Speaking Dutch is not a requisite for living in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, speaking it has its advantages. Why do some internationals learn Dutch in Groningen, and why do some choose not to?
Most international students in Groningen study in English. Usually, they have international friends who speak English, and they soon learn that most Dutch people speak at least some English. Nevertheless, all international students stay in Groningen for at least a few months, while many stay for years. Learning the language opens doors in the Netherlands. German-Ukrainian International Communication student Jaqueline explains: ‘people really appreciate [it] if you just try.’
There are different options to learn Dutch in Groningen. The Hanze Language Center offers courses, and free apps like Duolingo can be a starting point. Another opportunity is language cafés, such as the Taalcafé Gezellig Nederlands. This café creates a safe space, where weekly practice sessions are held for those trying to learn Dutch. People with different levels of experience come together to practice speaking the language. For Ukrainian PhD student Victor, it is an opportunity to ‘express [himself] in Dutch. ‘People are patient and speak slowly.’ Immersion is another free option for practicing Dutch, although it demands a much more deliberate effort. Jacqueline explains: ‘I was part of a student project. That’s where I learned Dutch, and that’s where it was really helpful as well. When we were in stressful situations, I always knew what was going on, even though I maybe couldn’t respond fast enough.’
I am looking for a job right now, and it would be great if I could use my Dutch for that
Students have different reasons to learn Dutch in Groningen . After participating in the student project, Jacqueline realized that: ‘it makes a lot of sense to actually learn it for professional reasons. I am looking for a job right now, and it would be great if I could use [my Dutch] for that. At the same time, it’s not [yet] good enough to survive in a professional environment.’ Avian, a recent graduate from India, explains that ‘it makes it easier to integrate and naturalize.’ For Victor, it is a matter of ‘respect for the country.’
Practicing Dutch with locals is not always easy. German International Law student Tahir explains: ‘I think there are two types of [Dutch] people: the ones that are patient and happy, and the ones that don’t have [the] time.’ Jacqueline mostly experiences people switching to English, thinking they are being ‘helpful.’ However, she remarks that: ‘I understand people do it because they want to be a little bit fast and efficient. At the same time, it makes my life a little bit harder because I have a harder time actually learning the language.’
In my first year at University, one tutorial was basically entirely in Dutch
Sasha, a physics student from Ukraine, has chosen not to learn Dutch. ‘I already struggled with learning English and didn’t want to learn another language on top of that.’ Not speaking Dutch beyond a few phrases that are important in the supermarket came with challenges. ‘In my first year at University, one tutorial was basically entirely in Dutch. I was so discouraged; I didn’t go anymore and failed the exam.’
Ada Huizing, a Dutch teacher for the Hanze Language Center, explains that learning Dutch ‘is beneficial for finding an internship. International students learning Dutch can also benefit the country, as those students might decide to stay after their studies.’
We have special Dutch for Germans courses, as the Dutch for Internationals course would be too slow for them
A complicating factor is that all international students are not alike. Rather, they have very different native languages. Ada Huizing explains: ‘For Asian students, the pronunciation and the words are really difficult. For other students, such as Germans, it goes quicker. We have special Dutch for Germans courses, as the Dutch for Internationals course would be too slow for them.’ Amongst students from the International Business School, who are required to take a foreign language, Dutch is not the most popular language. ‘Spanish is more popular, with eight classes. [In contrast,] there are two Dutch classes.’
To learn Dutch in Groningen can be difficult at times due to the language itself and the attitude of locals who speak English for convenience’s sake. As an international student in Groningen, it is not necessary to learn the language. However, learning the language is a way to connect with the local culture, find work, and make new friends.