The Netherlands is the highest rated non-native English of all countries in the world. About 90% of the population is able to have a well spoken conversation in English. This is logical reasoning since the Dutch put an emphasis on learning English as a secondary language from a young age. The Netherlands is also a very international country so the use of English is popular. It’s easily accessible particularly in larger metropolitan cities like Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Utrecht and the Hague. If you have just relocated to the Netherlands and don’t speak the language the Dutch are willing to make the accommodation by switching to English. That being said, is this part of the reason that some internationals and expats get away with not speaking the language?
While of course this is not the case for everyone, I’ve met individuals who have been living in the Netherlands for 5-10 years and only know simple greetings like hello and thank you. One colleague told me that since English is so widely available learning Dutch is a low priority. Consequently, I strove to find out whether you can really live in the Netherlands without speaking Dutch.
It’s Actually Doable if You Don’t Speak Dutch?
It’s not impossible to live here without knowing Dutch, in fact it’s quite doable. You can do your groceries, go shopping and make international friends. You can also speak and do business with your colleagues since many international companies use English as the main language to communicate. So as you can see it’s not mandatory to learn Dutch. However, not knowing the language can pose limitations in your everyday life, especially if you are staying here for the long term.
Not Speaking Dutch May Effect your Job Prospects
Finding a job that only requires English is possible because of the number of international companies in the Netherlands. In cities like Amsterdam there are plenty of English jobs available especially in the service, restaurant and hotel industries. However, this all depends on what type of field or sector you’re looking for and whether it is internationalized. Having been on the job search myself, the majority of jobs I find are actually posted in Dutch and require Dutch fluency. Some vacancies I come across state that a B1-B2 level is mandatory. Nonetheless, learning Dutch in this case would be helpful especially at a conversational level and help you with your job prospects.
It Will be Difficult to Move Outside the Expat/International Bubble
As in your immediate and social environment is composed of only internationals and expats. But this means you limit interactions to a bubble of those that share a similar culture, nationality or language. This takes away from your imerison and integration into the Dutch culture. You miss out on new experiences, meeting the local community and making new connections. Attempting and making an effort to learn the language is a great pathway. You will be able to breaking out of the bubble and integrating better.
Not Everything Can Be translated
There are things that are not easily translatable (especially with translation apps). It could be government paperwork, road signs, menus at a restaurant or speaking to customer service for example. Sometimes there won’t be an English translations available. Keep in mind that not everyone will speak English with you nor do they have to accommodate you.
They say that language and culture go hand in hand and you can learn better about a culture through its language. While cultural difference are sometimes unavoidable whether you speak the language or not; knowing Dutch will aid you better in better understanding Dutch habits and customs. There are aspects such as Dutch directness that you will not understand nor be able to respond to. Overall, by learning the language any misunderstandings or misconceptions can diminish.
It may be Difficult to Make Dutch Friends & Connections
This may not be a problem in larger cities but there is the potential feeling of isolation from others when not knowing the language. A lot of Dutch people have great English ability but may not feel comfortable enough speaking it. This is why knowing the language is a great way to connect and communicate on a more personal level. During social gatherings for instance you will notice that everyone is speaking in their mother tongue. At parties, or having lunch with colleagues may have you feeling a bit like an outsider. However, whenever I try to speak Dutch at the store or with a friend they are always so helpful and appreciate that I’m making an effort! If you go the extra mile I guarantee you will see the difference in the way that Dutch connect with you.
Speaking Dutch Can Simplify Your Everyday Life
Simply, it can help you with everyday practicalities and to know what is happening around you. You’re going to have to interact with others, sign paperwork, ask questions, purchase items from the store. If you want to live in ease in a daily basis then speaking Dutch would simplify things. Knowing even the slightest Dutch can help you in these situations.
Final Thoughts on Why you Should Learn the Language
Learning the language of the country you are residing in opens a whole new world of possibilities. It calls for easier immersion and integration in the culture and society. The ability to communicate with someone in their native language establishes a feeling of trust and a pathway to connections, friendships and relationships. You gain deeper knowledge and insight and can learn to bridge the gap between your culture and the other.