TTO IB English in the Netherlands

Timothy Hoffmann

What is TTO?

TTO means ‘bilingual education’ and is a program sponsored by the Dutch government that gives students the chance to take extra classes in a foreign language alongside their regular studies. Its overall aim is to develop linguistic ability to a very high level, and considering the real opportunities that fluency in another language can bring, it is very important to pick the right option.

There are currently two main courses available to Dutch schools for the TTO  – the International Baccalaureate and Cambridge Exams. The aim of this blog is to show that the IB is a much better option for students looking to study English, to explain the options available, and to give some tips for success.

Why IB for TTO?

Simply because no other system will offer the same holistic quality of English education. The Cambridge course, by comparison, tests for skills like Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking, resembling a conventional foreign language exam. While these skills are all important, the IB is unique in that it is designed for ‘native speakers’ and therefore goes much further in its scope, equipping students with a far superior range of skills.

The two-year IB English course is not driven by a desire merely to learn to speak the language accurately, but also to appreciate the literary uses of English that create a multitude of meanings and a rich subtext. To study English in this way requires an excellent grasp of the language but also develops a whole other set of useful abilities such as: appreciation of literary devices across a wide range of texts, analytical thinking, essay writing techniques and presentation skills.

Beyond these skills, the IB is also an appealing choice for those looking to apply for UK or US universities. The IB is an internationally recognised and respected qualification, and a good English score will convince Admissions Departments that you are more than ready to study for three years (or beyond) in an English-language course at university.

Finally, the IB is special because it encourages a real sense of global awareness in its students. The English course encourages, in the IB’s own words, ‘active engagement with language and culture and, by extension, how we see and understand the world in which we live.’ This makes the course extremely interesting and allows for interesting discussions on the uses and abuses of media, power relationships and their impact on literature, and the study of texts from all over the world.

Ok, you convinced me. Now which IB English option should I take?

There are two versions of English offered by the IB: English Language and Literature, and English Literature. The courses have a lot in common, and they both focus on the following skills:

  • a personal appreciation of language and literature
  • skills in literary criticism using a range of texts from different periods, styles and genres
  • an understanding of the formal, stylistic and aesthetic qualities of texts
  • strong powers of expression, both written and oral
  • an appreciation of cultural differences in perspective
  • an understanding of how language challenges and sustains ways of thinking

Both courses require students to write commentaries on unseen passages for Paper 1, and a general essay on texts they have studied for Paper 2. The other key features of both courses are the Individual Oral items, which help students become presenters capable either of thinking decisively in the moment, or delivering slick well-prepared presentations. This prepares you superbly for university and the world of work.

The courses do have different structures, however. Language and Literature focuses more on nonfiction texts such as articles, adverts, and graphic novels, and the course offers unique and fascinating areas of study on ‘Language in a Cultural Context’ and ‘Mass Communication’. Students are also required to submit their best written tasks from the two years of their course, as opposed to a single piece of coursework for the Literature course.

IB English Literature focuses more exclusively on the analysis of literary texts such as novels, novellas and poems, both from English-speaking authors and in translation. It teaches students the principles of literary criticism and deepens their appreciation for the use of language in shaping meaning.

Both these courses offer an excellent education in English, and the IB goes beyond basic language skills to help students become real critical thinkers. Those looking to study English or a similar humanities subject would perhaps be more suited to the Literature course, whilst those looking to improve their English generally, or study abroad, would be better placed to take the Language and Literature course.

Which level should I take?

The IB system organises subjects into two levels: Standard and Higher. For English this does not make a great deal of difference to the structure of the course but does change the number of texts you study and the amount of time spent on the course overall. This might mean studying three texts instead of four for a particular aspect of the course.

Many Dutch schools choose to do Higher Level English for the TTO, as this allows for more time, preparation, and a greater range of texts to study.

I’m already taking IB English. What are your top tips for success this exam season?

It is often said that you can’t revise for English, but this is definitely not the case! Here are my top three pieces of advice for how to succeed in English revision this year.

  1. For the Paper 1 unseen commentary, the best advice is to keep practising!! When reading a passage or poem, use different-coloured highlighters to isolate three different themes that can form the basis of paragraphs. Once you start thinking in this way and have written enough practise commentaries, you don’t even have to write them in full. When revising you can just go over new passages and practice and find three distinct areas of the poem that you could develop into great paragraphs (e.g. the use of tone, the theme of the environment, and the structure of the poem). When it comes to the actual exam, you will feel comfortable deconstructing the passage and find plenty of things to talk about intelligently. 
  2. When making any point in any essay or presentation, the IB wants you to show that you understand the meaning of the text, appreciate the literary devices it contains and display all this knowledge in a coherent way. Therefore make sure you follow the PQA approach – that is, Point, Quotation, Analysis. You should make a point (e.g. ‘throughout the poem Shakespeare uses the extended metaphor of summer as a conceit to describe the beauty of person he loves’), then back this up with a quotation (‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?) and finally provide some analysis of that specific quotation (‘the iambic pentameter of this line is highly effective since it provides a delicate rhythm that shows the nature of Shakespeare’s love’). Following this approach in any English task will really help you impress IB examiners. 
  3. Finally, get some tuition with Elite IB Tutors! A great tutor is the best possible preparation, both for your Internal Assessments and final exams. They can guide you with your Internal Assessments, making sure your points are fluent, cogent and substantiated, and in keeping with the technical requirements of the coursework. As you continue to write practice commentaries and essays, they can give you useful pointers to take your exam technique to a really high level.