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In this post, we’d like to shed some light on this system for the sake of those only considering taking to studying the language at the time of reading and later planning to take an exam. The system is described in detail on the English version of the DUO web-site, but instead of repeating some tedious details, we’d like to outline some of the facts more from the perspective of the student and his/her needs.

There are three kinds of exams in the system. The first is the so-called “inburghering” exam, which, from the language point of view, corresponds to level A2 of the Common European Framework. Above this is the NT2 Staatsexamen Niveau 1, which corresponds to B1 level, and then the same at Niveau 2, which corresponds, on paper, to the higher B2 level.

The first sort is actually necessary for those from outside the EU wishing to stay in the Netherlands for a longer period and get Dutch nationality, that is, “inburghering”, to become Dutch citizens. Until now, in order to pass, the candidate has had to, among others, choose the correct response in various more-or-less official situations, which necessitates knowledge of some laws and a lot of customs in the country. Another part involved choosing the correct responses in small everyday situation. Sadly, preparatory courses to prepare for such tasks take the form of rote-learning contests and the winners remember the most of the necessary reactions well to be able to make the correct choices on screen. From the student’s point of view, teaching is a nightmare.

Another part of the exam has been to record the opposites of words read out in the head-phone on the computer. We consider this to be very far from language use as well, still, it demands a bit more active participation than clicking choices. Preparation for such tasks is also a nightmare. Not very much better was a part where the candidate was required to re-tell and record a small story read out to him/her by the computer. This task seems to require active participation, but actually, its point is to instantly memorize and regurgitate things heard. Tiring and very testing on concentration, but not very realistic either.

Besides three central parts, this exam included a practical portfolio as well, which the candidate had to fill in with the results of actual conversations with people, often at offices of the police, or a lawyer, or in a shop, and this is where it made sense. This was the only really valuable part, except that it was sometimes possible to cheat, and preparation for it was rather half-hearted.

This system has now been changed into a five-part central test. Besides the usual four basic skills, knowledge of the Dutch society still forms a part. We must point out that preparatory courses on this level teach very little of the language, there is little language practice during lessons, so there is very little room even to understand basic Dutch grammar there. Hopefully, the new, more skill-based exam engenders more language teaching instead of rote-learning, yet, at least until this becomes the norm, perhaps within a number of years, those starting to learn Dutch from scraps are well advised to first follow a good Dutch course in their own country and learn the basic necessities, and then undertake an “inburgheringscursus”. For those with other, deeper interests, understanding and learning from a spouse is always a better option.

For those who do not need to get nationalized, but wish to learn the language and take exams, we strongly advise to avoid such courses here. Instead, they had better bring up their level to A2 in other ways and then follow a B1-level course. After sudden changes and economic downturns in the country, there is now very little state subsidy coming in the way of the participant, so you have to look carefully what you pay for. Besides, the cost of the examinations have doubled for this year, so now expect to have to pay €180 for a full NT2 exam on both levels. And that after a course already cost you a thousand or two. On the other hand, exam courses may sometimes well serve you to get you acquainted with the demands and required techniques of each part of the state exam. After you’ve already learned the language well.

For nationalization, you are not required to raise your language level above A2, that is, after the “inburghering” exam, you can simply stop and become a housewife. NT2 exams are necessary, however, if you want to follow studies. Level 1 is needed for you to follow secondary courses, to become a nurse, or cook, or the like, or to get a simple job; level 2 is necessary if you want to go to university. We are not saying that those exams are enough for those purposes, but that the paper about them are prerequisites. Institutions and work-places retain their rights to individually look at what the applicant’s language is like. But don’t worry – if you are capable of obtaining one or the other diploma, the studies you follow will take care of the further development of your language. Just do not expect anyone to teach you the language when you already follow school or university courses – you have to have a sufficient basis to succeed on your own. We have to add that, on the job market, in certain industries where there is a real shortage of highly skilled manpower, like it is with ICT turners, reasonable levels of speaking English, or German are enough to get a well-paid job.

As our experience with Level 1 is more than a year old, we are not going into details about that. That and Level 2 of NT2 is now renewed and is still in the process in that it is not yet fully computerized, but it is going to be until the end of 2013. Besides, there are only a few small differences between the tests at Level 1 and Level 2, the difference being mostly of quality and level, not of kind. However, more recent experience of others also indicate that there is a thematic difference between the two levels: on Level 1, the candidate has to switch roles or react to situations more in everyday life, simple work tasks and the like, like talk to a neighbour, or give instructions about using office equipment, or give directions somewhere; whereas on Level 2, the candidate has to read, or write about, or react to tasks and roles that require interests in higher education, like work procedures of a physiotherapist, manager of a national park, or an entrepreneur in commerce or art.

At the moment, half of the writing part of NT2 is done on paper, but it will cease to be soon, so the candidate must have ample typing skills. The timing and so the tempo of the test requires more speed than how we can type with two fingers, so be prepared to acquire this skill by all means. In both halves, there are a number of shorter tasks, like one or two sentences to be filled in an e-mail, and a couple of longer texts to be composed. As we are allowed to use dictionaries, the skills for doing that is also of importance for success. The length of each part is about one hour, so it is also a matter of perseverance.

Much more difficult is the speaking part, of which we are going to talk tomorrow along with the listening and reading part. Stay tuned if you have the interest.

By Z.J.Shen and P.S.