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Holland: 'I feel like I ought to learn Dutch'

28 April 2012, 00:00

Learning Dutch is popular amongst international students: 35 percent of international students decide to follow one of the Dutch classes the Language Centre offers at Tilburg University.

Learning Dutch is popular amongst international students: 35 percent of international students decide to follow one of the Dutch classes the Language Centre offers at Tilburg University. Students admit it takes a reasonable amount of time and effort, but it makes the international experience more fulfilling.

"Learning Dutch is not essential or compulsory, but it is always nice to surprise Dutch people by saying a few sentences in their language. It kind of shows that you are trying your best to adapt to local ways", says Ng. Swee Shoon, a business management student from Singapore.

He has been in Holland for two months now, and is participating in 'Dutch one', for which he studies five hours a week. In this Dutch class, much time is spent on practical everyday situations. "If I wanted to, I could order 'een broodje met kaas', but I prefer sandwiches with peanut butter instead of cheese", he says with a smile.

Pronouncing the letter 'g' turned out to be difficult for the Singaporean student. "For instance, when we practice the word 'Goedemorgen', 'Goodmorning' in English. I also tend to make mistakes in the order of the words in a sentence; because my first language is English (second is Chinese-Mandarin), I tend to copy the English way of constructing sentences.

Although students say it's hard to learn Dutch, Tjits Roselaar says it's a popular misconception that the Dutch language is exceptionally difficult to learn. Roselaar coordinates Dutch classes for the language centre, and teaches a few herself. She explains that the difficulty depends on a few factors.

"First, it is very helpful if a student has learned a foreign language before. Then you have already been through the process of learning a language. Students from the UK and America sometimes haven't been in touch with any foreign language before, because it is not compulsory at secondary schools over there", says Roselaar.

Another issue is that learning Dutch is more difficult for Asian students because there is such a big difference between Asian and European languages. The main difficulty is that European languages are based on the alphabet, while Eastern scripts are based on characters. To approach the needs of students in the best possible way, the language centre offers differentiated courses, 'Dutch for International Students', 'Dutch for Asians' and the intensive 'Dutch as a second language'.

"I want to learn Dutch, because I almost feel like I ought to when I am going to stay here for three years", says Wenhe Wu, an International Economics and Finance at Tilburg University student from China. "Learning a country's local language is more than learning how to write and speak, it is also part of a country's culture and history and stuff."

Roselaar confirms this: "I think you go home with a cultural business-card, and language is an important part of that. Family and friends at home often see these students as 'Dutch experts', and so it would be nice for them if they were able to actually speak some Dutch as well."

Practice is always the key word when learning another language. But in an international environment, that is not always easy for international students. "Some students complain a little about the international environment", Roselaar points out. "Because everything is highly organized, and many live in a building with other international students, the possibilities to practice Dutch are reduced."

For this reason, the language centre tries to challenge the students with a lot of 'real life' exercises. Roselaar: "We send the students outside the safe campus walls to practice. Homework may include getting to know your Dutch neighbours, or calling a travel agency with a few question about specific trips."

Elena Perekotiy is a Russian International Law student at Tilburg University, and she is taking the intensive 'Dutch as a second language' classes. "For me it was a bit of an idealistic thing, I really wanted to learn good Dutch in a short period of time", Perekotiy says.

She is taking her classes seriously, although she doesn't think she will benefit much from speaking Dutch in the future. "Although sometimes people don't understand my decision, I never regret all the time I spend on practicing the Dutch language", she says. Ng. Swee Shoon is also really enthusiastic about the Dutch courses, despite all the time it takes. "It makes the exchange period more fulfilling; I recommend it to everyone!" [Marlin de Bresser].

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