Nieuws - 4 december 2008


Wageningen University is internationally orientated and English is the working language. However, some international students and staff do decide to learn Dutch, like Anna Finkers-Tomczak. Others don’t. Like Jeremy Harbinson.

Dr. Jeremy Harbinson from Northern Ireland. Teacher at the Horticultural Supply Chain Group of Wageningen University, in the Netherlands since 1990.

Are you planning to stay?
‘When I came here first, I had a background where people tended to move around a lot, doing post docs everywhere. But though I didn’t expect that I would end up staying here, I did. It is like meeting someone casually and then, later, ending up married to them.’

Did you try to learn Dutch?
‘For two years I followed a Dutch course, but that was not focused on conversational language use. Nonetheless I think my comprehension of written Dutch has become reasonably good. I can read letters from the municipality, a quality newspaper like NRC Handelsblad and even Resource.’

Do you try to speak Dutch?
‘When I go out shopping, yes, and if people speak to me in Dutch I will answer in what I pretend is Dutch. When I go out, the Dutch people I meet mostly like to speak English, which they are relatively good at. Even a conversation that starts in Dutch will often rapidly change into English. Of course this may just be an act of desperation by the long-suffering Dutch. You need to be very patient to teach someone a language and I doubt that it is many people’s idea of a good night out.’

Why do you find it difficult to converse in Dutch?
‘Social situations are more challenging. When you are quite good at one language it can be stressful to find yourself conversing on the level of a two-year-old in another. Also there is a gap between formal and spoken Dutch. Pronunciation is also a problem for me because of the diversity of vowel sounds in Dutch. If you have to repeat a word over and over again it becomes very embarrassing. Possibly I am also a bit lazy.’

At the university you don’t need Dutch at all?
‘When you work at Wageningen University you work in an international environment, and that is a great thing. Everybody speaks and works in English. When I worked in France it was quite different: many of the older people spoke no English, so speaking French was essential.’

Anna Finkers-Tomczak, MSc, from Poland. PhD student at the Laboratory of Nematology of Wageningen University, in the Netherlands since 2003.

Why did you decide to learn Dutch?
‘In 2004 I met my Dutch husband. And his father doesn’t speak any English. After five minutes of walking through the zoo with my father-in-law, just smiling, I decided to learn Dutch. Now I’m the one who maintains contacts with the in-laws. Because something went wrong with my registration, I couldn’t start at the ROC until 2006. So I started with home study, using material from
– but that was mainly reading and listening.’

Did you find it difficult to learn Dutch?
‘I was always quite good at my own language, and I like writing and reading, so I am a language person. But it’s not just about language; I learned a lot more than that on the ROC course, both from the texts and from the teacher and other people. I gained a lot of background information about history and politics. When I watch TV now, for example, I know what Prinjesdag is. That makes it all more interesting and easier to follow.’

Is it useful in your work?
‘At the university everyone speaks good English, but if most of your colleagues are Dutch they will soon switch to Dutch in the coffee break. And now I can join in. Some¬times I can even surprise my Dutch collea¬gues with something I’ve seen on TV that they don’t know about. That’s very funny.’

What’s your advice to international students and staff?
‘If you live somewhere for more than a few months, it is always good to learn the language. It enriches you and changes your relationships with people. Even when you go to the bank or the doctor, you notice that people express themselves more fluently in their mother tongue, and are more open. It gives me a good feeling that I come to understand the society better and better. By speaking another language, you also learn to think in another way. This is good stimulation for your brain, and broadens your perspective – just like traveling.’

‘We always get quite a few staff and students of Wageningen University who want to learn Dutch, especially people who are staying here for a while as PhD students or Postdocs. They are often really motivated’. Says Kitty Ott, who teaches Dutch as a Foreign Language (NT2) at the regional education centre ROC A12 in Wageningen. The courses (which are taught in the evenings) range from beginners level to preparation for the Dutch state examination. One of Ott’s ex-students who recently passed the state exam at the highest level is Anna Finkers-Tomczak.
For information, call ROC A12: 0317 420787 or mail email(servicepunt,;