By Ruud Hisgen (Direct Dutch Institute)
Ninety percent of residents in the big Dutch cities speak English fluently, the European Comission’s Eurobarometer 386 survey revealed. So, English language speakers, don’t worry, since this little country is mostly a metropolis there is no need to learn Dutch during your stay in the Netherlands.
English? Too easy!
Speaking English, you’ll get by in Amsterdam, the happy-go-lucky capital of the Old World, in Rotterdam, the port of ports connecting all continents, and in The Hague, the International City of Peace, Justice, Parks and Sea.
In The Hague, you can count yourself lucky to be part of the English-speaking 10 per cent of the population who define themselves as expats, internationals, diplomats, New Netherlanders and suchlike.
Six reasons to learn Dutch
So why waste your precious time learning Dutch? Here are seven reasons why we think you should change your mind:
1. Sta niet langer aan de zijlijn – Don’t stay on the sidelines
No Dutch, nothing lost, you think. But nothing gained either…
If you don’t learn the local language you’ll find yourself on the margins of Dutch society. Dutchies will behave politely, but you’ll often find that conversations and jokes will slide slowly into Dutch.
Your children will make Dutch friends and pick up the language quickly. But you may end up feeling lost for words when your Dutch colleagues make remarks that sound strange and beyond understanding.
It’s even worse when you leave the big cities. Out there op het platteland, in the countryside, you’re likely to encounter people who are no good at English at all!
2. Dompel jezelf onder in de Nederlandse cultuur – Take a plunge into Dutch culture
Former Minister of Education, Culture and Science Ms Ingrid van Engelshoven (alderman and deputy mayor of The Hague in 2013) would like to see internationals merge with the Dutch people and their culture.
“The best way to assimilate to a new culture is to learn the language. … Being able to speak with Dutch people, read the newspapers or watch Dutch television broadens your horizons.”
“…And If the Dutch don’t speak Dutch to you, show them your Spreek Nederlands! Met mij! badge” she said, when we launched our ‘Spreek Nederlands met mij’ campaign in 2013.
This free badge was inspired by the common complaint that many foreign students find it hard to practise Dutch, because any attempts are usually met with English replies.
3. Wie is er bang voor het grote boze Nederlands? – Who’s afraid of the big bad Dutch?
The Dutch will tell you that there is no point in trying to learn the language, because Dutch grammar and pronunciation are “far too difficult”. Nonsense!
You don’t believe me? Look at this sentence: Ze zit in het water en ziet de zon.
Now take a closer look at the words and you’ll see how similar they are:
› ze = she
› zit = sits
› in het water = in the water
› en = and
› ziet = sees
› de zon = the sun
Spelling and pronunciation are slightly different compared to English but, as you can see, there are many words that you can learn without effort.
So, is it all easy-going? No, to be honest there is the matter of articles (de/het) and inverted word order. Advanced students also agree that certain idioms take longer to learn. But with a bit of effort these things can be mastered!
4. Voel je lekker gezellig thuis in Nederland – Feel nice and cosy at home in the Netherlands
Once you’ve taken a few lessons, you’ll feel proud when you’re able to do your shopping in Dutch.
The locals may not express their feelings, but they’ll definitely show their appreciation that you’re taking the trouble to communicate in their own language.
The Dutch find it gezellig when you give their language a try and will respond by making you feel more at home. All this just because you’re showing you’re making the effort to settle in.
4. Daag je zelf uit – Challenge yourself
In the period when you’re learning Dutch, you can astonish yourself! It will give you enormous satisfaction to order at a bar and have the waiter answer in Dutch: “Natuurlijk meneer, mevrouw, twee biertjes!”
6. Maak nieuwe vrienden voor het leven – Make new friends for life
It pays off to invest a little money and time in Dutch. Mastering the basics of Dutch can be achieved within the span of 14 90-minute lessons within a couple of weeks or months, depending on how much time you can spare.
You’ll be surprised how fast you’ll learn, how rewarding it is, and how much fun! You’ll be able to read the local news, understand the culture better, make new friends, get some of their jokes and feel more at home in the Netherlands.
So do yourself a favour: spreek Nederlands met de Nederlanders!
This article was first published in June 2015 on I am Expated and updated in 2020 and 2022