Brian & Ann's European Experience

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

My First Dutch Lesson

I had my first state-sponsored Dutch lesson last night. Right after my first day of MBA school. I was pretty tired, but I managed to show up at the right place at the right time. I was directed to my classroom, met my teacher (very nice lady with an unfortunate overbite), who told me that I had to join the class that was already half a year in. However, while they all did the homework from lessons 18 and beyond, I could do the homework from lesson 1.

So, if I get this right, then I sit in a class and listen to a lesson I’m not prepared for, then go back and do the homework for another lesson which I haven’t taken. Okaaaaay.

But I digress. The first part of the lesson I was sent upstairs to the library for a CD-ROM lesson. I was given a CD, pointed at a computer, and told to go through as far as possible. I started this thing up and, unsurprisingly, it was all in Dutch. I mean from Disc 1 Lesson 1, they just show a picture of two people, run an audio track with a conversation, and then start asking you to do exercises and answer questions.

The problem with this approach is… it’s ALL IN DUTCH. Not only can I not understand the recorded conversation, I can’t understand the questions they are asking, and I have no idea what the hell I am supposed to be doing. The first couple of times I asked the teacher to help me by explaining what I was supposed to be doing, but I soon tired of being the problem child and eventually just tried to figure out what I was supposed to be doing in each exercise. But I got tired of THAT pretty quick, and then just started punching buttons.

Most of the questions only had two or three answers, and the program let you go back whenever you wanted. So, I’d hit a button, if the green light when on, I continued, if the red light went on, I continued. When I got to the end with a score of 50% and the program forced me to take that section over again, I just kept hitting buttons until I got all the right answers. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I’d like to take a moment to make an appeal, just in case the designers of the “Listen and Learn Dutch” software are reading this blog. I would like to ask you: who the hell designed your fucking icons!? I compliment you on hitting upon the amazing insight that many of your users would not be able to navigate a piece of software with text prompts, and that you should use icons, but in the name of all “Listen and Learn Dutch” users, I have to ask you if you are fucking crazy. Are you?

Why in the world would I interpret the visual clue of a single footstep, in what looks to be a field of snow, as meaning “next”. How about just a simple arrow, eh pals? Arrows cut across cultural boundaries don’t they?

And on your main exercise screen, when I click on “intro”, and your extremely helpful software just reads back to me the lesson number, I can only assume that you ran out of billable development hours and needed something to meet your revenue target.

And finally, if you were sitting down to a learning package, and you saw an icon of a tree and a hand holding a shovel, would you really interpret that to mean “begin the exercise”? Would you really? Be honest. Acceptance is the first step on the path to recovery.

After the wonderfully useful computer lesson, I had two hours of actual in class learning. There were about fourteen people in the class, which was actually two groups who had to be taught by the same teacher in the same classroom. So we had our class first for an hour while the other half did their homework, then we switched formats.

Now, you may be interested about the characters who take the beginning year of state-mandated Dutch lessons. In my group there were two Turkish men, a Yugoslavian woman, a Phillipino-Dutch woman who had lived in the Nehterlands for seven years but never learned the language, and a surly Polish guy who shaved his head and wore an immaculate tracksuit. The surly Pole, Peter, spoke English and wanted to talk my ear off about how sucky the classes were. Which, unbelievably, did not improve the class experience.

The highlight of the evening was when the teacher made us listen to a CD with a three way conversation and then we broke into groups of three and played out all the roles. There was the role of the tourist asking for directions, the eldery confused lady, and the sultry woman who shows the way with the map. I don’t know who was funnier as the sultry map-wielding CD voice, Ismail the Turk, or Peter the surly Pole. I really got into the old lady voice. I briefly considered telling Ismail that he did a great sultry map voice, but then decided against it. I have a general policy about not antagonizing men with moustaches who come from Muslim countries.

More after my next class.

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