Written by Daniëlla Visser

Is it possible to learn how to speak fluent Dutch in 4 months? Including job-specific terminology? A few years ago, I would have dismissed this notion as ‘too good to be true’. As someone who loves to study languages myself, I know all too well that becoming proficient at a new language takes a lot of time and dedication. In the past few years, however, many BGB dentists have shown that, with a well-structured course, the right teachers and a good amount of motivation, it is certainly possible to go from zero to professional language proficiency within a matter of months.

Then what is the key to success? The secret ingredient? Before I answer that question in detail, I can reveal that there are multiple keys and multiple ingredients. It is a combination of factors that enable the students to learn how to speak Dutch, even in a professional environment.

The first factor that comes into play is the student themselves.

During our final interviews, we meet the dentists in person for the first time. This makes it a good moment to not only assess their dentistry skills, but also find more about their linguistic background. Do they have a good command of English? Do they have prior experience learning a new language? Maybe they already speak a bit of German?

While all this information is important to us, it is not decisive. After all, our course should also be accessible to talented dentists who initially do not have a knack for language learning.

Students are required to have a sufficient understanding of English (A2 minimum) to understand the teacher’s instructions, seeing as the language spoken during the first few weeks of the course is English. However, we always try to switch to exclusively speaking Dutch in class as soon as possible.

Much more essential than a student’s linguistic background is their motivation and dedication. When learning a language, these two factors are very important in predicting someone’s success.

Another vital aspect of our language course is the team of teachers. Our students have diverse cultural backgrounds (the current record is seven nationalities in one group!), vary in age and have different amounts of experience with language learning. We have created a course based on the ‘average’ student, which may make it too difficult for some, while others find it too easy. Our teachers are our secret weapon: they are always aware of the personal needs of the students, enabling them to give them personal attention where and when it is necessary, while also providing extra challenge to those who desire it. Additionally, they organise movie nights, games and other events to make sure that learning a new language can be fun as well.

Because we find it important to cater to the individual needs of students, we have to maintain a healthy balance between the number of students and the teachers. We have decided that, starting this year, the groups cannot exceed 4-5 students. This allows us to improve the course and help the students achieve even better results!

Not only do the students have to learn Dutch; they are also expected to be able to communicate with patients and explain dental treatments. Seeing as there was no book out there that specifically covered dentistry-oriented Dutch, we accepted the challenge of making one ourselves.

The result is our very own course book ‘Dentaal!’, which we developed in-house and have been using in our classes since 2016. Based on the many years of experience of our teacher Hella, we were able to create a book that takes the students through 24 dentistry-themed chapters. This book helps our dentists learn how to explain treatments to patients in Dutch, without overwhelming them with all kinds of technical medical terms. Especially in the light of the Dutch language exam, which every dentist has to take before being able to work in the Netherlands, ‘Dentaal!’ is an extremely helpful tool in preparing the them for this challenge.

The language exam is a government initiative to test the communication skills of all non-Dutch medical professionals who want to work here. Regardless of which field of medicine you work in, whether it’s neurology or dentistry, you are required to pass it before you can be licensed to work here without supervision.

Preparing for the introduction of the exam in January 2017 was a big challenge for us, as we had little insight into the content of the test. We were still able to change the course in key aspects to make it future-proof, and more than a year after the exam was introduced, we can proudly announce that many of our students passed the test and work in Dutch clinics.

It takes a lot of motivation and passion on behalf of the students, the teachers and the BGB personnel, but together we make sure that every dentist who joins us in this adventure will pass the language test and can speak without effort about topics such as endodontic treatments.

Learning how to speak fluent Dutch within 4 months? Why yes, it’s possible!