Teaching Dutch to low-skilled non-native speakers
Teaching Dutch to non-native speakers is not always easy. But when those non-native speakers are also low-skilled, it sometimes becomes very difficult. They often have no insight into language systems and grammar, often have no study method and are not used to studying a lot and doing homework. Sometimes they are even students who can barely read and write. An extra challenge for the teacher who must motivate the students and teach them as much as possible during the lesson itself!
Teaching Dutch to the low-skilled
The low-skilled are people who have not attended school for a long time or who have quickly learned a profession. Theoretical subjects were little or not covered in their training. These people are therefore not used to paying attention for a long time, to listen to a boring and complicated explanation for a long time. Nor are they usually used to studying at home or doing homework. They also have little language education and are therefore not familiar with language systems and grammar terms. Often they are also people who are tired of school, who have had bad experiences with teachers or who have bad memories of their school days. As a teacher you cannot teach language to low-skilled people in the classic, school way.
No other languages to fall back on
The low-skilled are people who, as the name suggests, did not go to school for long. So they usually have not learned any other languages and only very little about the mechanism of their own language. They will therefore not be able to fall back on grammar from their own language and are less likely to link or establish connections with other foreign languages. Grammar will therefore have to be explained in a very basic way, without too many technical terms and with many examples.
Learning a language is like playing with Lego bricks. The more blocks you have, the more you can build. It is therefore important to have as many Lego bricks as possible. First you can only build walls, then you get windows and doors and eventually you can put a roof on your house. It is the same with a language. First you learn very simple sentences, then you get more and more little words with which you can add substance and change your sentences. And then it gets fun, because then you can play! And you can communicate with your sentences.
Working with photos or drawings
To be clearer, you can start working with photos or drawings. You can show situations and in this way the students make a connection between image and sound. Very useful when you have to work with students of whom you are not fluent in the native language or when you are in a group where the students all have a different background. Portraying things is also a possibility, but in portraying you always have the possibility that something could be misinterpreted. A very useful tool for this is Van Dale’s picture dictionary. This picture dictionary exists in different language combinations. It is divided into themes such as home, food and drink, sports, nature and so on.
Working from the concrete living situations
When you work from the concrete living situations, the students will remember everything better. So it is best to start with simple things such as who they are, what their family looks like, where they live, what work they do, what their hobbies are, etc. Numbers and the hour are also very important, because with numbers you can comes a long way. You can give your telephone number, say how old you are, when you were born, what day it is today, make appointments, say how many children you have, etc. The weather is also a nice theme. What do people most often talk about with people they don’t know? Right, about the weather. Food is also a very rewarding topic, because food is very important to many people. Moreover, the students are usually proud of the specialties from their own country. If students can understand what people are saying to them, they can respond a little. And so they communicate more quickly with each other and with others. If you are allowed, you can also bring cookies or snacks with you to let your students taste. For example, you can talk about flavors, about ingredients, about sizes and weights in a fun and relaxed way.
Lots of repetition and little homework
Homework is usually not spent on low-skilled students. Usually they are people who do hard work, work long hours or work shifts. Most of them do not want to spend hours at home spending more hours on the books. So it is a matter of repeating a lot during the lesson. One possibility is to have them write everything down themselves in class. The next lesson you hand out a typed version of the previous lesson. This way, everything is repeated again, they have neat notes and they can add everything themselves. Then new things are taught, which are then combined with the things already learned. Thus, it is gradually built up and repeated regularly. Those who want to can neatly copy or rehearse everything at home.
Try to build in as many playful situations as possible. Funny dialogues, comical situations. The students are happy to come to class because they are allowed to laugh there. They are motivated and will remember everything better. For example, in a lesson about the restaurant you can reenact Fawlty Towers. A restaurant where everything goes wrong, where the spoon is missing, where there are stains on the tablecloth, where the meat is raw, etc. In this way, the students learn to get started, even in difficult situations. For the body parts you can build in a lesson with the doctor. This way they can name the body parts and at the same time explain where it hurts. Handy for when they have something in mind at work, at home or on the road. But keep in mind that many cultures are much more squeamish than ours. So don’t be too explicit. Also, have them engage in a small dialogue where they call their boss to say that they are not coming to work because they are sick.
A major problem that non-native speakers often have is that they do not understand the mail received at home. Letters from official bodies, letters with instructions and so on. Invite them to bring these letters to class. This way they can be discussed together. All students benefit from this. They learn new vocabulary and are no longer helpless if they ever receive such a letter themselves. Also teach them a bit more about administration and about how our society works.
Extra challenge: illiterate people
It becomes extra difficult when your students are illiterate. These are people who can hardly read or write. In such lessons you will have to do and explain everything orally and with drawings. An extra challenge for the teacher, but no less interesting. Illiterates often have a highly trained memory because they cannot write anything down but have to remember everything themselves.