Even though Amsterdam is a city where one can easily survive only speaking English, being able to speak Dutch opens a lot of doors: you would be able to get more job opportunities, understand the Dutch culture way more easily and develop a feeling of belonging.
The City Hall of Amsterdam (Gemeente) offers free Dutch courses for anyone who wants to learn the basic Dutch, who needs it for work or for social integration. Besides, you can also request information at several academies such as INTT and get a refund from the Government if you take their courses.
Amsterdam is a very expensive city, and learning Dutch is even more expensive than you can imagine. Some academies offer courses of a month for almost 1000 euros, so it is very important to get all the information you can and see if you are eligible for the free courses. Do you want to know more about it? Keep reading this article, I hope my experience will be helpful to you.
Free Dutch Courses: Amsterdam
Amsterdam is one of the Dutch cities that offers the largest number of options for those who want to study Dutch. There are many free options for those who need some help with the language but can’t afford to pay almost 1000 euros for a Dutch course.
There are a couple of options:
- Integration course: for NON-EU citizens to have a chance to legalize their status in the country and have a better quality of life
- Gemeente course: for NT1 and NT2 students
- Other helpful ways: online material, apps, integration groups, group talks, etc.
If you are a political refugee or a NON-EU citizen, there are many academies that accept your application and will help you get a refund from the Dutch Government. My experience has been with the INTT, the Language Academy of the UvA.
Basically, if you need to get your Dutch certificate to be able to ask for a residence permit to live and work in the Netherlands, you can apply for a refund of your Dutch course of choice at DUO.
I recommend you get in touch with DUO to ask about your circumstances and what they can do for you. In my case, I am an Italian citizen, so I didn’t have the need to apply for it. However, while taking my INTT courses, I had two lovely Iranian classmates who would get a refund for their Dutch courses and who had a deadline of X amount of time within they had to take their NT2 exam in order to be allowed to stay in the Netherlands.
What you Should Know About the Exams
There are two different types of a certificate that you need to be able to live in the Netherlands: the NT1 and the NT2.
The NT2I is for people who want to live and work in the Netherlands, who don’t necessarily have a higher education or don’t need to use Dutch at such a high level. This is the basic exam anyone coming from a non-EU country would have to pass. This equals an A2-B1 level of Dutch, two courses.
The NT2II is for those citizens who have a higher education or those who want to pursue higher education in the Netherlands, and therefore need a higher level of Dutch to be able to develop their careers in the country. This equals a B2.2 level of Dutch, once again, two courses.
If you have to integrate, DUO will send you a letter telling you the date on which you have to start your integration. Beginning with this date, you then have 3 years to integrate. This is called the integration period.
You may not have to Integrate but to be able to speak Dutch anyway. This means that you will also have to prepare for the exams NT2I and NT2II, but you won’t be eligible for free courses at the academy of your choice. Your other option is the Gemeente Courses.
It is important to know that these courses are only available for people registered in the city of Amsterdam. Some Amsterdammers with residence permits can follow free Dutch courses. There are special courses for people who have difficulties with reading or writing in their own language, and basically for all levels of learners.
Who Can Apply?
- EU citizens that are LEGAL residents in the city of Amsterdam
- Non-EU citizens that are residents and have successfully completed the civic integration course (inburgeringscursus).
If you are an Expat who has a working VISA for skill levels and higher education requirements, you are NOT eligible for the free courses. However, I would recommend you ask your company what type of courses they offer for you to learn. Most companies offer free courses for their expat employees.
If you want to follow these free courses, and since they are for free, the Government and professors need to make sure that you are taking it seriously and that you are going to make the most use out of this free tool. These are your obligations:
- Being registered in Amsterdam (legally) and within the date of the beginning of the course.
- You have to attend 2 lessons each week and one lesson has to last at least 3 hours.
- You must attend at least 80% of the classes. Otherwise, you won’t be eligible for future courses, for repeating this one or more of these benefits.
- You must complete the final test or examination.
Where and When are these Courses?
The language courses have an average duration of 6 months. There are 4 start dates every year, one around September, one in December, one in March and one in May.
There are at least 2 lessons each week. And as I was saying, at least one lesson lasts 3 hours. The beginning of the lesson may vary, some of them start at 09.00, some at 13.00 or 19.00.
You will also practice your Dutch for around 3 to 4 hours a week by taking part in an activity. Participating is obligatory and encourage, this is the only way of learning.
Courses are given all over the city. You will be asked which location fits your personal situation best (close to home, or near your job).
How Can I Apply?
The Gemeente recommends you to call the client manager if you are currently receiving any type of benefits: 020 252 6000.
If you are NOT receiving social benefits, there are 2 ways to enroll:
- Fill out the online form to register, after that, you will receive an email with more information and all the schedules.
- Come to one of the walk-in information centers. You can find the nearest center on amsterdam.nl/taal/inloopspreekuren. These normally tend to be inside libraries and other big public spaces. They are held every now and then and if you fill in all your personal information, they will inform you about them.
I have personally attended these classes thanks to a friend who was taking them and who asked her professor if I could go visit and see the facilities, how the lessons work and to see if I could adjust these lessons to my studying schedule.
Other Ways of Learning Dutch for Free
It is also true that it is hard to practise Dutch on the streets, so even fi you are attending a course, it is wise to have some extra help on your free time or find other ways to keep practising once you are done with your course. After all, you almost never speak Dutch in Amsterdam. Some of the best methods to learn Dutch for free are:
- In-home tutoring for women: if you just have become a mom or you are a woman who works from home, you can consider joining this association In-home tutoring for women. There are women in your neighbourhood who volunteer to teach Dutch to help with integration. Definitely worth giving it a try.
- Online: if you prefer learning online, you don’t have time or you are a great disciplined student like me ;P you can consider trying out Oefenen, LearnDutch.org for videos and grammar explanation or Leefenleer.
- Duolinguo: maybe not the most efficient way of learning but it will definitely boost you into the world of Dutch and it will help you learn some vocabulary on a daily basis.
- Taal voor het Leven: for a basic knowledge of the Dutch language for those who struggle reading and writing.
- Free Dutch practice at the Amsterdam Public library: this is the most self-standing way of learning Dutch. You should ask for Het NL Plein in your closest library and find all the materials de Gemeente offers for self-learners. This is definitely not for everybody but I personally find very useful to go to the library for dictionary, grammar books for basic consultation, etc.
- Language Cafes: if you ask around or google languages cafes around you, you will find many options in a big city like Amsterdam. One of the most popular ones is the Language Cafe of MEETUP, a platform for foreigners in a new city. This is a great way to exchange your mother tongue expertise with a Dutch person who is interested in it and who can help you practising Dutch.