Dutch teacher in focus
Teacher: Conny van Sluijs
Lives: Close to The Hague, Netherlands
Loves: Swimming, playing the piano, visiting cities, languages and people
Dutch teacher Conny van Sluijs speaks four very different languages, an ability she attributes in part to a very unusual experience she had as a toddler.
“When I was two years old I walked into a ditch – very Dutch!’ she jokes. ‘They found me and thought I was dead. It can have a strange effect when you are very young, sometimes children who experience this so young can be very good at mathematics or with languages. I pick up languages very quickly.’
Conny went to a high school where she studied German and French and at university later English and Spanish too. More recently she added a much more challenging language to her bow. ‘I adopted a Roma child from Hungary. That’s why I learnt Hungarian.’
In terms of applying this love of languages to her lessons, Conny always starts with the verb forms and drills them. ‘Each language has verbs, you build phrases around the verbs. I would say this to all other teachers: start with that and drill them. Also find connections between your mother tongue and the target language – there are always connections in sounds or forms so you can create them in your fantasy. Similarities help you to start and get your confidence.’ Finding these connections is part of a broader approach she has to dealing with difference. ‘There are always similarities between people and languages. If you find connections that helps to build connections.’
She lives in a village between Rotterdam and The Hague and describes the former as ‘a very interesting, beautiful city, amazing architecture. It’s really worth visiting, it’s an international city. A Dutch New York. Nice museums,’ while the latter offers a good contrast, ‘The Hague is a very old city, you get an impression of Dutch life – Holland as it used to be.’
This is a history that she is personally deeply connected to, the result of having ancestors who were killed in the 17th century by a mob for being republicans and who are now honoured with a street named after them. On the national institution of the royal family, she says, ‘I’m very Dutch but I’m not a monarchist. The majority [in Holland] is pro-monarchy [but] the minority is growing.’
She also describes the area she is from (much of which is below sea level) as having a problem with water management, but personally, despite her early experience, she is extremely happy around water, ‘[The trauma of the experience was] more difficult for my mother and my sister. But I’m very fond of swimming. Water draws me to it.’
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