International student · Liberal Arts and Sciences · Student life

Studying a Language for Free

At University College Groningen, students get the opportunity to learn a language via the World Language Programme. UCG cooperates with the World Language Programme and therefore it is offered to learn various languages for free, for UCG students. Currently, you can choose to study Arabic, Chinese, or Spanish. Next year, UCG will expand by also offering Russian and Dutch. The amount of class hours and hours of self-study differs per language. For Chinese, it’s four hours of class and four hours of self-study per week; for Arabic and Spanish, it’s two hours of class and two hours of self-study per week. I am currently studying Arabic via UCG and the World Language Programme, so I will zoom-in on that course and share some of my experiences. 

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In the beginning of the year, it was introduced that we could choose to study Arabic, Chinese, or Spanish. I was immediately triggered, because I am very interested in the history of and situation in the Middle-East, so Arabic can be very useful for me in the future. When I heard it was also free, I was convinced. It is an amazing opportunity to study a language, since languages are one of the most important factors in international cooperation. It is even better when it’s free, because the fees limit me in following extra-curricular courses. Since UCG is a very international-oriented study, the chances are high that I will be continuing my career in an international setting. Especially since I’m interested in the Middle-East, Arabic is a very useful language to know. Because English is not always mandatory to study in the Middle-East, a lot of (especially lower class) people cannot speak English fluently. When you speak their language, you show your motivation and respect towards the country and its inhabitants and history. This will give you the opportunity to get closer to the people and their stories than when you don’t speak the language. Therefore, I decided to spend the first year of my bachelor learning Arabic as an extra-curricular course.

The course set-up entails that we learn Arabic for one year and at the end of the year achieve the A1 level of Arabic. After the first year, students can choose to continue in their second and third year as well. The first year provides us with the ability to count, obtain basic conversation and basic vocabulary, read the alphabet and basic texts, write the alphabet, understand basic grammar, etc. This is obtained within the previously stated 2 hours of class per week and 2 hours of self-study. In class, we mostly focus on practising pronunciation, reading, explaining grammar, talking, and counting. During the self-study, you mostly focus on vocabulary, grammar, and other theoretical stuff like that. In class, we also talked about some cultural aspects and it’s eye-opening how much the Arabic language is linked to their culture. For example, almost every greeting (“I’m fine, thank you”) contains one or more words related to Allah. In my opinion, this is very interesting; how a language can evolve based on cultural aspects. This is seen clearly in the Arabic language and that makes learning it very interesting.

It is also awesome to see how much we’ve learned already. We are currently at the end of our first year, which means that we have almost completely obtained the A1 level. This means we can count, read basic texts, write almost every word, pronounce almost every word, and understand basic speaking. This is amazing, because it is a completely different language than what we’re used to, as people being used to the Latin alphabet in which I’m currently typing this blog post. Now, we’re able to read a completely different language with entirely different letters. The pronunciation is also enormously different than all of the sounds we’re used to in European and American languages. Luckily, I’m Dutch, so I already know how to pronounce the ‘rolling R’ and ‘gaggling G’, but still, some pronunciations are extremely difficult to master. Arabic is a very special language, you can almost call it singing, and the pronunciation is therefore very difficult to learn. Nevertheless, even when we have not achieved perfect pronunciation yet, we’re able to have a basic conversation in Arabic, which I think is just amazing after one year of four hours of studying per week. Normally, I’m very bad at learning languages, so it was quite difficult, but through good guidance and the support from UCG, I did it! I’m very happy I took this course; it was very challenging and fruitful. When I’m walking down the streets and seeing an Arabic store or Middle-Eastern supermarket, I can read the name! Sometimes, I can even understand it. How awesome is that?

By Josien Scholing, First year student at UCG

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