Ik spreek Nederlands - echt! Observations about learning Dutch

Ik spreek Nederlands - echt! Observations about learning Dutch

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Based across 4 sites in The Hague, The British School in The Netherlands (BSN) is one of Europe’s largest and most longstanding British international schools.

Kieran Earley, CEO of the BSN, shares his experiences of learning Dutch as an educator. You can read his blog here.

The process of learning Dutch has reminded me of how much courage and perseverance it takes for students to learn a new language.

I’m 45, a CEO (of The British School in The Netherlands) and I’m worried about my homework.

My Dutch teacher takes her job seriously and will be let down if I don’t make an effort. She doesn’t want to show her disappointment, but I can always sense it.

The need for interaction

If I really want get the most from being in another country I have to learn to speak the language. I got 63 percent of the way through a Dutch Language MOOC, or online course, before I arrived (it’s actually possible to be this precise about your level with an online course). But, like many users, I didn’t finish because I needed more interaction.

It takes courage

What we project as learners is fascinating. The fact that one of my first reactions to my teacher is a fear of letting her down is an emotional response, and that tells us a great deal.

Learning is emotional and it takes a good deal of courage. As teachers, my colleagues and I need to remind ourselves of this daily.

Learning from learning Dutch

At 45 I’m a much better learner than I was when I was 15. I’m more resilient and I’m no longer addicted to 1980s video games. I’ve also been in a learning environment my whole life.

So, can my experience as a Dutch student inform my educational philosophy and leadership? These are some early observations from my student renaissance:

1. How can I measure progress?

As I get better I feel I’m getting worse. My expectations of myself have the potential to dishearten me. To get an idea about the progress I’ve made I really should have recorded my spoken efforts in week one for review at week 15. This tells me something about the need for a convincing formative assessment narrative.

2. A good teacher builds trust

My teacher gets me to speak in ways that no one else can. I secretly think she is the only one who can understand me.

This is down to our relationship of trust. But I won’t just be interacting with her in the Netherlands. I need to build the confidence to immerse myself in the subject outside of the classroom.

3. Setting targets can help

It’s important that I’ve told everyone with whom I work that I’m committing to learning Dutch. It’s public. I made this decision public on purpose to pin my commitment. I want to speak better Dutch at my opening address at the start of the new academic year. BSN people will know if I’m better than I was last year. This tells me a lot about the importance of personal target setting.

4. Relationships with real people are crucial

My Dutch is just about good enough for me to sound like I could actually hold a conversation. It is usually at this point that I deliquesce into a gibbering idiot who can’t form the perfect tense or do word order correctly.

5. Be prepared to make mistakes

When trying to speak a new language your pride takes a hammering. My hairdresser doesn’t know where to start with the small talk and my wife hides when I try out my Dutch at home. To be fair, she spends hours pronouncing words and hearing me repeat them incorrectly in perpetuity. It must be hard to hear your husband speaking like a five-year-old.

My job is about communicating and I humble myself in front of my PA, Dutch colleagues and business connections. They are politely encouraging but I must be even more irritating than usual as I murder words and maul their language.

Support for language learning

Despite all this, I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve enrolled in a programme from the BSN Language Centre, with great teachers and the resources to make my Dutch stick. Everyone with whom I speak in this organisation is my teacher. Whether they like it or not.

Another thing is for sure. We will do more at our school to connect both staff and students with Dutch. We learn so much more than just a language by doing so.

Kieran Earley is the CEO of The British School in The Netherlands. The BSN provides a supportive, challenging and stimulating educational environment for international children from around the globe.

To find out more about The British School in The Netherlands:
› Call: +31 (0)70 315 4077
› Email:

Kieran Earley


Kieran Earley

Kieran Earley is the CEO / Principal at The British School in The Netherlands (BSN) which caters for students between 3 - 18 years old. The school follows a well-rounded...

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