De en het, and the English Brain

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De en het, and the English Brain

Post by Dora » Tue Jul 22, 2008 7:37 pm

A lot has been said already about the difficulty of learning "de" words from "het" words. I imagine that this is of particular difficulty for anyone whose native language is English. This is because English nouns are all neuter, so we don't have the gender concept at all in our grammar (other than "he" and "she" etc. for people). All the other European languages I'm familiar with have this gender concept, and it seems that if you know only English, your brain lacks the needed skill to learn these efficiently.

For the rest of this article, I will refer to this lack of skill as "The English Brain." (as in language, not nationality, but you already knew that :) ) This may not apply to all native English speakers, but it does apply to me, and probably many other people.

In English, words act fairly independently. (A rare exception to that is the subject-verb agreement.) One does not have to think about a noun's connection to the definite article, for example, since it is always "the." In some languages, gender and number also affect any adjectives, but not in English! So we can substitute different adjectives and nouns into a sentence and not have to change the other words.

The big man
The big house
The ugly house
The ugly houses

Because of this, when I read (or hear) "the" in English, my brain throws the word away once it notes "definite article." This word doesn't tell me much, and it tells me nothing about the noun (the word itself) it relates to.

When reading along in Dutch (or one of many other languages, Spanish, French, Greek, German, etc.), every time I see a definite article (and perhaps an indefinite article) it creates an example with its noun that I can potentially learn from. Unfortunately, the English Brain is not trained to take advantage of this information, so we often ignore it. Thus, we are left to some kind of flashcard-type study to try to learn articles, which is nowhere near as effective as learning from real examples!

My idea is to come up with a solution that trains the English Brain to actually pay attention to this information coming in. Then we can read and listen to Dutch and learn so much more! What follows is my proposed solution.

Someone can create, or we can create for ourselves, exercises based on text that does not have to be easy text. The student needs to know just enough Dutch to recognize words as articles, nouns, pronouns, and adjectives. For this exercise, verbs are not really important, and the meanings of words are not important, either. The task is to scan the text, pick out all nouns (except proper nouns), and list them all, along with "de" or "het." That's it.

Here is an example.

http://www.wereldomroep.nl/news/interna ... ine-McCann

Portugal sluit onderzoek Madeleine McCann
Lissabon - In Portugal is het onderzoek naar de verdwijning van het Britse meisje Madeleine McCann gesloten. De ouders van het meisje zijn niet langer verdacht, zo meldde de Portugese justitie maandag. Dat het onderzoek zou worden gestopt, was begin deze maand al aangekondigd.
Madeleine McCann verdween vorig jaar mei op 3-jarige leeftijd uit haar slaapkamer in een resort in Algarve. Haar ouders waren op dat moment in een restaurant in de buurt aan het eten. De verdwijning kreeg veel aandacht van de pers, mede door een internationale publiciteitscampagne van de ouders. Die kwamen later ook zelf in beeld als verdachten, maar er was onvoldoende bewijs om ze te vervolgen.
The solution for the first paragraph is:
het onderzoek
de verdwijning
het meisje
de ouders
het meisje
de justitie
het onderzoek
de maand


The definite article for each noun is given in all cases, except for "de maand." The "de" was inferred from "deze." Had "maand" been a "het" noun, it would have been "dit maand."

The second paragraph is much harder:
het jaar
de leeftijd
? slaapkamer
? resort
de ouders
het moment
? restaurant
de buurt
de verdwijning
het aandacht
de pers
de publiciteitscampagne
de ouders
de bewijs

A lot more of these had to be inferred, and some could not be determined from the text (indicated by the "?"). "Het jaar" came from "vorig jaar" and "de leeftijd" came from "3-jarige leeftijd." An indefinite such as "een resort" can be indicated with "?" unless there is and adjective inflected or not, or the answer is obvious, as in the case of "Haar ouders..." The subject "de ouders" was used earlier, and is plural, so no need to guess on that one.

Keep in mind that the goal is not to learn the de/het for each noun in the exercise or to translate any of the text. The goal is to learn how to associate articles and nouns, even when the article is not given, or "een" is used. I would suggest practicing for 15 minutes each day, trying to get faster and faster. Within a few weeks, the skill will be learned, and you can move on to a new drill, where you listen to a sentence and do the same steps as above!

I hope I have done my exercise correctly. If not, it only illustrates the need to have someone check our answers or even prepare exercises for us.

Does anyone think this would be helpful?

