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Language website sees boom in visitors during lockdown

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A website developed by the university of Leuven aimed at helping foreigners learn Dutch has seen a boom in users during the lockdown, KU Leuven said.

NedBox was developed five years ago by KU Leuven, together with partners including the public broadcaster VRT, the Flemish-Dutch language union Taalunie and the university of Antwerp.

The site now has a huge range of video clips and other lesson material to allow foreigners new to Belgium to keep in contact with the Dutch language, either by itself or in conjunction with more formal language lessons.

The subjects are anything buy dry and academic, and include how many kisses are polite, Sinterklaas and the new government, all the way to the TV show The Masked Singer and how to plant a Christmas tree.

In its five-year lifetime, NedBox has attracted 800,000 learners, but the first lockdown in Belgium in March saw a spike in numbers – an influx of visitors 52% higher than normal. An effect, perhaps, of the predominance of Dutch speakers dealing with the crisis on TV (Steven Van Gucht, Marc Van Ranst, Erika Vlieghe, Maggie De Block) but also, doubtless, the fact that people had so much more time on their hands.

With more than 800,000 users, NedBox has exceeded our wildest expectations,” said Helena Van Nuffel of KU Leuven’s Centre for Language and Education. “It also clearly illustrates the need for such a platform for learning our language.”

That’s backed up by Tegoeh Tjahjowidodo, a student from Indonesia who practices his Dutch with NedBox.

It is difficult to speak Dutch outside the classroom. People quickly switch to French or English or they speak dialect. By practising with NedBox I learn new words and I understand Flemish people better. I also learn a lot about life in Flanders. NedBox helps me to stay motivated and to keep improving my Dutch.”

NedBox now has more than 500 exercises, involving video clips from the VRT and newspaper articles from Het Laatste Nieuws. The site is free to use and requires no registration.

To give newcomers and non-native speakers every opportunity in Flanders, it is important that they learn our language, in the classroom with teachers, in daily life with friends, but also digitally with initiatives such as NedBox,” said Flemish minister for social affairs, Bart Somers (Open VLD).

Since its launch, the Flemish government has invested €217,000 annually in this initiative. We are now allocating additional resources. With 800,000 non-native speakers already logged in, NedBox is a real success story.”

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times