Learning English in the Netherlands: an expat adventure

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Louise Heller, a teacher at UvA Talen, shares some insights on learning English in Amsterdam, where she teaches students from all over the world.

People often forget one of the reasons why many students and expats come to the Netherlands. It’s to learn English.

I teach students from all over the world who have come to Amsterdam specifically to study English, and there is a whole spectrum of backgrounds and personal stories which lead people here.

Different reasons for learning English

Some people learn English to enhance their university studies. Some already have a career and want to improve their professional English to make themselves more employable internationally. Others simply want to meet people and make friends more easily.

Whatever their reason, all students have one thing in common: their determination to progress further in their English learning, whether for use in an academic, professional or social environment.

English in the Netherlands

English is widely spoken in the Netherlands thanks to the country’s small size, its long trading history and its international outlook.

The Dutch place great value on speaking foreign languages, such as English and German, to such an extent that it has become quite normal for the majority of the population.

Students start learning English in primary school and many university programmes are offered in English to make them more globally accessible.

Additionally, all foreign television programmes are subtitled instead of dubbed, which means that the Dutch gain a lot of exposure to English from a very early age.

A great destination to learn English

All the above factors make the Netherlands an excellent base for learning English.

As it is, English is already widely spoken in cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, where hundreds of international companies and organisations use it in daily business, which attracts expats from all over the world.

University towns like Leiden and Utrecht are also home to large English-speaking student communities.

Starting a new life

When you move to a city like Amsterdam to learn a new language it is very important to make yourself feel at home while you are studying.

This isn’t always easy as you will often find yourself in a foreign environment without a friendship network or routine to give your life structure.

How to feel at home while studying English

Making a new friend or two, and establishing a daily routine, are some of the best ways to start feeling at home in your new city.

Fortunately language schools offer a wide variety of courses that can provide as much (or as little) structure as you need: from intensive classes five days a week, to less demanding classes one or two evenings per week.

What’s more, many language classes have a cosy atmosphere, with encouraging teachers and students who are open to sharing their experiences and to meeting new people.

A supportive learning environment

At the language school where I work, the teaching staff and office environment make all students feel very welcome. There is a friendly buzz when you walk in the door.

The group lessons provide a chance for students to bond together and to meet people of all nationalities. So on the one hand, students attend lessons which are structured around their linguistic needs, and on the other there is the cultural aspect, which can be really fun and often leads to friendships outside the classroom.

The one-to-one lessons give students the opportunity to work in depth with a teacher and to focus specifically on those aspects of the English language which need particular support.

Touching moments

During the classes I teach, I experience a lot of heart-warming moments. These include students bringing in home-made biscuits or cakes, sharing personal stories in the classroom, offering to host a classmate who is staying in a hotel or not wanting the course to end.

Last but not least, I love seeing the "Aha" look on my students’ faces when they grasp a difficult point in grammar (the Conditionals! Groan…), or a complex phrasal verb or when they are finally able to say a seemingly unpronounceable word perfectly.

The adventure of language-learning

Learning a new language is not only about communicating in a new way, it’s also about opening your mind to the world and to connecting with people from other countries.

If you move to a city like Amsterdam to learn a language then you are leaving your comfort zone and taking a risk to try something new. And that is the real adventure of language learning!

Louise Heller works for UvA Talen, the independent language centre of the University of Amsterdam. Their fast-paced courses help students make rapid progress learning English, Dutch and nine other languages.

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Louise Heller


Louise Heller

Louise is an English teacher at UvA Talen. She was born in London and has lived in several countries, including USA,Sweden, Kenya and Mexico. Since 2013, she has been residing...

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