Native speakers volunteer as coaches
International staff meets up online to practice their Dutch
Native speakers are often surprised when they hear Qing Gong, who works as a student counsellor at the Student Service Centre, speak Dutch. ‘They say they can hardly detect my accent’, says Qing, whose first language is Chinese.
Qing took her first Dutch class about ten years ago, but she noticed ‘real progress’ only when she deliberately started speaking Dutch with her colleagues. ‘I can’t really write policy articles, but emails and communication with Dutch students and colleagues are no problem.’
When the coronavirus forced her office to move online, Qing missed interacting with people. ‘I missed the Dutch environment and I really wanted to practice my Dutch.’ When she found out about the Leer Beter Nederlands online conversation meetings organised by Dual-Career Support, she joined the group of a Dutch language coach and three internationals. Six months later, Qing is satisfied with the result. ‘It helps me keep up my proficiency level.’
Free of charge
‘It started as an initiative to connect internationals with each other during the lockdown’, says Dual-Career Support project leader Harrianne ter Meer. ‘We place them into small groups, so they can have informal conversations in Dutch with each other and with a native speaker of Dutch.’ The native speakers volunteer as language coaches, so all activities are free of charge.
To join in, people need to be able to speak Dutch on a conversational level, which is around A2 or B1. ‘It’s not a lesson, so we focus on speech and pronunciation instead of grammar’, says language coach Silvia Huisman, who also works as an education counsellor at the university. ‘We’re not teachers, but we like language and we enjoy making people enthusiastic about learning Dutch.’
‘The day before the meeting our coach usually sends us a topic for discussion, but we always end up talking about something completely different’, chuckles Floriane Wittner. It was only a year ago that she followed her boyfriend to Groningen from France. As the partner of a UG staff member, she joined the Dual-Career Support meetings and wasted no time boosting her Dutch. ’I had already studied Dutch at my university around ten years ago, so I wanted to pick it up again’, says Floriane.
Do the meetings help her to improve her proficiency level? ’Definitely. We speak French at home and I speak French at work, so now at least once a week I get to speak Dutch’, she says. ‘I really try to practice it as much as I can. I feel it is the only way to integrate into life here.’
Qing agrees that immersing into a Dutch-speaking environment helps to break the language barrier. ‘People are afraid of making mistakes, but that’s the only way to learn the language. Once you get into the flow, you focus on the fact that you can communicate and that is motivating.’
International staff and their partners can now register for a new round of the weekly Dutch conversation meetings organised by Dual-Career Support.