Friday, September 09, 2011


That sounds dreadful doesn't it? With its gutteral 'g', this word 'geslaagd' conveys the feeling that you're about to swipe someone's head off, but actually its meaning is much more pleasant. Thank goodness.

The whole sentence I should have written was : "Ik ben geslaagd voor mijn examen Nederlands als tweede taal." And about this, I am very pleased indeed. What it means is ...yay! I passed my Dutch exam!

I can tell you that no one is more surprised than I am. I was so convinced I'd messed it up completely, but I do realise, in retrospect, that as a language teacher myself, I might be expecting more and greater things than the examiners are. That doesn't make me feel altogether good about my level, though. Even I know that both my daughters, who have absorbed the language like sponges and kindly smother their giggles at my bumbling attempts, would have sailed through. Meanwhile, I struggle on to figure out what the heck people are rattling on at me about. Still, the fact that I have taken the hurdle head on, cleared it and stumbled to my feet on the other side is very, very satisfying.

The exam itself was quite an experience. I was one of around fifty candidates. Each part of the exam (writing, listening, reading and speaking) took between two and three hours, so the whole event extended over two days. I say each part took more than two hours, but in fact, about half an hour of each test consisted of instructions being barked at us by a sergeant major of an adjudicator. "U mag niet dit en u mag niet dat" and so on and so on as he marched up and down the room with his megaphone telling us in no uncertain terms what we may not do. Okay, it wasn't really a megaphone. It was actually a small mike, but it sounded distinctly OTT.

One of the things that we were allowed to do was use a dictionary for the writing and reading sections, but our drill sergeant warned us that resorting to such aids 'kost tijd' and that we didn't have much 'tijd'. He wasn't kidding. I mean we had two hours to write three reports, a job application and then complete sections of thirteen short letters and paragraphs. I can't even do that in English! Predictably, I ran out of time and ended up writing a heap of irrelevant banalities about labelling litter bins for a proposal about how to clean up our city. My job application letter wouldn't even have passed a litter bin without voluntarily diving in, it was such rubbish.

As for the listening test, well, it would have been great if I'd known anything about being a fisherman landing massive shoals of Cod or such like in the North Sea, or what it means to be wrestling with a flailing 200 metre water hose in the fire service - something I've always wanted to do, I can assure you! It did make me wonder how some of my fellow candidates from somewhat hotter, drier climes fared here, I must say. But, the worst by far was the speaking test.

It was on Day 2, and I confess to having felt a tad over confident after the reading test in the morning, which I found fairly easy. Big mistake. We filed into the exam room after lunch and sat at our cubicles, ready for the sergeant major to strut his stuff. "Put on your headphones," he barked. We did as ordered, but then couldn't hear what he was saying properly. Clever. I took off one 'ear' and gathered that we would be played a tape, which would have questions related to some pictures in a booklet we were given. We then had to answer the questions on the basis of what we saw in the pictures. Okay, so far. It sounded quite good actually. Not only would we hear, but also see what we needed to talk about. Great!

Not. What I hadn't realised was that we would all hear the tape at exactly the same time and exactly the same speed. This meant the 'peeptone' signalling our queue to answer came at the same time for everyone. Result? A huge cacophony of noise as everyone yelled into their mikes at the same time (you know the effect of wearing headphones? When everyone thinks no one can hear them?) I was totally thrown. Couldn't think. Couldn't say anything other than simply to utter even more banal nonsense than I'd come up with in the writing test. Every time I opened my mouth to speak, it felt as if the whole room was trying to shout me down. Disaster. What got me was that I'd had a really nice chat in the waiting room with a young Brazilian guy all about social problems in Brazil and Holland, and all in Dutch, but here I was unable to mutter anything even vaguely comprehensible into a microphone. At least that's what it felt like.

Anyhow, when the letter with my results arrived last Friday, I couldn't quite believe my eyes. I'd passed all four subjects! It's taken me a week to absorb it, and now that I've got my 'diploma' on a fancy certificate, I'm beginning to feel positively euphoric about it. In fact, I don't think I've ever felt quite so chuffed about passing an exam in my life. I'm even thinking of having a go at the next programme...

Listen, if I can do it anyone can, so if not, why not? Hey?


  1. Fabulous on all counts: the fact that you passed, your detailed report about the exam and you disarming humour. Thank you Vally!

  2. Huge congrats! sounds like quite a hurdle. and quite the test. Reminds me of when I took my Cosmetology Exam for State Board of California. Written, practical, had to be exact, examiners looking over everything. Asking questions, walking around you in their lab coats all official like.
    Forgive me, but what is the accomplishment of the "Dutch Exam"? It obviously is quite intense and is worth merit and of special qualifications.
    I am so very happy for You Val.

    You should be very proud, and no, not everyone can do it. YOU can! Takes a special candidate to pass that test.


  3. You are the best! Of eigenlijk: jij bent de beste! Gefeliciteerd!

  4. Well,Mo and I both believed you'd passed right from the start, but I'm very happy to know we were vindicated in our belief!

    And well done Mummy!!!

  5. I was exhausted by your post, and so I can just begin to imagine what this battery of tests must have been like for you. I am, despite being fluent in 2 and a half languages (the German is quite horrendous, even by my standards!), quite hopeless at new language acquisition, and so I salute you for taking this on. Well done!

    Today, I need to take a doggie knowledge test at the shelter before they move us on to the actual hands-on walking part. You've now given me the confidence to plough ahead because surely this won't be as taxing as what you've done through!


  6. Yay! Congratulations on passing the language exam!

    And I'll certainly keep all fingers and toes crossed re Skipper's Child!

    I'm very pleased that the last exam of the Computer Science base studies was today, so as soon as the course results are in it's all done.

    I've all but given up my blog - though not closed it. Perhaps I'll return to it. But for now, I'll keep an eye on your blog!

  7. Thanks so much everyone. When I look back on it now, it was quite comical, but at the time, I was in despair...or rather totally bewildered by the whole experience. I've never been good at exams and have never done as well as teachers, tutors or trainers expected me to, so I was already prepared for a hurdle before I started.

    Grace, you are a darling, but I'm not special at all...thousands of people take this exam every year. I'm just one of the crowdn.

    Sanne, je bent ook lief. Hartelijk bedankt. Ik ben heel tevreden maar ik wil nu de tweede pogramma doen!

    Jo, thanks to you and Mo for your confidence. You are both so good at languages, I feel humbled by you both. This does give me a smidgin more confidence though.

    Anne Marie, I'm sure you'll sail through your doggie knowledge test, and I expect you would have done better than I did at this Dutch test too! It was quite exhausting, I must say, and I was a bit intimidated by the length of the exams, not to mention our drill sergeant! Good luck with yours!

    Maria, thank you, dear. So nice to see you here. As you know I'm not a big FB'er, so it's great to keep in touch with you one way or another. I hope I've sent the invite to my blog to the right email address. Let me know if you don't get it, though.

  8. Congratulations that really is some achievement. Learning a language is always difficult but to master Dutch to that extent is brilliant. Do you also feel an empathy with your English language students now, who are struggling over the complexities of our grammar and spelling?

  9. I do, Fran, I do,especially the older ones like me! There is no doubt about it. Learning a new language gets progressively harder the older you become. Thanks for the congratulations, though. I really have no mastery at all, and am only getting to the point where I can have conversations with people full of mistakes, and often misunderstanding them. Both my girls are way ahead of me! They just don't have a certificate to sayso.

  10. Congratulations on surviving the exam/boot camp :p

    Great news that you passed


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