In praise of our Taalunie Language Assistants

Each year at Sheffield we welcome our Taalunie Language Assistants. These students from the Netherlands or Flanders bring their up-to-date language and experience to our language sessions. We talked to Kirith and Rebecca about their experience.

Two young women smiling with ice cream in their hands
Taalunie Language Assistants Kirith Bongaards (Utrecht) and Rebecca Langenkamp (Nijmegen)

During our warm Spring Semester we welcomed the Taalunie Dutch Language Assistants Kirith Bongaards (University of Utrecht) and Rebecca Langenkamp (University of Nijmegen) to Sheffield. As they enjoyed their ice cream, we put a few questions to them.

Let’s transport you back to the day you arrived in Sheffield: what were your first impressions?

Kirith: I got a very English welcome on the day I arrived because it was pouring with rain. Luckily, we've had a pretty dry spring. What struck me immediately about the city is that Sheffield is very hilly. Although I had been told about the hills, I don’t think I could have actually anticipated what it is like to walk up and down so many, as a Dutchie.

Rebecca: My first thoughts were “wow, I’m actually here!” It was a dream come true, and so all my first impressions were very positive. I quickly noticed how kind the people are and, much like Kirith, how hilly it is around here. 

What has your semester in Dutch been like?

Kirith: My semester has been so much fun. I really enjoyed getting to know all the Dutch students and developing a new perspective on my native language through them. I never realised how much we use ‘er’ or ‘wat leuk!’ It was quite disorienting to talk to my friends and family after I learned these aspects of Dutch. 

Rebecca: It was great; I’ve enjoyed all the sessions. It was interesting to see how Dutch is being taught as a second language. I also liked having a bit of connection to home, even if the Netherlands isn’t that far away, it was great having a little piece of home so close. 

Group of students dressed up for a 1920s theatre play
Cast of our 2022 play with Kirith bottom right

Name one thing you have learned about yourself through the Taalunie Assistant experience.

Kirith: As a TU Assistant, I learned that I had acquired more teaching skills over the years than I thought I had. Addressing the group or coming up with new ideas on the spot wasn’t as difficult as I had  anticipated. It was a great experience to further develop those skills during the semester. And taking part in the Dutch play a real highlight of course!

Rebecca: The TU Assistant experience has shown me that I liked teaching in an informal setting more than I thought. It also showed me that preparing classes is very difficult, but I somehow really liked sitting down and thinking about it. 

What got you out of your comfort zone?

Kirith: I was quite nervous at the start of the semester. I think what got me out of my comfort zone was the realisation that some lessons will be better than others. It helped me relax and do things I normally would be afraid to try.

Rebecca: Going to the Korean Society with my flatmates. I am a very introverted person, so meeting lots of people through the KSoc was amazing. Plus, standing in front of a class made me have to get out of that comfort zone as well.

Favourite spot in Sheffield?

Kirith: Western Bank library is my favourite place to study. The high windows offer a great view on the duck pond, which can be a nice distraction. During my study breaks I would have lunch or read in the Western Bank Park. On a sunny day, that is definitely my favourite spot. 

Rebecca: Aside from my favourite coffee place, the Cozy Corner, I really liked sitting outside St. George’s Church on a sunny day. I also like the city centre, near the Town Hall. It really gave me “old English city” vibes. 

Image of a church that is now used by the university
One of Rebecca's favourite spots: St Georges Church on the Sheffield Campus

Highlight of your semester in Sheffield?

Kirith: I think one of the biggest highlights was meeting so many new people. I met a lot of other exchange students but also British students in my modules and of course everyone in our conversation lessons. It was very interesting to see what aspects of our cultures and lives are the same and which are different. And being part of the Dutch play (again). 

Rebecca: Probably celebrating my birthday by trying to recreate a true Dutch “kringverjaardag” with the beginner students of Dutch. Aside from the snacks, we got pretty close! And sadly not Dutch related, but in one of my other modules, we had a workshop with one of my favourite authors, which was a great experience! 

Any tips for next year’s Language Assistants?

Kirith: Show them how fun Dutch can be! When you are enthusiastic in discussing that week’s topic, the students will notice and resonate with it. This is easily done by adding something personal to the sessions. For example, in the week about pets, we showed the students pictures of our cats and then asked them about their pets.

Rebecca: Don’t be afraid to joke around and try to think outside the box for the conversation sessions. And try to keep the sessions as casual as possible; rearrange the classroom to sit in a circle for a less formal approach. 

If you are interested in joining us during your Year Abroad at Sheffield, please just get in touch with Henriette Louwerse ( The Dutch Language Union or Nederlandse Taalunie is a Dutch/Flemish government organisation that supports the teaching of Dutch language and culture worldwide. 

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