Sunday, June 24, 2012

Why the NT2 Exam?

Today was the day I chose for the first half of the NT2 exam. Partly because it fit conveniently in an agenda full of other events like job interviews, weekends, and a friend's wedding. Partly because it was my own anniversary! It seemed fitting to celebrate my (Dutch) marriage with a Dutch exam that would bring me one step closer to belonging here.

Back in the winter I decided for sure I wanted to take this big exam. The NT2 is short for Nederlands als tweede taal, meaning Dutch as a second language (not that it was my second - I think it was my fourth or fifth.) I was already at a decent level of Dutch, but it was time to go for something more. Choosing the NT2 was practical - I have to pass some language or inburgering exam with 3.5 years of moving here, if I intend to stay. At 90 euros for the exam itself, it was also surprisingly inexpensive (at least, compared to the hundreds we have to pay for my residency permit.) Last but definitely not least, I knew studying for an exam would give me something to work towards. In the very long, very cold Dutch winters, that was a big deal.

In December I started looking for study books on second-hand web sites (tweedehands.nl and marktplaats.nl are two good ones). D and I ended up biking down toward the harbor and paying 60 euros for the Code 3 package: a theory book, a workbook, and a CD. The CD didn't work on my Macintosh, but both books were excellent.

Apparently there are different NT2 books that can be used, depending on the learning method and the level of NT2 you're going to take. I decided to go for NT2, Programma 2 - the harder one (for people planning to go into higher education or business). Other options are the NT2 Programma 1 (for a middle level of language proficiency) and the korte vrijstellingtoets (a short, middle level test that lets you "opt out" of more intensive tests.) There's also an inburgering exam that involves more hands-on work, like making a portfolio. Having lived in the Netherlands before, the korte vrijstellingtoets could have been a good option, but the NT2 (especially Programma 2) was more of a challenge for me. Plus it should look better on my CV.

One other thing. After foreigners are given (temporary) residence, they talk with an advisor about language requirements. In my case, I received a letter last year, requesting me to appear at the municipal office. Once there, a nice lady asked about my language level and explained the above language options to me. Within three and a half years of arrival in the Netherlands, I needed to fulfill one of them. The government would pay (!) Given my existing level of Dutch, she recommended the NT2. If I wanted to follow a study course, in Delft, for example, the cost of the course (and exam, I think) would be covered.

I'm not personally a huge fan of group learning. An example: the two months I spent in a cross-cultural course were torture. I was homeschooled, I get bored with inaction, I'm too much of a high achiever to sit in a class and not be challenged.... Take your pick of reasons, but please don't put me in a class.
Thankfully, the lady had another option. "You can study on your own, if that's what you prefer. When you pass the NT2 exam and show us the diplomas, you'll have completed the language requirements! ... And you'll get a few hundred euros back from the government."

That's why I'm at the test center today, ready to take on the NT2. Kaboom.

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