Saturday 19 September 2020

Dutch tuition online with Taalthuis: the lockdown legacy that’s staying for good

A Taalthuis teacher with her online class. Credit: Taalthuis

Taalthuis’s new online Dutch lessons are proving popular with busy internationals from all over the world. We find out how the corona crisis has revealed the value of online tuition.

When the country was locked down due to the coronavirus, Dutch language school Taalthuis had to act quickly to meet the needs of its 800 students. On March 16 a new format was born, with students accessing online teacher-led lessons from home.

A change worth keeping

But what was meant as a temporary solution is now seen as a valuable alternative and will not be cast aside when the lockdown lifts. ‘It was a huge surprise to us that it has become such a success,’ says owner and director Margreet van ‘t Haaff. The biggest advantage, she says, is that students do not need to commute to the lessons, which saves them a lot of time.

But since travel restrictions relaxed, new reasons to study online have also become apparent. ‘Some expats really like it because they have to travel for their work, and now they know they can tune in from anywhere, from their hotel room – anywhere there is wifi. Some people even do their lessons from their holiday home.’

Global

Since Taalthuis’s online lessons launched, students from all over the world have been signing up, from destinations as far flung as New Zealand, the USA, Turkey, and Latvia. ‘It’s really going global,’ says Tess Schuurman-Visser, administrator and marketeer for the school.

Lenique (35), who is hoping to relocate to the Netherlands with her Dutch husband, has been attending the online lessons from her home in South Africa. ‘My teacher, Evelien, is excellent and I enjoy the lessons very much,’ she says. ‘I like the small group, it makes the course very interactive and fun.’

For Dutch national Miguel (16) from Spain, who left the Netherlands when he was three years old, the online lessons are an opportunity to reconnect with his roots and improve his career prospects. ‘I would like to learn as much Dutch as I can to be able to have a normal conversation,’ he says. ‘I plan to continue my studies in the Netherlands and also visit family members.’

Taalthuis director Margreet van ‘t Haaff teaching online. Credit: Taalthuis

Tailored materials

Of the four ability groups, which take students from level A0 to B2, beginners is the most popular. For A0 to A2, Taalthuis has devised its own grammar book and text books (included in the course fee), which enables them to tailor the exercises to the needs of their students, revising and improve lesson materials based on feedback from the teachers.

Students also have access to Taalthuis’s e-learning courses so they can work on their Dutch outside lessons. For students who want to go it alone, the beginners course can also now be enjoyed as a stand-alone. Since its launch in March, over 100 students have already signed up.

Online classes (normally on zoom) are limited to eight students – what Van ‘t Haaff describes as ‘a screen-full’ – and comprise two hours teaching time, with a break in the middle because, she says, ‘it’s quite intense’.

Innovative teachers

The potential of online teaching has surprised Taalthuis, with the medium still offering plenty of opportunity for lively exchanges. ‘There are all these possibilities online to have conversation and interactive exercises, but then you just do it in ‘breakout rooms’ rather than in rooms physically,’ explains Van ‘t Haaff.

Staff have been quick to pull together and develop expertise in online teaching. One Taalthuis teacher created a Facebook group ‘Online NT2-teacher’, where teachers share tips for delivering engaging online lessons. The group now has around 600 members. ‘They have become so creative,’ says Van ‘t Haaff, giving the example of games of pictionary, gap-fill exercises in songs, and ‘all kinds of templates and tools’ designed for creating fun activities online.

An intermediate group proudly display their certificates. Credit: Taalthuis

Happy students

Alexandra (28) from Kazakhstan, says she would ‘strongly recommend’ Taalthuis’s online lessons and plans to sign up for the next level. ‘The training book is engaging [and] easy to follow,’ she says. ‘Smaller groups meant we had more practice opportunities, while no need to commute to the lesson allowed more time to prepare.’

As corona restrictions ease, Taalthuis’s classroom lessons will resume in September at seven locations across the Netherlands, including Amersfoort, Den Bosch, and Leiden. But the online format – the surprise success born of necessity – will continue post-lockdown. The course has already attracted more than 130 students, who – headphones on and feet up – can now brush up their Dutch from their hotel, holiday house or home.

Want to join them? You can find out more about Taalthuis’s online lessons here.

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