Using language to create a more social Utrecht
Lineke Maat wants to inspire Utrecht’s residents to be more curious about each other. As director of the foundation Taal Doet Meer*, she works to help Utrecht’s non-native speakers improve their language skills. She does so in collaboration with various partners and some 1,000 volunteers, who act as language buddies and organise language cafés and other activities.
* Since 2022 Lineke has been working as a managing director at Stichting de Kap in Apeldoorn.
Professor Micha de Winter inspired Lineke to study Interdisciplinary Social Sciences when she attended an information evening in the early 1990s. As a student, she focused on equal opportunities in education and employment, an issue that has remained a constant factor throughout her career. Lineke: ‘Before I came to Utrecht University, I was studying Human Resources. I quickly realised that I wanted to help people who have a harder time integrating into society.’
Spreading the connections
Taal Doet Meer has helped a great many people improve their language skills over the course of Lineke’s ten years as director. ‘However’, Lineke explains, ‘our efforts to build a more social Utrecht by connecting people who normally wouldn’t interact are just as important. I hope these sorts of connections emerge across the entire city, spreading everywhere.’ The foundation’s efforts have already been quite successful within Utrecht University. ‘We organise social dinners together. University staff have also served as language and homework buddies for children during the lockdown.’
Students at work
The many students doing work placements at Taal Doet Meer are also helping to spread such connections. Lineke: ‘There’s this preconception that university students have a lot of theoretical knowledge but no hands-on mentality. We always give students doing work placements assignments that combine both theory and practice.’ Her colleague Dirkje van den Berg also started during a work placement. Lineke admires Dirkje’s ability to set up partnerships. ‘We need partnerships in order to make a social impact. Dirkje always keeps our interests in mind, but she never forgets the needs of our partners. You have to set your own course, but you also need to build support.’
"Lineke does wonderful work for the people who participate in the Taal doet Meer programmes, but she and her group also do very important work for society. Connecting people who would not easily meet in a segregated city is a huge challenge. We try to do that with primary school pupils in the Stadsschool project that we started a few years ago. In this project, children from different schools are taught together for a few hours a week, to get to know each other better and to become curious about each other's backgrounds. It's great to hear how an introduction evening can ignite a spark of scientific idealism! - Micha de Winter