Science - January 10, 2008

Learning Dutch with the elders

For international students living in Holland for an extended period, there are many ways to learn Dutch. Having a native speaker correct your language informally and getting to know more about Dutch customs is something that many immigrants appreciate. Het Gilde SamenSpraak is an initiative that does just this.

Willy Woldendorp (right) and Shohreh Keshtkor meet regularly in a café so that Shohreh can practise her Dutch.
Het Gilde is a voluntary organisation of people who offer all sorts of services based on their interests and professional experience. One of their activities is SamenSpraak, literally ‘talking together’. The aim is to help people whose native language is not Dutch with their process of assimilation in an informal way. Bert van Dorsten is the coordinator of SamenSpraak in Wageningen: ‘What’s unique about SamenSpraak is that we offer individual conversation opportunities, usually in an informal setting at home or in a café. It’s a chance to talk about anything: everyday things, items of news, issues we are facing. Often real friendships emerge after a while as well. SamenSpraak is also useful for people who want to join the Dutch labour market.’

The volunteers are mostly over fifty and many have a university background: retired lecturers or partners of university staff. Willy Woldendorp is a volunteer with an international conversation partner. ‘My main reason for doing it is the social contact. I learn an awful lot, for instance about how immigrants see the Dutch. And the problems they encounter, not so much the formal problems, but things that crop up in everyday life. Our meetings are an opportunity to discuss these things. Many immigrants have left their family behind and I feel honoured that sometimes I can help fill the gap a little.’

Willy meets regularly with Shohreh Keshtkor, a molecular analyst from Iran. Shohreh: ‘We’ve been meeting since May last year. We try to get together for an hour each week, if I can spare the time from my work. We usually go and have a drink somewhere and chat. It’s relaxation for me as well as an opportunity to practise my Dutch in a quiet setting without feeling embarrassed.’

At work, and even at home with her Dutch partner, Shohreh often doesn’t get round to talking Dutch. ‘I don’t have the patience, and working at Wageningen UR everyone speaks English. Compared to other countries most people here speak good English, which of course makes things easy for me, but it means I’m not progressing with my Dutch.’ For Shohreh the sessions are not only about practising. ‘I don’t often get the opportunity to talk with older people, as my circle of friends and acquaintances is made up of young people. Willy is a bit like a grandmother for me; she often gives me advice in the way only mothers or grandmothers can. I really appreciate that!’ / Alexandra Branderhorst

Het Gilde SamenSpraak is for those who have a basic knowledge of Dutch and want to improve their spoken Dutch. For more information contact Bert van Dorsten: email('ehd','xs4all.nl'); .

Re:act