Posted on: August 29, 2021 Posted by: Soreh Milchtein Comments: 13
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When I moved to the Netherlands several years ago, the only Dutch words I really knew were “ik hou van jou.” Ik hou van jou translates to “I love you” in English. Let me be honest, I had no intention or desire to learn Dutch. I had visited the Netherlands a few times before and was satisfied that most people spoke English relatively well. Why in the world would I want to learn a language that basically no one spoke? I was working from home for an American company. It’s not like I needed Dutch to work or for anything else. Well, I found out that I’d have to learn it. I am glad that I did, and you should too. 

Visa Requirement

As an American who stays in the Netherlands on a partnership visa, learning Dutch is mandatory for me. Depending on the country that you come from, you may have to take the inburgeringexamen, or immigration tests. If you don’t pass the tests, then you get a fine and potentially get your visa revoked. I will start taking the exams hopefully at the end of this year. That was reason number one why I had to learn Dutch. But it didn’t end there. 

Family and Friends Gatherings 

Although many people do speak English here, it doesn’t mean that they feel comfortable speaking it. Every time I’d go to my partner Kevin’s family’s or friend’s gatherings, I’d leave close to tears. Sitting all evening and not being able to understand a thing is extremely exhausting. Not being able to speak Dutch made me feel very uncomfortable and not at home. Now that I can carry a basic conversation, I feel so much better.

Being Able to Fit in 

When you move to a new country, fitting in is extremely important. You want to feel at home and feel like you made the right choice of moving to that country. Even though people speak English, it’s incredibly annoying not to be able to speak Dutch. Think about going grocery shopping, how are you supposed to know the difference between the different kinds of milk. If you’re on the train and the route is getting cut short, how will you know if the conductor only announces it in Dutch? I always answered people “Google translate obviously.”

Let’s be honest, Google translate can only take you so far. If you want to feel at home here, and not be unhappy every time you step outside your house, learning Dutch is very important. Whether you like it or not, this is your home now. You might as well try to make it feel like home.

Something Unexpected About Knowing Dutch

You may have some unexpected positives come from knowing Dutch. Take me for example, I recently started my own writing business. I write mainly in my native language, English. However, I’ve even gotten some work translating basic Dutch to English. I would have never expected to make money from knowing Dutch.

How I Learned Dutch

I am going, to be honest here. I am by no means a pro in the Dutch language. I am at A2 level, and my grammar is horrible. But you know what? I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I waited almost a year after moving here before taking the step to start learning. And I am so happy that Kevin pushed me to do it.

I go to a Dutch school in my city. It isn’t an official school, so if I don’t pass the exams, I can’t prove that I tried learning Dutch. The school is led by volunteers. We meet twice a week for four hours total. It’s only €2,50 a class. Super cheap but also risky if you don’t think you can hack the language. 

COVID and Learning Dutch

My school has been closed for months now due to COVID. I am really looking forward to its opening in September. Hopefully, nothing stands in the way. In the meantime, I do my Duolingo for a few minutes a day. It’s a free language learning app. I also speak to cashiers in stores, Kevin’s family, and more in Dutch. If I don’t understand something or can’t find the words in Dutch, then I mix in English.

If you prefer to go to an accredited school, there are many ways to afford it. In certain cases, the government will loan you money for the classes. If you pass the tests, then you don’t have to pay the loan back. It might be worth looking into. Sometimes your work will pay for classes to learn Dutch. There is always a way to be able to learn Dutch. Even if that means studying by yourself. Don’t give up or just refuse to learn it. It’ll only make your life more difficult. 

How is your Dutch going?


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13 People reacted on this

  1. Hi, my name is Fernanda, I will relocate to the Netherlands next year. Now I take classes. Thanks for your message, I feel better and hopefully learning more Dutch before I move.

  2. Learning Dutch. It is very important to be able to learn the language of the country where you live if not being a native. The attitude of having to learn a language that few people speak is a bit arrogant. Americans just aren’t very developed as far as other languages go. Maybe if you are lucky you might get some French and Spanish but that is it. I have been in the Netherlands now for 55 yrs. I still have a very pronounced American accent. I get reminded of this almost every time I open my mouth. I have learned to get the other person to tell me about THEIR language skills and I have heard the most interesting stories. I have no problems whatever in understanding Dutch and I can read and understand Dutch books with no problems. It takes time to feel at home in a foreign country but worth every minute and it does help to learn the language.

