Science - June 10, 2004

Dutch comes in handy when you’re stuck in the elevator

Dutch is a funny language. In the Dutch class at the International Student Organisation (ISOW) international students often can’t get their tongue round Dutch words, leading to loud laughter. Nevertheless the lessons come in handy, as the students found out.

“Initially I bought things I did not intend to buy. I once came home with tomato puree instead of apple juice,” confesses George Aboagye from Ghana. His classmate from the Philippines, Arnel B. Sanchez, agrees with George that shopping is much easier when you know some Dutch. “You also need to have a little bit of Dutch to be able to integrate,” says Arnel, an MSc student in Forest and Nature Conservation. Arnel and the Greek Thanasis Psyropoulos also found that the Dutch are more helpful when you speak some Dutch. Among their Dutch fellow students however, language is not an issue.

The series of ten lessons at ISOW was given by Lisette Zewuster and Marleen Salomons, both students of international development studies. They used exercises from books and Internet sites, and also got the students to write letters. A few weeks ago they played ‘15 miljoen mensen’ in class, a recent Dutch hit song that refers to typically Dutch features. “Giving lessons in my own language made me realise that Dutch sometimes has difficult constructions. We often wondered how we were going to explain some things. But it was fun to do, especially when you hear that they’ve been able to understand someone in the street because of the lessons,” Marleen says.

The ISOW-course was meant for starters. In the lessons the emphasis was on basic skills like paying at the cash desk or ordering a beer at a pavement café. But Lisette and Marleen also taught the students how to make a pass at someone in Dutch. Students also brought up subjects. Lisette: “One student can now say in Dutch that he’s stuck in the elevator.”

Last Monday the students buckled down to the problem of word order. The students themselves consider pronunciation the most difficult part of the language. “It’s the combination of letters which form a word,” Thanasis identifies as the problem. He makes his point, referring to words such as ‘dierentuin’(zoo), ‘scheidsrechter’ (referee) and ‘lievelingskleur’ (favourite colour).

It would seem that the Dutch lessons are for go-getters only. The teachers started three months ago with two groups and a total of 45 students. By the last lesson this week the number had shrunk to only five. Thanasis: “The ones who are here want to achieve something. Many students have other things to do.” George, sneeringly: “We all have assignments to do.”

Yvonne de Hilster

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