On the language barrier in Netherlands

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For international students the verdict seems clear, writes UCU student Claudia Ionita. You either learn Dutch or settle for a bleak extracurricular life.

At first, it is enough. You don’t notice it and on the rare occasions when you do, you always manage to get by. But sooner or later you do reach a point where it becomes more and more difficult to ignore: the language barrier.

While on a day-to-day basis you can easily survive without speaking a word of the wondrous yet somewhat difficult to pronounce Dutch language, if you are interested in any long term or more serious involvement, you might find yourself in linguistic hot water. From volunteering to internships, there seem to be little to no options suitable for international students.

To a certain degree, it is understandable: a country should not have to rewire its entire job market just to appeal to an overall small fraction of foreigners. But at the same time, it is discouraging, especially for students who seek to build some working experience during their academic tenure.

Even institutions which would seem to be more international in nature, such as museums, do usually require fluency in Dutch. A rather surprising case, which deserves a mention in the Exclusivity Hall of Fame, is that of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Although it boasts an impressive number of foreign visitors, this particular institution offers volunteering possibilities only to those who possess Dutch citizenship.

Under such circumstances, the verdict seems to be clear: you either learn Dutch (possibly a Dutch passport will also magically drop from the sky and land on your front door) or settle for a bleak extracurricular life.

If you are indeed determined to go the extra mile and learn Dutch, you are going to be met yet again with some potential disappointments. Learning Dutch is not an easy task, and a language course doesn’t necessarily make it easier. Many beginner courses use Dutch-made textbooks, such as De opmaat which although rich in exercises and examples, do not seem to have been made with the thought of an actual foreign student in mind. Specifically, the grammar explanations and the task for the exercises are in Dutch, with no translation provided. Immersion is indeed a good strategy for learning a new language, but not necessarily advisable for a complete beginner.

Moreover, completing an entire language course (at least for a UCU student like myself) can be difficult, as the timeslot of the three language modules which comprise the full course often clash with other classes required for your major. For instance, you might take a Beginner Dutch course in the Spring semester of your first year and be able to continue it with the more advanced versions only one year later.

In the past few years, Dutch universities have done a terrific job when it comes to attracting international students. But, in order to genuinely convince foreigners to stay, you also need to provide them with opportunities to not only acquire the language but also become involved in various aspects of Dutch society while still not mastering the language.

 

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