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Learning Dutch

Although English and French are widely spoken in Ghent, Dutch is the main language used in this city and the region of Flanders. If you’re only planning on staying in Ghent for a few months then just picking up some everyday phrases might be all you need. There are however special courses for Erasmus students who are only staying one semester. If you plan to stay longer and want to work here, it might be a good idea to take Dutch lessons. This overview aims to provide information about the 4 main options and the process of joining a course.

Ghent University

  • Daytime and evening courses – evenings generally two lessons a week (Mon/Weds or Tues/Thurs) from 7pm-9.30pm. They also offer intensive courses which last one full month and include 3 hours of teaching time every day.
  • The middle price option  – courses cost around €350. This can be paid in part or full by your company if you are working here. If you’re unemployed or have low income, you might be eligible for financial support from the city which you can apply for via In-Gent.
  • Good for anyone with an academic background and people working in an office job or studying/doing a PHD in the city.
  • Uses a scale of 1 to 6 where level 1 is beginners. However only levels 1 to 3 (sometimes 4) are offered in the evenings. At the end of level 3 you will be good enough to hold a conversation about an everyday topic. For many this is enough, especially as it’s tricky to attend the higher levels during the day.
  • Courses run for a semester with one week off in the middle.
  • Classes are most likely to be held in the Faculty of Literature and Philosophy on Blandijnberg street and you’ll be in a group of around 20 people.
  • You will need to follow the online registration process.
  • If you have some Dutch knowledge already, make this clear when you register and they’ll then ask you to attend a test (in person, and on a specific day) before you can start. For more info on this test, please see below. The test is charged (around €50) which is then deducted from the cost of the course. If you don’t get a place on a course because they are full up, this cost is refunded. But not if you drop out.

In-Gent (Het Perspectief)

  • In-Gent is the integration and citizenship department of the city
  • Runs daytime and evening courses
  • Aimed more at ‘getting by’ in the city, or getting a vocational job
  • Based on a scale of 5 levels.
  • No online registration. Instead you have to go down to Kongostraat 42 in person, take a ticket and wait till you are called. Then you will discuss what you want to do and provide your details. They’re open Mon-Fri 9am-11.30am and Tues-Fri also 1-4.30pm.
  • If you already have some Dutch knowledge you will also need to take a test. But skip the visit in person and first contact them by email to arrange a date – info@in-gent.be. Tests are also free.
  • The cheaper option, with a course costing around €50.
  • Lessons will be held at Kongostraat 42, on Henleykaai or in the Leopoldskazerne.

VDAB

  • VDAB is the public employment service for Flanders, so you may later cross paths when you are searching for a job. But they also offer Dutch language courses to speakers of other languages in order to help them into employment in Belgium.
  • In order to join one of VDAB’s courses you need to have basic Dutch knowledge already. You can see if you have enough knowledge already by taking one of the VDAB’s free online tests.
  • The aim of these courses is to focus on real-life situations in the workplace, help you find a job or help you with the job you have.
  • Call into the training centre near Sint-Pieters train station on K M Hendrikaplein to discuss the options. They are open Monday-Friday 8.30am-12pm and 12.30pm-4pm.

Berlitz Language School

  • Run courses at flexible times to suit you.
  • Good for intensive Dutch learning for people working in Ghent temporarily, for example if you have been posted here by your company.
  • Lessons are often held one-to-one or in very small groups.
  • You will need to meet with someone at the school to discuss what you want to achieve and what your level is before you start.
  • This initial meeting is very flexible i.e. you can visit them in the evenings if you’re working during the day.
  • The most expensive option, with courses costing nearer to €1000.

Testing your level of Dutch

If you opt for the University or In-Ghent, you’ll need to take a test if you already have some knowledge of Dutch. This is so that you’re not put in at level 1 and it’s too easy. However it is the provider (not you) that will decide which level you should be in. After having made contact with the provider you’ll be invited to attend a test in person. Because this can sound daunting, the following information might be useful:

  • Tests last 2 hours.
  • There’ll be a teacher from the provider sat in the room while you take it.
  • You will not be alone – the tests are run for groups.
  • You’ll do a test where you have to read short texts and then fill in missing words or pick from a list of options. There is also a listening part. This is either done using a computer or with pen and paper.
  • You’ll be asked to write a short text (for example on your favourite city) and have a short chat with the teacher in Dutch.
  • The test is aimed at all potential levels so don’t panic if you are saying ‘I don’t know’ a lot.
  • After the test, you’ll find out which level you will be in, and when the course will start. This happens either immediately when you’re still there, or later via email.

Some tips

  • Unfortunately it’s not the easiest to sign up for a Dutch course online from your home country before you arrive in Ghent. If you don’t want to arrive completely unprepared then the best thing you could do is some research. Or perhaps buy a Dutch grammar book in your native language and start some self study. It is best to wait until you are physically in Ghent to sign up for a course.
  • The academic year in Ghent (remember that Ghent is a big university city) starts late September/early October. So if you plan to arrive in Ghent in August or September, sign up for a course immediately so you don’t miss out.
  • Once you’ve started your course, sign up for the Taalcafe Mundial language cafe. This free evening event runs every last Wednesday and every second Tuesday of the month. Held at the De Centrale event hall, it’s a great way to meet new people and practise your Dutch with natives.

