Master class: museums open doors to Dutch language learners

Rembrandt’s ‘Staalmeesters’ watch over the language students. Photo: Herman Wouters / HH

Groups learning Dutch as a second language have been crossing the entrances of a range of museums after the Stad en Taal (city and language) initiative was launched to teach Dutch culture in an accessible way. Julia Corbett joined a tour at the Rijksmuseum.

The daunting task of speaking Dutch has just become a lot easier thanks to the Rijksmuseum’s new initiative, which immerses learners into the language and culture of the Netherlands during intimate Dutch speaking tours.

Under the title Stad en Taal, six museums in Amsterdam together with the city council are providing the educational programme after research showed that a museum setting was the perfect location for boosting language learning.

The researchers found that after learning more about the country’s history in an interactive way, people also began to feel more at home.

Friendships

Among our group taking the Stad en Taal guided tour were people from Russia, China and Syria. Although many had never been to a museum of this size before, our tour guide Tjyying Liu quickly captured everyone’s imagination and encouraged the group to speak up and describe their responses to the art – entirely in Dutch of course.

Starting out as 20 nervous newcomers to Dutch, Tiyying’s passion coupled with the inspiring scenery from the Netherlands ‘Golden Age’, meant that by the end we were chatting in Dutch and even attempting our own art criticism.

Posing in front of the Nightwatch. Photo: Rijksmuseum

Guides leading the Rijksmuseum’s ‘Proef de Gouden Eeuw op z’n mooist’ (‘Taste the Golden Age at its Best’) tour adapt the level of Dutch to the students to bring history to life for those learning the language.

The Rijksmuseum tour takes people on a one-hour whistle stop tour of the Dutch Golden Age, from Rembrandt to Vermeer.

Teachers

‘We’ve spent months trying out the tour and invited Dutch teachers to help us shape the students’ experience,’ says Sander Daams, from the education department at the Rijksmuseum. ‘There were already tours for tourists and children, but this is a special group of people to reach out to.

‘We have picked out certain themes such as trade, furniture, interiors, and food and drink from the Golden Age because it is much easier to link their learning in that way.’

Russian student Dasha has been taking lessons at the Sagènn Educatie language school and said: ‘It’s brilliant. We are able to see this museum and others while practising the language… I like the fact that we are encouraged to talk and are not just told about the art.’

Culture project

Ten years in the making, the Stad en Taal project was created to encourage students to take their learning out of the classroom to boost their confidence and interest in the Netherlands’ cultural past.

Dutch teacher Anne-Marie de Ben from language school Sagènn Educatie, who brought her students on the tour, said: ‘It is crucial that students take the things they learn in school outside the class room and use them. This will help them pick up more of the language and eventually learn to love it.’