Foreign students learn Dutch in Ghent this summer


A course dedicated to Flemish and Dutch culture and language takes place every summer in Ghent, and the students come from across the globe

One thing in common

Foreign students have travelled to Flanders this summer to obtain practical language experience during the Taalunie summer Dutch course. For two weeks this month, 120 students are staying in Ghent to fine-tune their Dutch skills during workshops, lectures, excursions and a visit to a company or organisation.

The summer course, now in its 63rd year, targets students who have already studied Dutch. It’s estimated that annually about 15,000 university students in the world, spread over some 175 universities in 40 countries study the language.

The course, organised by the Dutch Language Union (Taalunie) and Ghent University’s University Language Centre (UCT), attracts students from about 30 countries. “Many come from Germany, Poland and Hungary,” says co-ordinator Els Verschuere of UCT. “In various Eastern European countries, studying Dutch is considered a good way to improve your chances on the labour market.” Students also come from further away, for example from Argentina and China.

Four disciplines

Nina Stankovic is a third-year student majoring in Dutch back home in Serbia. She simply “love the language,” she says. “I had learned German before, but in the end I was more attracted to Dutch because it sounds softer. I also like to explore the diverse areas of the region’s culture: the literature, history, politics, art.”

The 21-year-old cites an interest in the Flemish Primitives in particular and hopes to work as a translator in the future.

Participants can focus on one of four domains: media & politics, literature & culture, corporate & literary translation and linguistics & didactics. In the first week, some students visit the subtitling department  of public broadcaster VRT, for instance, while others get a tour at the European Parliament. There is a workshop on journalistic writing and one on the poetry of Flemish literary giant Hugo Claus.

While they often learn Dutch from non-native speakers at home, here they interact with native speakers in a Dutch-speaking environment

- Els Verschuere

The students also meet locals by staying with a host family, explore Ghent and take a trip to The Hague in the Netherlands, where the Taalunie is based. “This way, they get to know our culture better,” explains Verschuere.

It’s Stankovic’s first time in Belgium, and she is greatly impressed by Ghent, she says. “It’s really special to walk around a place you have read and heard much about. It’s also delightful to be with people from such different backgrounds who have one thing in common: a passion for Dutch.”

The second week of the course focuses on professional language skills and includes a two-day visit at a company or organisation in Flanders or the Netherlands. This year some of the placements are at newspaper Het belang van Limburg, football club KV Oostende, language camp organiser Roeland and Art Festival Watou. Participants will attend an editorial meeting, prepare a teaching activity or guide festival visitors.

“While they often learn Dutch from non-native speakers in their home countries, here they are taught by and interact with native speakers in a Dutch-speaking environment,” says Verschuere. “We also hope they become ambassadors of Dutch, promoting our language in their home countries.”