‘Teach Dutch learners dialect,’ says language expert


A Dutch language instructor and author is asking for language to be taught differently so that students can become familiar with informal Dutch and local dialects

The language in-between

According to instructor and author Sofie Begine, Dutch language learners should be taught local dialect in addition to the standard language that dominates classes across the country. Begine is on the verge of publishing her third book, Wa zegt ge? Vlaamse spreektaal voor anderstaligen (What Did You Say? Informal Flemish for Foreign Speakers).

A language teacher in Brussels as well as the founder of Goesting in Taal (Desire for Language), a platform that provides materials related to local dialects to Dutch-language learners, Begine says that teachers being forced to teach students only standard Dutch isn’t doing them any favours.

“I get comments all the time from my students: ‘Sofie, I understand you, but when I leave the classroom, I’m completely lost’,” Begine told VRT. “‘If I hear your colleagues having a lively discussion around the lunch table, I can’t take part’.”

Dutch classes are made up of standard language only, but Begine would like to see this change. “Every Dutch course for foreigners should include a module on ‘between-language’ or dialect,” she said.

“Between-language”, known as tussentaal in Dutch, refers to mixing one’s local dialect and standard Dutch. It has long been the topic of controversy, noted Begine, with some academics finding it an abomination and others celebrating it as a way to keep dialects alive.

For her new book, Begine carried out a survey of nearly 300 Dutch language instructors. Nearly every one reported a hesitancy in their students to engage in conversation with Dutch speakers for fear of not understanding them. More than half reported that their students had asked questions about casual language and dialects.

“Something really beautiful could come out of knowing both the standard language and the ‘in-between’ language,” said Begine. “Sharing that with foreign speakers and speaking it together could have so many positive effects on integration.”