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Post by Joke » Tue Jul 22, 2008 8:06 pm

Great idea, Dora!
Here are the corrections and completions for your text:
Dora wrote: het onderzoek
de verdwijning
het meisje
de ouders
het meisje
de justitie
het onderzoek
de maand

het jaar
de leeftijd
de slaapkamer
het resort
de ouders
het moment
het restaurant
de buurt
de verdwijning
het de aandacht
de pers
de publiciteitscampagne
de ouders
de het bewijs
Pay attention: veel is usually not conjugated as an adjective:
de aandacht - veel aandacht
het bewijs - veel bewijs
See also this topic on veel and vele.

Onvoldoende already ends in -e so it doesn't get an extra -e either.
de aandacht - onvoldoende aandacht
het bewijs - onvoldoende bewijs

Compare this with a 'normal' adjective, slecht:
de aandacht - slechte aandacht
het bewijs - slecht bewijs

Joke

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Re: De en het, and the English Brain

Post by Grytolle » Tue Jul 22, 2008 8:09 pm

Sounds good. I often do things like this, however including plural forms and meaning (unless obvious) - also using all three genders which is best done using "emphasised articles":

neuter: dat huiz, -en
feminine: die kat, -en
masculine: dieën hond, -en

A good way to learn words, is indeed to try to memorize all the new ones you come across when reading. With some conscious practice you learn to always try to think about all grammatical information. For example, if I see the sentence.

"A is een klank waarvan de uitspraak soms lang kan zijn"

...I always try to remember the gender and plural of all words.
die A, -s
dieën klank, -en
die uitspraak, -en
..Is what I repeat quietly for myself before reading on.


It is indeed hard to get an entirely new feature right, one which you haven't got in your mother tounge. In my case, that means I have troubles using different verb forms for different persons - I often make mistakes like "wij kan", so I imagine Dutch having 2-3 genders would indeed cause troubles for you guys.
:-)

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Re:

Post by Dora » Tue Jul 22, 2008 10:03 pm

Joke wrote:Great idea, Dora!
Here are the corrections and completions for your text:
Dora wrote: het onderzoek
de verdwijning
het meisje
de ouders
het meisje
de justitie
het onderzoek
de maand

het jaar
de leeftijd
de slaapkamer
het resort
de ouders
het moment
het restaurant
de buurt
de verdwijning
het de aandacht
de pers
de publiciteitscampagne
de ouders
de het bewijs
Pay attention: veel is usually not conjugated as an adjective:
de aandacht - veel aandacht
het bewijs - veel bewijs
See also this topic on veel and vele.

Onvoldoende already ends in -e so it doesn't get an extra -e either.
de aandacht - onvoldoende aandacht
het bewijs - onvoldoende bewijs

Compare this with a 'normal' adjective, slecht:
de aandacht - slechte aandacht
het bewijs - slecht bewijs

Joke

Am I correct that slaapkamer, resort, and restaurant cannot be determined from the given text? I can figure them out based on other knowledge (or may already know them), but that wasn't the point of the exercise. Some other time, I may see "het restaurant" or "een goed restaurant," so I will eventually learn the gender. If so, then "?" is the acceptable answer, but the student may try to guess de or het afterwards if curious.

I was not sure about how "veel" worked, so I sort of guessed, and "aandacht" was the one word in the entire text that I had to look up to make sure it really was a noun. "Onvoldoende" is new to me and caught me completely off guard. Thanks for the corrections. It looks like one can learn a few extra things while doing this. I take it then that "?" would be the correct answers for "aandacht" and "bewijs?" In other words, we can't tell from this text, but will have to wait for more examples to "learn" them later?

My idea is to do these very quickly, and not spend much time researching words and grammar rules, just use your existing knowledge.

(now going off to look up "onvoldoende")

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Re: De en het, and the English Brain

Post by Dora » Tue Jul 22, 2008 10:41 pm

Grytolle,

Your method sounds complicated to me. If it works for you, that's great. Your post got me thinking, though. One could go back through the same text looking for other specific grammatical elements. I suggest doing them individually, since each student has strengths and weaknesses, and so some exercises may be more helpful than others.

Some things we could look for include:
noun plurals
find the verbs
subject-verb agreement
identify verb tense

And then, if desired, a complete translation.

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Re: Re:

Post by Quetzal » Fri Jul 25, 2008 12:56 am

Dora wrote:

Am I correct that slaapkamer, resort, and restaurant cannot be determined from the given text? I can figure them out based on other knowledge (or may already know them), but that wasn't the point of the exercise. Some other time, I may see "het restaurant" or "een goed restaurant," so I will eventually learn the gender. If so, then "?" is the acceptable answer, but the student may try to guess de or het afterwards if curious.
Yes, you are.

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