Utrechters need to talk to Utrechters

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 Utrecht language for young and old

For more than 30 years Taal Doet Meer has been working promoting the teaching of the Dutch language to new, non-native Utrecht, young and old, to help them to participate in Utrecht society.

Learning the Dutch language is a common thread in all their work. After all, language is needed to find a job, talk to your children’s teacher, go to the doctor, work with a computer or to do your homework. They encourage foreign speakers in Utrecht to learn and thus enable mutual encounters between Utrechters of all races and cultures. Language connects Utrechters and they connect Utrechters with language using around 900 volunteers!

Taal Doet Meer

Go into the conversation with new TALKS

Taal Doet Meer has launched newly developed material for this engagement. This is a collection of eleven cards with stories about traditions and rituals, self-articulated and illustrated by Utrechters from different corners of the world. It has been developed to create encounters in an approachable way and to help people to enter into conversation with one another, with your neighbours, your colleagues, in a language café or in a language lesson. To get to know more about each other and to practice the language in this way.

If you would like to become an Utrecht language volunteer come to the workshop being held on November 1st. Volunteers who want to work with them can arrange to meet with one of their language consultants. You can make an appointment via taalconsulent@taaldoetmeer.nl

Taalcafé Kanaleneiland

We recently reported that in addition to their language cafés in Overvecht, Lombok and Vleuten-De Meern, Kanaleneiland is now a language café richer! Taal Doet Meer organizes a language café every Tuesday from 15: 00-17: 00 in the Kanaleneiland Library. There you can join in with the volunteers every week.

Taal Doet Meer

Utrechters talk with Utrechters

The dream of Taal Doet Meer is that all Utrechters talk to each other. They need you to realize their dream. Because it is not self-evident that Dutch-speaking and non-native Utrecht residents actually meet. That is why, in addition to language coaching, they organize various activities where people can engage in conversation with non-native Utrecht residents.

The ‘Utrechters talk with Utrechters’ event at the beginning of the month, was the start of a movement that aimed to make Utrecht residents aware of the role that they as a citizen, neighbour, colleague or employer, can have with a foreign speaker. They can show how you can do a lot for someone with very little effort. Meeting and language are so important in this. This movement stimulates contact with foreign speakers of Utrecht. Taal Doet Meer will be doing this by organizing similar events twice a year. If you are also proud of the cultural diversity of Utrecht and believe, as Taal Doet Meer do, that encounters between people from different backgrounds leads to greater solidarity and understanding in the city then this is the initiative for you.

‘Speaking Utrechters with Utrechters’, organized by Movares Foundation and Taal Doet Meer showed that getting together is all important. Fifty Dutch-speaking and fifty foreign-speaking Utrechters met each other. They shared good food, surprising encounters and exchanged knowledge and stories: if you engage with foreign-speaking fellow citizens they can offer you a fresh perspective on their background, expertise and approach. Conversely, you can help with your own network, expertise and knowledge.

Contact upmu@taaldoetmeer.nl if you would like to be invited to the next network event.

Taal Doet Meer

I asked Melissa Romani of Taal Doet Meer:

Where did the idea for the Language cafés come from?

“Immigrants have their language courses, but at the end only a combination with language use in practice makes someone better at it and more comfortable. Therefore you have to know locals. Because it’s not that easy for everyone, we started taalcafés in several neighbourhoods, working together with other local organisations. The focus is on meeting people, being curious to know about each other and have conversations. In the taalcafe locals can come together whenever it suits them. They meet people from other cultures and help them practice the language.

We start with a game to warm up the ambiance and “break the ice.” Whenever they don’t know what to talk about, there are some games, theme cards etc to get some inspiration and then start off a new conversation.”

Who funds taalcafés?

“All taalcafés are funded differently. Some by the local government, or by a fund and some by donations.”

Do you need financial support from the public?

“Yes. Sometimes to print materials. Buy participants coffee and tea, and for training the volunteers.”

So, if you cannot donate your time to this worthwhile cause as a volunteer, what about a financial donation to help support their work?

This is obviously important as a way to help people to integrate, what other things should be done?

“Everybody should be aware of their own role in the inclusion and integration of people from abroad. First: they shouldn’t always speak English just to help or make the other one feel easy or comfortable. Then the person learning Dutch will never be able to develop the new language and it will be even harder to change and maybe find a job, talk to their kids teacher or help their children with their homework.”

Are immigrants reluctant to learn Dutch?

“Yes, but it is important to do so. A lot of immigrants think they will stay for a short period, but what often happens is that years go by and they are still here and have never started learning the Dutch language. We have a lot of participants that come to us now to look for help. But their environment is also important for them to develop. It is important to build a Dutch network. But it’s difficult. Dutch people are very open, interested and welcoming to a certain point. Making friends with a deeper layer is harder. Entering their homes, or getting invited, becoming friends… it’s not always easy. Only if you meet each other in a place with common themes can this move forward. So, networking and making Dutch people aware of this is also a challenge. That’s why we organise a lot of events and network evenings so that people from different cultures and Dutch people can get to know each other and step out of their own bubble.”

Are English speakers reluctant to learn Dutch?

“Yes. A lot don’t try to learn when they have a job in an international company or their kid goes to an international school. The ones who come to us are often the wife or partner of… so the husband got a job in an international company and the wife hasn’t found anything yet and wants to widen her opportunities. They also feel more isolated and insecure of what they used to be good at. Their confidence drops and it’s even harder for them to promote themselves.”

What more could the community do to help with integration?

“We should all be aware of the role we can have when in the contact with others. The effect of communication is vital. Try to help by meeting each other, have conversations, use the Dutch language.”

Open your door.

“Not only to help in learning the language but in helping them to find their way in the country or city or professional career. Having a network is one of the most important things to help people to integrate and to feel independent. And feel confident, healthy (mentally) and happy. That’s why doing voluntary work is so interesting: learning about people and practicing the language is so important.”

On a personal level Melissa thinks that companies should also be open to diversity and inclusion and should instigate a mission to promote this.

“They should open up their vacancies to immigrants that could normally not come through their doors because of the lack of language skills or where on their cv their experience is abroad. They need to give chances, dare to take risks to coach people looking for a job in their branches.”

“Our experience is that the language improves very quickly in a few short weeks especially if they know they are going to work somewhere. And just because people don’t speak Dutch fluently doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in things around them. They may well have knowledge that at first sight doesn’t come out because of their lack of language skills. We are overlooking vast potential. That’s why we started a website where some of our participants looking for a job have posted their profile. There you can find  talented candidates, contact them and help them with a tip or post a vacancy.  See www.krachtvinder.nl

Melissa is adamant that:

We should start with everyone and everywhere, with parents, children, at work, in the local neighbourhood, at school, everywhere!

Would you like to support the work of Taal Doet Meer with your time, expertise or  perhaps a practical donation such as laptops, books, coffee, or even pencils as everything would help them. If you can afford to, why not give a financial donation? You’re welcome to  contact Taal Doet Meer through melissa@taaldoetmeer.nl

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Jon Wilkins

Jon Wilkins

Jon Wilkins is Welsh and lives in England. He is a writer. A Europhile and Remainer, he is a regular visitor to Utrecht and has set his crime novel series in the city.

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