Learning English With profile: My name is Wineke Van der Linden, I was born in Belgium but grew up in Holland, where I lived until I was 22. Now I am living in Vitoria-Gasteiz where I am working as an English teacher. Lovely town, great job!
- How did you learn English, Dutch and Spanish? Did you go to an Official School of Languages? Did you go to a Private Academy? By yourself?
Needless to say that I learnt Dutch and English when I was a child; I spent my childhood and teenage years in The Netherlands. In secondary school we also studied French and German. When I was 22 years old I went to Paris where I studied for two years at the Sorbonne, so my French is quite good. I learnt Spanish when I started living in Spain in 1997, it was quick and easy, in a couple of months I started to speak. I have never gone to classes, I just bought a grammar book when I got to Spain, watched Spanish TV and tried to speak Spanish as much as I could. Now I’m fluent, but unable to lose my Dutch accent!!! And Basque…in Gasteiz, going to classes, just like everybody else.
- What would you recommend somebody who´s learning English?
First of all; have fun learning English! In think that’s the most important thing. Enjoy the language, your classes: the use of English when travelling, use the internet, listen to music….whatever. But consider English a pleasure, something nice and useful for you. The things we do best in life are the things we enjoy doing, remember this!
My second recommendation is to stop translating. Once you have a basic grasp of vocabulary, you should stop thinking in Spanish or Basque and try not to translate everything. When someone says something, concentrate on the words you know, and build your understanding from there.
Very important as well; don’t be afraid to make mistakes! Just learn from them – that is how you get better!
And of course, speak English every time you have the opportunity. The more you speak, the more confident and comfortable you will feel, and the quicker you will learn.
More recommendations….here comes another, very important one; don’t just learn in class! You also need to implement the English language into your daily life, and communicate with people in English at every opportunity you get. If you don’t practice speaking English outside the classroom, then your ability to progress will remain very limited.
You can watch movies in original version (with subtitles if you want to), or watch TV.
What about listening to music and reading the song text at the same time, or even better, sing out loud?
You can chat 24 hours a day with people from all over the world, or just study some vocabulary at home.
Reading books or magazines is great fun.
- How was the first time you talked in English with a Spanish person? Was it difficult or easy?
It was easy, a piece of cake I would say, as I was a child. My parents are both teachers and in summer we used to go camping in Cáceres for 5 or 6 weeks. I didn’t speak much Spanish, just the basic vocabulary to survive (chicle, bici, chupa chups, chuches, cerveza para papá, helado…), but I played with all the kids. I was even able to understand the games we played with their Spanish cards and the whole explanation was in “Spanglish”. Back in Holland we used to write letters to each other, I still have some of them, written in a mixture of Spanish, English and loads of drawings. It’s amazing how quickly children adapt. No matter what the language is, they communicate.
- In general, according to your experience, how is the English level of your students?
Very satisfying! I’m lucky, really, because I don’t teach in a school. People who come to my classes are normally those who really want to learn English, so they are generally highly motivated. Groups are small, the ambience relaxed. We do work hard, but have a lot of fun too. Students are of all ages, from 7 to 79 years old! And all of them make progress. Some slowly, some rapid, but they all make progress. And that is enough to say their level is quite good and above all, satisfying.
- Which other languages can you speak?
Apart from Dutch and English I can speak French, Spanish, a little German and a little Basque.
- Which other languages would you like to speak?
Other languages? I guess that more than other languages, I would love to speak Basque fluently. It’s such an interesting language! And maybe brush up my German.
- Is the Dutch accent very difficult to understand?
I don’t think so, it’s quite similar to the American accent.
- If I travel to Holland, what would you recommend me to visit?
The Netherlands is relatively unknown territory, for most visitors Amsterdam is the Netherlands. And that’s a big mistake, because Amsterdam is, in my opinion, a tourist attraction.
For those who like cities maybe Maastricht, Alkmaar, Arnhem, Monnikendam, Marken, Arnhem, and Hoorn…
A curiosity might be Gouda to visit the cheese market, and of course a visit to the flower and tulip fields.
The Waterlands are really nice as well.
I’m a very sporty person so I would definitely tell everybody to take advantage of the LF routes (Landelijke Fietsroutes) to visit as many places as possible. Those are cycling lanes all over the country, more than 4,500 km. And all flat, so you don’t get tired. You can cycle along the coast in Zeeland, the Ijsselmeer Lake, through the forest or up to the islands.
- Is Holland an expensive country comparing to Spain?
Like in Spain, the cost of living in the Netherlands has gone up with the introduction of the Euro, and the Dutch people really enjoy talking about how expensive everything has become and how they miss the Guilders. Spaniards do the exact same thing, remembering the Pesetas they used in the past.
