Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Dutch Practice Test

NT2 testAt New Years, my course administrator and I worked out a new system for my attendance in Dutch classes for 2012: she would tell me what the class was doing each week and I would stride along in parallel on my own.  When in the country, I would rejoin the class, and periodically I would take a test to assure that I was keeping up.

So I received notice that my first oefening toets would be this afternoon.  I’d sit for a 3-hour test covering writing, reading, and listening; speaking was not included.  My friends all bet that I could never pass “Listening” just because I never do (listen).  The college had me pegged at A1 listening and A2 reading/writing based on my intake evaluations  a year ago: my guess (hope) is that passing the test will bump me up one skill level across the board.

This isn’t a test that I can really study for.  Either the daily hours of Dutch are making a difference or they aren’t.  Instead, I spent the morning working with the group finalizing my product prototype, then biked home for a quick lunch and packed for the train to London.  I biked back to the school at 1 and joined the milling crowd in the cafeteria waiting to be called for their evaluations.

It didn’t start well.  We were half an hour late getting started and then I found that I’d drifted into the Werk-traject test  rather than the Exam-traject.  Eventually, I arrived for the 1-hour test 40 minutes behind the rest of the class: the proctor gave me the spiral-bound exam book and told me to do my best.

The Writing test wasn’t too bad: completing examples representative of evryday life in the Netherlands.

Your neighbor leaves her garbage outside where it gets knocked over and is never home for you to talk with her.  Leave her a note telling her the right thing to do.

Five computers were stolen from your place of work.  Fill in the attached police report.

Easy enough, although not characteristic of my Dutch experiences.  I finished in half an hour and headed over to Reading.

Both Reading and Listening are computer-based multiple choice tests, one practice question then twenty exam questions.  Unfortunately, reading the FD, the Volkskrant, and Rosetta is not good preparation for the very focused vocabulary found in this section.  Each question consisted of a one-paragraph story and several questions about it’s content – the topics were monotonous:

Read this job advertisement, then determine who you are interviewing with and for what job.

Read this account of your day at work, then explain to your supervisor why you had to fill in for your co-worker.

Read this notice and identify the proper procedure for calling your employer to say that you are sick.

My advice: know the noun baan, it’s everywhere.

Listening was more conversational.  People meet on the street, exchanging pleasantries then discussing what the neighbors are doing.  (I was ready with a note about the garbage)  The danger here is in getting ahead of myself, reading read the question first, then listening for the answer.  So, if the question was Is Ruud going to the park today?, I would be tempted to stop as soon as I heard  Hey, Ruud, let’s go to the park!  when the rest of the example might be No way, it’s raining!  Lets go to the movies instead.

It took about half an hour to do each of the three tests, I stayed with first impressions and didn’t go back to change my answers.  The results are probably mailed out so I won’t know for a week or so; in the meantime, it’s back to studying would, could, and should.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Geen euthanasie alsjeblieft

BraceletsFor the past week, the Dutch press has been buzzing about comments made by Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum of February 3.  I don’t think that the story got a lot of coverage in the US: the Dutch coverage was actually more enjoyable.  Accompanied by video, it’s reminiscent of the infamous Bill O’Reilly Amsterdam rant from three years ago

Santorum related how involuntary euthanasia had become common in Dutch hospitals and now accounts for 5% of all deaths. The situation has become so bad that the elderly are fleeing to find care abroad; those who remain in the Netherlands have taken to wearing bracelets begging care providers not to euthanize them.

It is completely false, of course, voluntary euthanasia has been legal since 2002 and currently accounts for 2% of all deaths.  The law provides for layers of review and a waiting period and, while there have been occasional cases where the rules were not followed (9 among over 2500 euthanasias in 2010), doctors can be charged with murder if the rules are not followed.

The Dutch press reacted with a range from amusement to outrage. The Ministry of Health issued a statement that such bracelets did not exist. Parliamentarians demanded an apology.  Newspapers asked why Americans would vote for someone so unqualified to be a world leader.

For me, it’s a difficult thing to explain in conversations.  I always struggle with how to rationalize right-wing fantasies of death panels and European socialism to Dutch friends.  Parochialism, misplaced exceptionalism, audience pandering: those are the obvious antecedents.  But I do think that there’s something more fundamental involved.

It is a confusion of conviction with belief.

Belief convictionWe all have convictions, deeply held statements of how we think that the world should be.  We all want health, peace, prosperity, opportunity.  And we look for ways that we can change the world for the better, aligned with those convictions.

Looking for thing to change, we work from beliefs, deeply held statements about how the world is. 

In many cases, and especially in this one, a good story just reinforces beliefs.  And that, in turn, bolsters convictions and justifies actions: it becomes campaign policy.

I don’t know how to change wrong-headed beliefs.   Objective news reporting, peer reviewed science, evidence-based medicine are all under attack because they run counter to people’s beliefs.  Indeed, the culture wars are all about a perception that institutions are trying to change convictions by assaulting belief, that critical thinking corrupts values.

And that is the belief that needs to change.

Carnivale 2012

It was a wonderful Carnivale weekend: Lots of enthusiasm, fun, bier, great costumes.  The parade was on Sunday and the route ran beneath my apartment windows along Kesselskade.  We had great views of the three hours of bands, floats, and the occasional snow squall.  Music ran late every night; the beer flowed all day.  It was a delight.

Here are a few photos: more can be found on my Flickr site.