Column - Spreek Nederlands met mij21 July 2022
In Maastricht and the Euregio Meuse-Rhine foreign languages are literally never far away. That is what makes living in this cross-border region where the Germanic and Romance worlds meet so interesting, yet also challenging at times for those who are limited to speaking only 1 or 2 languages.
Walking down the streets of the capital of Limburg you will not only hear the local dialect and Dutch but also German and French brought by the many visitors from the nearby Aachen region in Germany and Wallonia in Belgium. At the same time, students of the internationally oriented Maastricht University and Hogeschool Zuyd as well as expats and internationals from various countries bring a nice mixture of languages to the city.
Both the city and the (border) region have a long tradition of attracting people from outside the Maastricht Region. First, from the late 19th and early 20th century to work in (heavy) industry – e.g. the mining industry in large parts of Limburg, Aachen and Liège – and more recently highly skilled workers have come to work for the universities and the growing number of international companies.
Many of the early migrants even adopted the local dialect before learning Dutch when the city and the Maastricht Region became their new home. Nowadays, English seems to be the lingua franca at universities and in larger companies. Also, the Dutch have a reputation of speaking almost perfect basic English. So “why bother learning Dutch?” some might ask themselves.
Nobody will dispute the importance of English. In most cases a good command of English is even a prerequisite to a successful career. Furthermore, a lot of relevant information is available in English thanks to Expat Centre Maastricht Region, Expat Centre Limburg and the youRegion project for instance. However, I dare say that English alone is not enough and speaking English doesn’t make you stand out from the crowd.
If you really want to become part of the local community and build up meaningful relationships with Dutch colleagues, neighbours etc and make new friends, putting in the effort of learning Dutch is an important step. It will help you understand the culture better and really connect.
On the one hand the Dutch won’t make it easy on you when you try to practice speaking Dutch as they have a tendency of answering back in English. On the other hand, they will appreciate your effort. So best insist that they speak to you in Dutch in return. My advice would be to take up lessons and then take it into practice. Employers should stimulate their international employees to learn Dutch and support them in the process.
What goes for internationals coming to the Maastricht Region, in a way also goes for the people already living here. Ideally, they would speak 1 or 2 neighbouring languages at a professional level. The EMRLingua initiative wants to promote the neighbouring languages Dutch, German and French in the Euregio Meuse-Rhine area around Maastricht, Hasselt, Aachen and Liège by supporting cross-border school exchanges, visits and even internships, as well as by developing multilingual online teaching material with a regional cross-border focus.
More information on the project can be found on the EMRLingua website which is available in Dutch, French and German and will soon be available in English.
Paul Hölsgens is a EGTC Euregio Meuse-Rhine Project Manager for the Interreg V-A project EMRLingua.