Moving to a new country always implies an adaptation process, getting to know the society and all the insides, the food and culture and one of the hardest and most important ones is the language. In the Netherlands, the official language is Dutch, according to most, one of the hardest languages to learn.
Learning Dutch can take from 2 to 10 years. To be able to learn some basic words is easy, but talking Dutch like a native can take your whole life. There are people who have lived in the Netherlands for years and don’t speak the language because you can survive just with English.
Not being an English native speaker and having to speak English every day in the Netherlands is a challenge on its own. But learning Dutch while living in the Netherlands is even harder. There are many people who never learn the language and others that like me spent most of my time studying it. How long does it take until you can speak? How long until you are good enough? How can you learn it? For this and more of my experience, keep reading.
Learning Dutch: A Real Challenge
There are two types of people who move to the Netherlands, those who want to learn the language and when they see how hard it is and how much time you have to invest in that, they leave it… and those who want to learn the language, and make the impossible possible. I belong to the later.
After many years of living in the Netherlands, I can say that it is true: there is no need to learn Dutch, you can do everything in English. Those who learn Dutch are either because they have to (I will explain the reasons why later on) or because they are language-lovers or want to pursue their career in Holland and they can’t do it in English for whatever reason (like me, a translator).
The first group, those who have to learn Dutch are those in need of a citizenship or residence permit. Anyone coming from outside the EU can ask for a permanent residence permit in the Netherlands but the requirement is to be able to speak Dutch. There are two levels of Dutch:
- NT2I: the State exam is the regulator for language levels and for those who are entitled to the Dutch permanent residence permit. There are two different levels, the NT2I is the basic one for those who do a job that doesn’t require a university degree. This equals more or less a B1 (CEFR), those who are able to speak the language for a daily basic need but it is not a high level. According to the Government, you have to take the exam before 3,5 years since the first time you arrived in the Netherlands. This means that to reach a B1 level of Dutch you have just over 3 years.
- NT2II: this is the second exam one has to take if you want the permanent residence permit in the Netherlands for those of us with a higher education degree or who want to follow a career or higher degree in the Netherlands. This level equals a B2 level and you also have 3,5 years to achieve it, which means studying way more than for the other one.
For those of us who don’t need a residence permit, this is a good reference both for getting the same level they need and to know what is the average learning time to learn Dutch.
Personal Experience: Learning Dutch
I have personally spent 2 years learning Dutch to have a B2 level, yet I have only worked parttime to spend as much time as possible studying, over 15 hours of Dutch lessons per week and studying every single day. I am a translator and speak other language and even I have to say Dutch is a hard language to learn. In many of the courses, I have had classmates who had been in the Netherlands for almost 10 years and had the same language level I had after a year and a half, so it really depends.
Why Is It So Hard to Learn Dutch?
Some of you who have already started learning Dutch, know how hard it is to learn. Why is it so?
- Everybody Speaks English: when tourists come to the Netherlands, realizing that literally everybody, from the youngest to the oldest person speaks English, it is a real blessing. However, when you want to learn Dutch, having everybody talking to you in English even when you talk to them in Dutch is actually really hard: there is no room for mistakes. Even though most of my Dutch friends say that they feel like they are helping out people and being friendly speaking English, I always get angry because I wish the couldn’t understand me so that I can speak my bad Dutch and make mistakes and learn from them.
- Films and Books are in English: the same thing, if you don’t have the need to learn the language it is very hard to make such a big effort and invest so many hours in this if you don’t actually need it.
- Amsterdam: if you live in Amsterdam or in other big cities in the Netherlands unless you know where to go, it is actually hard to find Dutch people, everybody comes from abroad!
Tips to Learn Dutch
My experience has brought me to try many different ways to learn Dutch and realize what is the best one for me, which one I would recommend and some good tips for you guys:
- INTT: if you can afford this, it is the best course I have tried, hands down. I have studied Dutch in the Gemeeente free courses, the online course, and the Semi-intensive B1 and B2 of the INTT. For me, the best one has been INTT. I believe the best part, besides being very exigent and tough on us to learn a lot every day, has been the placement test, that makes you be exactly where you need to: I have enjoyed a lot being in a classroom with people who have the same level, difficulties and want to learn the same you do. It makes up for smoother progress.
- Free Courses: if you cannot spend such a big amount of money on these courses, the Gemeente in Amsterdam gives free ones for those foreigners living in Amsterdam. If you want to know more about it, and where to study Dutch for free, you can always read my latest article on this topic, CLICK HERE. It is not as efficient as the expensive university courses but it is definitely a great alternative, a good way to learn grammar, practise speaking and hopefully find a good speaking partner to practice the hardest part, SPEAKING. Learn more specifically about the Gemeente courses HERE.
- Speaking: Speaking is key for any language and it is also the hardest thing to do. In my opinion, the best way to practise Dutch on a daily basis is going to the supermarket. Another good way for me was working as a babysitter for Dutch kids, and ask them to talk to you in Dutch. Doing grocery shopping or buying anything at all is an excellent exercise to get to use those few sentences you are learning by hard without room for many mistakes. Seeing what you have learnt is useful in real life will also motivate you a lot to learn and keep going.
- Phone in Dutch: Either having your phone in Dutch, your planner, the instructions books from whatever new item you bought, a recipe from AH or anything at all will help you learn vocabulary by repetition. Learning how to say new things and new words it is definitely key, grammar will come slowly and steadily but you will feel much more empowered knowing how to say things, trust me.
- Duolingo: one of my friend’s favourite ones to learn vocabulary.
- Dutch To Learn Free: one of my favourite grammar websites for those of us who are into learning the language properly.
All in all, you never stop learning a language, but if you put enough effort you will end up being able to read, write and speak Dutch, a really hard language to learn.