Alternatives to getting to grips with Dutch?

With the Dutch government proposing that language proficiency and citizenship be linked I thought it might be time to look at some alternative ways of getting to grips with Dutch.

My own experience of delving into Dutch began 11 years ago and is still ring marked by memories of lists of words that seemed full of vowels. Despite living here for some time, and being able to speak and read Dutch, I still say I cannot write it. I regret this deficiency and wish I had a more rounded grasp of the language I live with.

With this in mind I was interested in exploring alternatives to learning Dutch, and to breaking down the barriers to experiencing the culture that underpins the language. The ability to speak a language does not prove cultural competency, nor does it have any connection to the level of comfort we feel in living here.

Recently I had an experience that I think makes a wonderful addition to the traditional inburgering and language learning process. I wonder if it is something we could consider on a wider scale so that more expats get to feel at home here?

I was invited to attend a performance of traditional Dutch country dance and songs. What made the experience interesting was the setting of an old peoples' home and community centre in Amsterdam.

I was charmed with the presentation of the Dutch dances, songs and traditional costumes. All the performers were there on a Sunday afternoon voluntarily. They were very proud of the quality of their performance and had hand made and stitched all their costumes.

All of this give me a fascinating insight into Dutch history and help explain how life has developed here over the years.

Part of the afternoon was also sharing coffee and the obligatory biscuit with the audience, and this is where I was forced to speak Dutch - and not be shy about it! There was no worrying about getting it right, I just had to talk, and the old folk were delighted to help me out and appreciated my attempts to speak to them.

It was also fascinating to hear the audience talk about their memories and experiences - and it was this interaction that gave me a far clearer idea of Dutch culture, history and sociology than any inburgering course could ever achieve.

If you want to feel at home in Holland I would thoroughly recommend reaching out to all aspects of the local community. Talk to people, find out about their experiences, their history and their memories. This may bring you a far deeper insight into Holland than you could imagine and may help you understand what makes this nation tick.

The best thing of all is that this knowledge is all on your doorstep - and its free.

So take the step into an alternative inburgering process. Find the Dutch culture that surrounds you and jump into it with curiosity and an open mind. Understanding your neighbours will help you feel at home in Holland, and if you can show you are at least trying to understand their culture and history they may overlook your struggles with the language in the process!

Sally Edwards


Sally Edwards



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