French teacher will be surprised to come back and have kids “get” something that they hadn’t before.

    I know a couple of people who’ve stayed just barely ahead of their classes and used TPRS (or used an unfamiliar language to do TPRS workshops), ending up learning the language in the process. Actually, though my language was reasonable at the start of my TPRS journey, the same thing happened to me: after a few months of using this method, my Russian friends asked what I had been doing because my language was so much better! And after two years, I got an OPI rating of Advanced High from an evaluator who was very impressed by “the work” I had been doing to maintain my language all these years. I didn’t tell him (in front of a workshop of teachers) that I had done nothing but switch my method, which did include getting my written materials checked daily by a native speaker.

    Anyway, what I’m saying is that you could start to learn this method and use the basic lessons on those French students! You could even learn it on your about-to-be-traveling family…somewhere on line there are a first two weeks of lessons in Spanish, and I thought there were some in French. I’ll see if I can find them.

    I’m going to be learning Italian, because I’m hoping to go to Italy. I’m going to do the basic word list that Tim Ferriss suggested for Italian, and I’m going to follow his suggestions about learning, mixed with what I know about teaching myself Italian. (And my husband speaks Italian, so I can get him to teach me through TPRS too…)


  7. Thanks so much MJ. I have not finished reading the article you found yet but it provides a great amount of detail.


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