It all started with a few people wanting to learn each other’s language and meeting once a week for that reason. Today, the Language exchange/tandem Maastricht Facebook group has 1,118 members and weekly meetings on Wednesdays at Café Zuid.
“In the beginning, we were very serious,” says former student of Arts and Social Sciences Selma Boerrigter, who was there from the very first get-together. “Then an Arab joined us, but nobody wanted to learn Arabic; far too difficult. But you’re not going to ignore a guy for the whole evening.” So they switched to English and since then that has been the official language. “We are a group of some ten to thirty people, depending on how busy students are with their studies. It is first and foremost good fun, the exchange of language occurs more between the tandems (groups of two people) who have found each other through the Facebook group.”
Boerrigter came to the group initially to learn Spanish. “But there were no Spanish present. Eventually it was only my English that really improved. In other languages my level is too low to have a conversation. Then you have to ask what someone means after you have uttered your first sentence.” So as far as that goes, she didn’t gain very much from it, but the group gave her something unexpected: a career change. “The students often complained about how expensive the courses at the Language Centre were. I have a copywriting agency and last year I didn’t have a lot of work. So then I thought: why don’t I try to set up a (cheaper) course for learning Dutch.”
It was a success. “I wanted to start with one group, but straight away that turned into four. At the moment, I give ten group courses and a number of private lessons each week. I mainly teach foreign students, but also to a couple of expats. It has become 70 per cent of my work.”