Income is certainly higher than in Spain and the Basque Country, but lower than England and Germany. Accommodation is not as expensive as here, as long as you don’t try to live in large cities. It’s much cheaper to live in the non-urban areas, cities like Amsterdam and The Hague can be very expensive. And we shouldn’t forget that annual housing taxes are much higher than in Spain. Renting a house is very common and exempts tenants from these costs as these will be the responsibility of the owner. Prices for rent are quite low compared to Spain.
Unfortunately eating out is generally expensive. Restaurant and hotel bills normally include VAT and a service charge, so tipping is usually unnecessary, but it’s common to leave one for good service. For waiters and taxi drivers, a tip of around 10 percent of the bill is considered normal.
Public transport is relatively cheap by European standards. Most of the country works with a chip card which can be used on trains, trams, metros and buses. I guess that living in the Netherlands isn’t that expensive, as education is free, renting a house is no problem, people can cook their own food at home and everybody has a bike, but spending a holiday is not cheap; tourist need quite some money for taxis, tips, eating out and of course accommodation.
- Are Dutch people open-minded or shy?
That’s a difficult question to answer……I would say that in general the Dutch are friendly, helpful and open-minded, although they can be shy as well. Let me try to explain this to you.
Many foreigners have settled in Holland, bringing some of their own ideas and cultures to the country and I think this makes the Dutch generally open-minded and tolerant. Another characteristic of the Dutch is their openness and direct manner. You can say exactly what is on your mind; people are not easily offended. In fact, the Dutch are famous for how tolerant they are. A large part of their history involves welcoming foreigners to the country and allowing them to continue living lives as they chose (freedom in religion, cultural background, sexual orientation etc.) People have great respect for an individual’s freedom to live life as he or she chooses.
So why did I say they are shy at the same time? Well, they can sometimes be a bit distant if they don’t know you. I am sure no one means to be cold or arrogant, it’s just a different culture. People in the Netherlands have a select number of friends who they hold very dearly, who they meet frequently and who they have very deep relationships with. They are encouraged to get out of the house, meet each other and do things as much as possible. As a result of this, they are quite social…so social in fact, that they need to organize themselves to make sure they can fit everyone in to their active weeks. And this leads to the agendas issues.
I suppose here in the Basque Country people are “less” social, so they have room to be spontaneous and meet up with someone immediately, but the Dutch have social events, dinners, coffees, walks, clubs, excursions, sport events, nights out and everything else after work programmed in advance. So to answer your question; the Dutch are both open-minded and shy.
- Was it difficult adapting yourself to the Vitoria Gasteiz (Basque) way of life?
Not at all, as I had already lived in Pamplona for quite some time. In fact I left the Netherlands when I was 22 in order to study a year in Paris and have not gone back to live there. I stayed another year in Paris, after that I moved to Andalucía to work as an English teacher for 2 or 3 months and finally decided to head off to Pamplona, where I stayed for about 8 years.
The first thing to strike me when I got to Pamplona was the difference in the daily timetable; I felt I was working all day.
Secondly, I found it difficult to get organized, as only cafés and restaurants opened at lunch time. The post office’s hours were in the morning, banks as well, and very few supermarkets stayed open at midday. I was working full-time and unable to get my papers done, for instance.
Then, there were the kisses when meeting people. In the Netherlands we are used to kissing our family and maybe close friends, but when meeting someone for the first time we shake hands. But that was no big deal, as a matter of fact, I have always liked the kissing thing, I find it friendly, warm.
I guess the worst thing for me at the beginning were appointments; nobody arrived on time and I wasted a lot of time waiting!!
But all this was years ago, in Pamplona. As Vitoria is very similar to Pamplona in size and habits, I didn’t really find it difficult to adapt. And although Basque people are said to be close-minded I immediately met loads of people and have some very good friends here in Gasteiz now.
- What do you miss from Holland? The family, the food? The friends?
The family. A lot. My brothers and my mum. Friends…I have been away for such a long time that I have hardly any friends left there. All the rest…. the food, the climate, the flat country, the dark and cold sea and the lack of mountains…..no, I do not miss that very much!
- Would you like to live in another country? Why?
I would love to live in a hotter place, one of those placed where you get up in the morning and just put on a t-shirt and shorts and decide what you want to do that day. With good scuba diving of course, that’s the most important.
- Do you know somebody that we should interview for this section?
There are many interesting people that could be interviewed, but that does not mean they want to collaborate of course, as it takes up a lot of time to answer all the questions…..
- Anything else you’d like to add…
If anyone needs more information or wants to join English classes, just give them my email. Thanks!
Thank you very much Wineke Van der Linden!
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