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The Dutch Brainwash one year on – a review

A year ago this week I got Brainwashed. Dutch Brainwashed.

Albert Both (Mr Dutch Brainwash) runs this amazing one week intensive in Amsterdam for people who are committed to learning Dutch. People who are serious about learning, and also willing to have some fun along the way.

I moved to the Netherlands last year from England. I didn’t really speak Dutch then. I’d listened to an audio course and could do a few basics, but I needed a lot more than that to really engage with Dutch people and culture.

I read Albert’s guide to Dutch and clicked with his style. His coaching approach, his student-centred method, his fun and sprinkling of jokes, and most of all his deep understanding of what it takes to communicate a language so that students really get it.

His Sunday morning workshop (yes, insane, Sunday morning – and up early for the 1 hour journey to Amsterdam!) gave a great flavour of his style, approach and the course itself. Easy ways to expand your Dutch and to put it into practice straightaway.

I loved it – and signed up.

The week of the Dutch Brainwash last July is now hazy in my memory. It was a hot and sticky week, with Amsterdam full of tourists. Tour boats glided around the canals on their electric motors. The smell of weed lingered outside the coffee shops, and cyclists pinged their bells as errant pedestrians wandered unawares into their paths.

Albert’s shaded teaching space, in a canalside building in the heart of the city, is crammed with toys and posters all jostling for space. A heap of snack foods and drinks – the obligatory coffee as well as bottles and bottles of water to keep us going for our 7 or 8 hours days – sits alongside “Bullshit!” and “Panic!” buttons on the table. Wide open French doors let in fresh air and gave access to the terrace for much needed rest and relaxation in the sunshine at lunchtime.

We did a lot that week. Vocab, grammar, sentence structure. Tenses. Modal verbs. Verbs that split. More vocab. Building long words. Deciphering Dutch. Adjectives and adverbs. Spelling changes. Vocab, again. The alphabet and numbers. Asking questions. Giving instructions. More vocab.

We talked. Dutch culture – high and low. Turns of phrase (go with the banana! as proud as an ape!). Saucy jokes. How Dutch people love to take the piss out of each other – and you too.

We had adventures. We talked to Dutch people outside the classroom and celebrated our successes inside the classroom.

We visualised ourselves speaking Dutch in a context that was important to us. We built up pictures of ourselves being successful with the language. And we set specific goals – mine was to give a short talk in Dutch.

Perhaps most importantly, Albert makes it simple. Not simplistic, but simple. He takes away the complexity of speaking a language. You take lots of small steps: from super simple (“Ja” is a perfect Dutch sentence, says Albert) to super complicated, and pass through everything in between on the way.

For me, Albert’s course worked. We covered a lot of ground – fast – and I loved it. If you’re prepared to soak it all up and put in the effort on your side to match Albert’s heroic and, quite frankly, incredible energy and commitment for the whole 7 days, you’ll get a lot out of it too.

Outside the course, I went out one evening with some Dutch friends. I understood much more than I had done on previous evenings, and recognised some of the new things Albert had introduced us to during the week.

As the week went by, more and more of the freebie Metro newspaper made sense to me. I could read and digest faster.

People talking on the train went from being background noise to actual conversations that I could listen in to (for educational reasons only, of course…).

Speaking Dutch came more slowly. Most of the improvement came after the course as I got more chances to practice with friends and others. There’s a lot in the course, and my brain needed time to digest it and hear or see it in practice before being able to create and speak Dutch sentences myself. Of course, this is how language learning goes. Little kids will understand what’s being said around them long before they can say the words themselves.

Albert’s conversation evenings, now Saturdays, helped with the practice side of things. To be honest though I got lazy and the journey to and from Amsterdam was too convenient an obstacle, so I went only to a couple of evenings.

And earlier this year I met my goal: I gave a ten minute talk in Dutch! Following Albert’s method, I kept it simple. Short, clear sentences. A single word, if a single word was enough to say what I wanted it to. My audience of Dutch and Belgian people (and one Englishwoman for whom my talk was translated back into English!) were amazed. And delighted. Most of them have seen some or all of my journey from no Dutch to Dutch over the last year, and were thrilled to see how far I’d come with it – as was I.

If you’re thinking about doing Albert’s course, you’ll get the most out of it if you’re prepared to put lots into it, engage as fully as you can for the whole week, and you’re willing put the effort in afterwards to consolidate and build on what you’ve learned. It’s hard work, not cheap, but as long as you give as good as you get it’s well worth it.

Where I’d like to take my Dutch now is into more grammatically correct territory. Into being able to write in Dutch. And I’d love to work with clients in Dutch too. Clients who work with me in English as their second language do really well, and yet sometimes there’s a turn of phrase, and expression or an untranslatable word that hits the spot so much better than any English words can. In the internal world of emotions and intuition, the right word or phrase be the key to unlocking something significant for clients. So there are my two goals: grammatically correct written Dutch, and working proficiency in spoken Dutch.

Looking back over the last year, I’ve come a heck of a long way. Determination, effort, persistence, and Albert’s course. That hot, sticky, July week in Amsterdam was brilliant, and to Albert I’m really grateful.

What new skills have you learned lately?

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