Please note that the specific details listed above are based on our experiences. It is the information that you receive from the course provider which you should follow. We have found that it’s quite difficult to track down upfront detailed information about what to expect from a course. This is probably because each course will differ slightly depending on the number of students, the teacher, the current year’s programme etc.

Last updated: April, 2018

Heather
Heather is a language and travel geek at heart, having gotten the bug for it while studying German and Italian in her home country, England. After managing hotel content for a start-up in Berlin, being an Erasmus student in Bologna and writing for Frommer's travel guides while in London, she moved to Gent in 2015 for a year. Still here, Gent must have been doing something right! She's now determined to help other newbie expats settle in and build a great life here in this beautiful city. If you'd like to get in touch, send an email to heather@thesquare.gent

10 thoughts on “Learning Dutch

  1. Dear Rebecca,

    My wife is currently in Gent and she sh be able to speak in Dutch within the next three months for a job related interview. She found it very hard to speak in Dutch and has no confidence in doing so.

    Could you please advise what would be the best way (most effective) to pick up the language and start talking? I think she is in much better shape when it comes to reading or Dutch grammar. As mentioned, I need to find a way to build confidence in her!

    Regards,
    Alireza

    1. Hi Alireza, thanks for your question. I assume your wife has taken a course or is planning to? If not then I’d definitely recommend getting in touch with either VDAB or In-Gent, if the focus needs to be on Dutch for employment purposes. To build confidence outside the classroom I would also encourage her to go to the next Taalcafe – there’s one taking place on the 31st May. They have tables for both more advanced Dutch and beginners. And the organisers deliberately try and ensure that the groups are small – 2 or 3 people plus a native speaker – so that everyone gets a chance to practise. This also means that nobody is overwhelmed by having to speak in front of a whole class or group of, say, 20 people, which I definitely didn’t enjoy so much when I was on my course! Hope this helps, and best of luck to your wife.

  2. Hey, I am a student and want to learn dutch because I am planning on choosing a career in bio-medical engineering and that’s the area Belgium provides lots of opportunities in. So, I want to know that is there any school that provide long term language education (around 1 or 2 years, I guess it’s gonna take that long to learn dutch at engineering level) and also the necessary documents for VISA?

    1. Hey, do you already have a place to study engineering at the University of Gent? If so, then you’re probably best enrolling in a course at the University itself (rather than a language school) as the courses are more academic and you’ll also get a discount. They have 6 levels (https://www.ugent.be/lw/uct/en/courses/dutch-nt2/general) so it may take around 2 years to do them all (depending on whether you could commit to intensive daytime courses or not). Once you’ve mastered the 6 ‘general Dutch’ courses, you can also take a specialised course for academic Dutch (useful for writing academic papers). However, your contact at the engineering department is the best person to advise on what level your Dutch would need to be to achieve the success you’re after. Bear in mind that a lot of lectures at Gent are held in English and generally a lot of scientific research is documented in English too.

      For your visa (to study in Belgium), it would really depend on which country you’re coming from. As you can imagine, there are different procedures and that comes with different documents. I would advise either contacting someone at the University dealing with your placement, or get in touch with In Gent (info@in-gent.be) to explain your situation and ask what steps you would need to take.

      Hope this helps, and good luck!

      1. Dear Heather,
        Thanks a lot for your reply.
        Thing is I am not enrolled in any university in Belgium at the moment as I am doing pre-university studies. It would take me three to four years to complete my pre-university studies and be able to apply for university. Most of my course work is online and I don’t have to attend classes that’s why I was thinking of using the extra time for language development.
        I have check with embassy and I do need a VISA to come and study in Belgium. I know that university does not give admission in language course unless you have immediate study plan which in my case is not. Therefore, I was looking for a school, be it a private or public, which provides long term language teaching for people like me.

        1. Hi Ali, I see! It’s fantastic that you already want to start learning Dutch years before you might move to Belgium – a lot of people just make a start when they’re here. I don’t know of any language schools based in Ghent that offer online/long distance learning. You may be better off finding an institution in your own country, or using one of the online learning companies out there (Duolingo, Babbel, Futurelearn, Coursera…etc). When I was still in the UK (and knowing I would be moving to Ghent) I looked at one of the Universities in London, and found that they offered courses where you did self-study online but then had one hour a week where you got to practise talking to a native speaker. So something like that might be the best option until you arrive in Ghent.

          1. Dear Heather,
            Thanks for your valuable suggestions. Picture is clear to me now. I’ll try to avail mentioned resources.
            Really appreciate you help

  3. Hi, I am coming from the UK and will be living in Gent with my Belgian boyfriend and will be signing up to learn Dutch at the university. Do I have to already have my ID card before I can sign up? I hear that it can take quite a bit of time to get registered in Belgium so am a little worried that I will have to wait to start learning Dutch properly.
    Any help will be much appreciated

    1. Hi Jessica, thanks for your question. You don’t need to be registered as living in Belgium to enroll in a Dutch course at the university – I started my course before beginning the registration process. Let us know if you need any other advice, and enjoy your move to Belgium!

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