KICKSTART – Pleased to Teach You!

Whether you have just arrived in the Netherlands or have been here a while, KICKSTART has a language program that makes adjusting to life in this Dutch-language environment easier and much more fun. Also if you are a non-native English speaker, they can also help you improve your English-language skills.

Josien Deknatel is the founder and director of KICKSTART. Ten years ago she returned to the Netherlands from a posting abroad and noticed that many au pairs who spoke not a word of Dutch were expected to take care of their charges in an all-Dutch environment.

“I devised a language program that responded very specifically to their needs. They wanted a practical introduction to Dutch that they could use in their everyday lives, and they wanted to meet other au pairs who were going through the same adjustment process.”

This practical approach to language learning is a key characteristic of all KICKSTART’s courses. Today, Josien’s school trains around 100 au pairs a year, while it also offers several Dutch language lessons that accommodate all other types of students – at different levels of ability, from beginners to students who need to pass state exams, to professionals who need to perfect their subject-specific language skills. Most recently, they have added general and specialized (business, legal and technical) English-language classes for both foreign residents and Dutch nationals who wish to perfect their oral and/or written skills or who wish to train for the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

All of the courses are given in small groups of students with similar needs. The idea is to provide a safe and stimulating environment in which to feel comfortable speaking Dutch and asking questions. The large and sunny classrooms in the two elegant 1880s grachtenpanden on the Koninginnegracht in central The Hague make for a classy and comfortable setting to study in.

For beginners, KICKSTART offers the Starter pack. This course addresses not only the difficulties of getting acquainted with the new language, but also covers issues newcomers face in understanding the Dutch culture. At first, in a foreign-language environment, individuals can be struck with the unpleasant feeling of suddenly being illiterate – every public sign, product label and official form is in Dutch. “I’ve been an expat myself and have travelled to many countries where I don’t speak the language. I know you can feel like a 5-year old,” Josien explains. “We use colloquial Dutch and lots of role play in everyday situations.”

The KICKSTART program is therefore based on the principle that when you first arrive, you don’t need to learn the details of verb conjugations, but can instead focus on developing a simple but functional vocabulary that you can use in every day situations. The Starter pack is given in several formats (during the day or evening, once a week or more intensively) for a total of 24 hours. Students gain a solid language foundation that enables them to get around in shops and communicate with the locals. It also demystifies the bewildering Dutch-only forms and telephone answering services that need to be navigated during the process of settling in.

“One of the things that are unique to this program is the toolkit we give to each participant. It is a condensed version of the material they learn in class, and is a practical little booklet that they can take with them to help them navigate through conversations and, for instance, when buying food or ordering in a restaurant.”

Each of KICKSTART’s courses has a minimum of four and a maximum of eight participants. “Also for expats, the program provides useful information that helps them from day one. They learn about the language as well as the culture and customs and therefore quickly feel more comfortable in their daily lives.” Around 400 expats follow a KICKSTART course each year.

KICKSTART also offers courses for those who have lived in the Netherlands for a while and/or who already have a certain command of Dutch. The Culture and Conversation program, for instance, is designed to deepen conversation fluency as well as provide more knowledge about Dutch history and culture. “We have many different activities in this class, from reading books and magazine articles to visiting museums and walking through the historical regions of The Hague.” The three levels of the Stepping Stone course gradually deepen the students’ Dutch-language skills.

Another distinctive aspect of KICKSTART’s courses is its personalized approach to teaching. Most of the teachers have been expats themselves and understand from experience the difficulties of second-language learning. The small class size permits teachers to approach each student as an individual according to their learning style and requirements. “Most importantly, we all enjoy teaching. If it isn’t fun – for both the student and the teacher, then there is no point in doing it.”

And that is probably the secret to KICKSTART’s success – they really are, as their tagline says, “pleased to teach you”.

For more information, contact:
Josien Deknatel-Brandt
Tel.: 070- 360 78 60/ 065 588 56 18

Diane Lemieux
2011 Spring

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