INTERVIEW: Xavier is learning Dutch with Taalthuis

INTERVIEW: Xavier is learning Dutch with Taalthuis

There was once a Frenchman, who was learning Dutch. He didn’t think it was easy. He didn’t think he was very good at it, either. And he certainly didn’t think that it was fun, or at least not as fun as visiting the Dutch cheese shops – French people do call the Netherlands the second land of cheese, after all. But he did know one thing: speaking Dutch would come in handy, if he was going to live here a while. So, he registered at Taalthuis. 

Maybe you are like Xavier. Maybe you never thought, for the life of you, that you would ever be able to understand a word of that peculiar language, spoken by only a few million people, and which, to many of us expats, kind of sounds like “drunk German” when we first hear it. Besides, doesn’t everyone in the Netherlands speak English anyway? Who really needs to know how to pronounce stuff like “Oegstgeest” (the name of a village that even Dutch people can’t say properly sometimes) or “angstschreeuw”? (Although that word literally means “cry of fear”, which is rather fitting in the context of starting Dutch lessons!)

Well, by talking to Xavier, we realize that even the most sceptical of learners can warm up to the Dutch language. Yes, Dutch is “rough on the edges”, but when you get more familiar with it, you discover its greatly logical foundations, its beautiful nuances, its interesting etymology, and you get excited, suddenly feeling much closer to the lovely inhabitants of this oh-so-flat little part of the world. But don’t try this alone at home! The Taalthuis Dutch school in Haarlem helped Xavier a lot. Maybe, they can help you, too. Let’s talk about them!

 Lucile: Hi Xavier, thank you for talking to expatsHaarlem today. First things first, can you give me a little bit of background about yourself?

 Xavier: Hi Lucile, sure! I come from a small village in the French Alps. After I completed my master’s degree in nuclear engineering, I lived and worked in Lyon, Paris and Toronto. Since 2018, I have been working as a construction project manager in the renewable energies industry. After building wind farms in France, I was offered a job in the Netherlands to come and do the same over here. My wife and I moved to Haarlem in July 2020 and so far, Dutch people have been very welcoming. We have not been able to visit a lot due to the pandemic, but I am looking forward to seeing a lot more of what the country has to offer!

L: How cool! Is it your new job that motivated you to start learning Dutch?

X: Yes and no. Most of my co-workers are Dutch, so it definitely can help streamlining the communication within the team if I speak the language, at least at a conversational level. But we also work fine in English. Mainly, I want to learn Dutch because I feel like I am missing an important part of the local culture without it. My son is born here, and if we stay here a few years, he will go to a Dutch school: I want to be able to talk to his friends!

L: He is such a cute baby! So, you are studying Dutch at Taalthuis for about a year now, right? How did you hear about this school?

X: Yes, a bit more than a year actually, I started in October 2020. A friend of mine within the French community in Haarlem took a class at Taalthuis and gave me some great feedback, so I decided to give it a go. It’s been awesome so far!

L: Can you tell me about the enrolment process? Was there an exam to test your level before deciding what class was right for you? Could you choose your teacher?

X: Well, as I was a complete beginner, verifying my level wasn’t really necessary. I registered for the beginner group class and chose the time slot that suited me (once a week in the evening, after work), and the school allocated the teacher to my group themselves. But they are very flexible, I could have switched group if I hadn’t been happy… but I was, so all is well!

L: Great to hear that you like your teacher! How about your group? Are there many nationalities represented or are you part of a French group only? What’s the study dynamic, do you all get to participate?

 X: It’s very international for sure. My classmates are French but also Russian, Turkish, British… During class, each student can participate actively and equally. Sometimes the teacher asks us questions and we reply in Dutch, other times we practice conversation in pairs or small groups. When we talk to other students during the lesson, we have to try to avoid using English as much as possible. The teacher goes from one group to the other to see how we are doing and to correct us if needed. Of course, it’s a bit different when Covid measures and the “stay at home” advice are in place.

L: Sounds fun! Oh, talking about the Covid-19 measures… How well did Taalthuis adapt to the pandemic in your opinion? Did they provide a safe environment in which you could learn? 

X: Absolutely! I find the adaptation to coronavirus has been very good: first they implemented proper distancing and ventilating in the classrooms, then organized online classes via Zoom as the number of Covid cases rose in the country. I felt very safe, and the quality of the teaching did not suffer at all from the new setup!

L: That’s good to know. Regarding the course itself, what study material do you use? Did Taalthuis provide you with everything you needed or did you have to buy books, etc.? What are your favourite exercises and the parts you find more difficult?

X: We have two books, one focusing on grammar and another one which includes all the exercises and vocabulary we use during the group sessions. Furthermore, we have access to an e-learning space on the Taalthuis website, where we find a summary of our lessons, interactive exercises, stuff like that. Everything was included in the price of the course. I really enjoy reading Dutch and practicing pronunciation (“uitspreken” in Dutch! Did I say that right? See, I am good, haha). I guess what I like a bit less is grammar; especially those prepositional verbs that sometimes split, sometimes don’t… what’s up with that?

L: Haha, yes, I know, those verbs are a nightmare. How long is your weekly class by the way? Do you get homework and periodical exams?

 X: The group lesson lasts 2h15 every week. Then, the students are expected to do an additional 5 hours a week of homework. Regularity is key to language learning! We do not have formal grades nor exams like in school; however the teacher does track our progress during the lessons by asking us questions.

L: You seem perfectly satisfied overall! Would you say the Dutch classes at Taalthuis are good value for money and would you recommend this school to other students? 

X: To be honest, my work is financing most of the course for me, so I am not too bothered about the cost. But nonetheless, I think it’s a fair price for everything we are getting and the kindness and availability of the teachers. Plus, I made rapid progress, I am at the higher intermediate level now already. So, I would definitely recommend Taalthuis to other international students!

L: Thank you so much Xavier for all this information! To conclude, let’s hear some more of that wonderful pronunciation of yours: could you tell me a few of your favourite Dutch words or expressions? What do you like about them, and in what context do you use them?

 X: You know, I am French, so most of my favourite Dutch has something to do with food! I love to say “heel lekker” (very delicious) and “eet smakelijk” (enjoy your meal) for instance. When I go to a restaurant, I try to talk to the waiters in Dutch; I think “mag ik betalen” (can I pay) is so cute! As if they would not give you the permission to give them your money, haha! Oh, and obviously “kaas” (cheese) is one of the best words out there!

L: This was great, thanks again! I leave you now to be with your adorable baby son, take care and see you next time!

X: Thank you and yes, à bientôt!

Interview with a sceptic Frenchman learning Dutch at Taalthuis.

Xavier learning Dutch

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