Belgium has three official languages. Living in the north of the country – you speak Dutch, living in the south – you speak French, living close to the German border – you speak German. Bruges is in the north part of Belgium, so I living here, learned Dutch. Is it hard to speak this language? How long does it take to learn it to the point of speaking? Where did I go to school? How did I like it in general?
First of all I think it’s necessary to learn the language of the country you live in. While lots of people think that English is enough, because everywhere you go everyone speaks English better or worse, the official language of country is anyway better received. People will look at you differently at lots of places (bank, city hall, post office, shops) if you attempt to try to speak their language. I don’t know maybe they even respect you a little more, just because you’re trying. Here in Bruges it’s not that much of a big deal, because this town if full of tourists. And yet I still learned the language. I felt like it’s absolutely needed for living here. If you’re planning to stay for a while of course, if you only come for 2-3 years then maybe you could survive with English only. But even then, go to school and starts Dutch course, just because it may be very interesting.
I believe there are lots of schools around to learn Dutch (it’s called Dutch for foreigners) wherever you live in Belgium. Here in Bruges I went to SNT school, based on Arsenaalstraat in the center of the town. They teach different languages there and not only. You could find cooking class, photography class, business managing class etc. They have day courses and evening courses, I will focus on the evening ones, because I attended those.
Dutch class has 10 levels. Level 7 and 8 finish with an exam (7 – oral and 8 – writing), afterwards you could get a paper that allows you to go and study on University here or College.
First 6 levels are the base, I would say. After them you could speak Dutch on a certain level, you know most of the necessary grammar and lots of vocabulary. Levels 1-6 you can attend at the regular tempo courses (one semester = one level – if you attend in the evenings like me) or the fast one, as I did (one semester = two levels – if you attend in the evenings). You go to school twice per week and spend there around 3.5 hours. Classes start at 18:00, finish at 21:30 – 21.45, depending on the level. Around 20:00 there is a 10-15 minutes break. Many people finish their Dutch course after level 6. However I recommend to go further.
Levels 7 and 9 are focused on speaking, levels 8-10 on writing. Each level takes one semester and in evening system there is no possibility to make it faster. Some people do two levels at once, but that may not be possible due to the weekly schedule. Normally you go to school once per week, some weeks twice per week, but you have a lot of exercises to make on the online platform, which will take you some time. Those exercises also count for the final result, so you really have to make them.
School costs about 75-95 euro per level, depending on the level, and books are included in the price. You can also get refunded if you go to VDAB and ask for it. They will guide you through the process.
Teachers at school are very nice, you normally get one teacher per semester and they try to give different teachers so you almost never end up having the same ones from before. There are parties once-twice per year, other interesting activities, movie nights, trips. School also has a library, where you can borrow books, whenever you feel like you can read in Dutch already. You are most probably going to meet there people from lots of different nationalities, make new friendships, also very possibly meet people from your country. Interesting thing is that at the Dutch class you not only learn the language but also a bit of culture of Belgian people. I find it fascinating to learn about other cultures, habits.
Keep in mind that at school you’re going to learn the pure Dutch, while people speak lots of different variations of it. Each city, each town, even each village may have a little different dialect, sometimes way far different from what you learn at school. But if you ask people to speak nice Dutch, they will most probably do that for you, unless they are old people who don’t really know the school type of Dutch. Then you’re a little doomed 🙂
So that would be all in this topic. I personally finished school education on level 9 and didn’t find good weekly schedule to follow the last level. But I speak relatively good Dutch, I use it on everyday life, with people I work for, at shops, banks and other institutions. Not at home, at home it’s English, since we are so used to speak this language we cannot imagine using any other. I hope this post will inspire some of you to learn new – useful for everyday life – language.