As an expat moving to a new country, learning the local language or at least some notions of it usually is one of the first concerns – right after having sorted out the important stuff actually essential to life, such as finding accommodation or identifying which shops sell good cheese and wine, of course. Newcomers to the Netherlands will be no exception to the rule.
Sure, most Dutchies speak near perfect English but that doesn’t make them any less attached to their native tongue. Indeed, one quickly realises upon arrival here that a minimum level of conversational Dutch is highly appreciated by locals, even strongly ‘encouraged’ (this is a huge euphemism, beware), within professional and personal spheres alike.
When it comes to Dutch classes though, they often can be quite overwhelming. There is a plethora of language schools and private teachers out there, not to mention language applications and online courses… all often costing a little more than what you feel comfortable spending to learn to pronounce words like arbeidsongeschiktheidsverzekering.
Are you looking to improve your Dutch but aren’t sure what the best option for you is? Well, expatsHaarlem is here to help you figure it all out. We reached out to one of the students of the Taalthuis Dutch school in Haarlem to ask about their personal experience, to provide you with new insights that will hopefully guide you in your search of the right fit!
Lucile: Hi Camille, thank you for your time. Let’s start with some background, could you tell me a bit about yourself? What brought you to the Netherlands?
Camille: Hello! So, about myself, I was born and grew up in Luxembourg, then moved to Cologne in Germany to study History and English. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree last year, in 2020, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic I did not stay in Cologne. Instead, I went home to Luxembourg to write my bachelor’s thesis remotely. As I was there, I reconnected with my now-boyfriend, whom I met 8 years ago in France. We started talking a lot, and it was going very well, so I decided to come to the Netherlands in April 2020 to finish my thesis and wait out the spring lockdown here in Haarlem with him. I really like the Dutch people, they are so friendly and open, and I guess I really like my boyfriend too, so that’s why I am still here!
L: Ah, nice, a love story! What motivated you to start learning Dutch then? Was it your boyfriend?
C: No, he is British and doesn’t speak any Dutch. For me, wanting to learn Dutch quickly had more to do with my professional circumstances. After I finished my thesis and completed my studies last summer, I started looking for a job. The first few vacancies I applied to all turned me down because I did not speak Dutch, which pushed me to enrol in a Dutch course at Taalthuis to increase my chances. I thought, if I am going to live and work here for the foreseeable future, it cannot be a waste of time to learn to speak the language, can it?
L: Definitely not! And how did you hear about Taalthuis? What made you choose this school?
C: I just browsed for language schools in Haarlem online and Taalthuis struck me as the most welcoming one. It seemed to be a friendly, ‘good vibes’ kind of place, with people from all over the world, which is nice. You learn Dutch in a fun way, the classes bring a truly social and participative experience.
L: So, you started your course at Taalthuis in November 2020, right? What kind of classes do you take there?
C: Yes, that’s correct. I attend a group lesson, once a week in the evening. At first, we were having the classes face-to-face – with appropriate distancing, of course – but at the beginning of December we switched to Zoom classes.
L: You’re now four months down the road, how much better would you say your level of Dutch has gotten compared to when you started the classes?
C: Well, to be fair, I speak German, so Dutch is easier for me to learn than for other foreign students. Still, I think that studying at the school has really helped accelerate my progress. Before joining Taalthuis, I was already able to read Dutch perfectly, but understanding or speaking it was another story. I started the course directly in the intermediate group and I improved fast! Now I can understand about 80% of what people say, I can watch movies and have entire conversations in Dutch, and I am also much more knowledgeable about the grammar. There is still some way to go, however, and I wouldn’t say I am fully fluent yet. Practice makes perfect!
L: About the course specifically, what are your favourite parts/exercises and what do you find the most difficult?
C: I enjoy the grammar exercises the most because written Dutch comes very easy to me. It’s fluid, straightforward. On the other hand, I find it hard to pronounce the words correctly, and that often leads to misunderstandings in communication. For this reason, the speaking exercises are for me the toughest, but of course at the same time, the most important. Pronunciation practice is where I need to concentrate my efforts. Luckily, we do a lot of it!
L: You seem happy with the course, let’s talk about your overall satisfaction with the school. Do you feel like Taalthuis is correctly addressing your individual needs and assisting your progress?
C: Absolutely! They were and are really helpful – not just with language learning but also with other things related to my integration in the Netherlands. For example, they supported me when I was searching for a job and gave me some great guidance. Besides, the teachers are people-oriented, patient and caring. They always make sure everyone in the class understands everything in a lesson before moving on to the next subject. I think this is fantastic because Dutch can sometimes be a frustratingly complicated language, and some students might give up if the learning does not remain accessible and enjoyable. Personally, I can get a bit bored when a topic is repeated over and over again, but I get why the teachers do it. And it’s working: we are all getting better.
L: Maybe it’s time for you to move up a level then, if it has become too easy! Next question: would you say that the Dutch classes at Taalthuis are good value for money and would you recommend this school to other international students?
C: Yes, I already recommended the school to two of my friends, actually. I think it is very good value for money, especially for university students with limited budgets.
L: Do you have some opportunities to speak Dutch outside of your Taalthuis classes? If yes, in what situations?
C: I work at Krauthammer International, as part of the marketing team. Our company offers sales and leadership trainings in many different countries and in several languages, which is amazing for people like me who thrive in multi-cultural environments. I love the Krauthammer spirit and I get to practice my Dutch there, with colleagues and even clients.
L: Great! Before I let you go, could you tell me what is your favourite Dutch word or expression?
C: I love the expression ‘kiplekker’ when you’re feeling good because how awesome is it to feel ‘chicken delicious’!?
L: Wat gezellig. Thank you so much again for your answers Camille. I wish you all the best with your future Dutch endeavours!
C: Thank you, it was my pleasure, good luck to you too.
If you want to learn Dutch in small groups with our partner Taalthuis, you can get a 5% expatsHaarlem readers’ discount for a course!
Get a 5% expatsHaarlem readers’ discount for a course of Taalthuis, just make sure to put the code XPTSHRLM15 in the ‘remarks’ field