  3. I recently moved in The Netherlands and I am taking dutch classes as well as self study. It’s not easy but it’s exciting and fun to learn and meet people coming from different countries. So far so good for me. I just hope I can connect to some people who are also learning the language and new to this mooi country!🇳🇱😘

  4. I am Dutch and I appreciate that you posted this. There are so many expats that do not bother learning Dutch and arrogantly just start speaking English everywhere without bothering to ask the person if they speak English (even though most Dutch people do, it would be polite to ask). Also in conversations, lectures, tours, where 95% of the group is Dutch, they (without any trace of ‘embarassment’) demand the whole thing to be in English and we all have to adapt for these own or two people who cannot be bothered to learn Dutch and expect us to just switch to English. Again: YES, it is not a ‘world language’ like English, and arguably ‘useless’ to learn, but if an expat is planning to spend more than just a couple of years in the Netherlands, perhaps even raise a family, please do be like Soreh, and learn Dutch.

    1. Liz, What a lack of empathy hidden under a wild generalization for people that may need linguistic access as they don’t speak a language while it presents a minor inconvenience to you. Oh you had to adapt, so terrible. Most expats that speak English don’t even speak English as first language and it is already a compromise. That being said, that most Dutch do speak English is just the result of conscious and aggressive policy to participate internationally and acquire talent competitively that overlays a strong colonial history, which makes me think that few things can be such a straightforward first world problem and utterly uneuropean at the same time. Why learn Dutch, to integrate in an overly phobic society pretending some faux American dream? Pass thanks

  5. Dear Soreh,

    I want to thank you so much for your write up. Your story inspires me to carry on with learning the dutch language. You see, just like you, I felt the same way, telling myself that I didn’t need to worry about the language. I have been in the Netherlands for many many years now. Infact I call her home. So why won’t I want to speak the language?

    I have always worked with international companies were the business language is English. All my friends around me both Dutch and other nationals spoke English well. So, to me there was no problem. Today though, my story is different.

    I have an 8 year old son who goes to a Dutch school. He speaks both Dutch and English so well. My reality stroke last year when we lost my wife to cancer. During the lockdown, our children had to study at home and I had to help my Son. The teachers would send instructions on what we needed to do, but they were in Dutch. This was the momment I realised I was wrong not to have learned the language. Another thing recently happened when I lost my job recently. I knew that with my experience, I should be ok to land another job soon. Again I have been proven wrong. I find myself focusing on looking for new opportunities with only international companies because most Dutch companies want you to speak both languages very well. So if I was able to speak Dutch, I probably would have had another job by now.💡 This is another realisation I have come to.

    So, I started taking classes at home and today I have my A2 certification. I intend to carry on, and I will be taking some of the tips you’ve mention. Your story has really inspired me to go on and even to share my own story. So, I thank you for that.

  6. ELLO IM HERE A YEAR IN JANUARY. IM 66 AND IN BAD HEALTH MARRIED TO A DUTCHMAN.WEMARRIED HERE IN 2005 AND HE CAME TO AMERICA. NOW WE MOVED HERE AND IVING IN A SENIOR CENTER IN ZWOLLE. IM VERY HARD OF HEARING WITH AN IMPLANT. I AM FINDING VERY HRD TO LEARN DUTCH.I AM BLIND IN MY LEFT EYE AND HAVE EYE PROBLEMS. I CAN NOT ATTEN CLASSES BUT TRYING MY BEST TO WATCH DUTCH LESSONS ON YOU TUBE. ANY ADVICEFOR AN OLD LADY?

  7. Good morning everybody ! I am french and I lived in Netherlands and I arrived with Covid… my expatriation here was not previous like that in my mind !
    I work in Maastricht but we are on homeworking since I live here!
    Can you give me some contacts or tips To help me To learn dutch in the cheapest way ?
    All courses are really expensive and as a single mum I cannot pay too expensenives lessons! As I decide To come and live in Netherlands for me it’s normal To learn dutch To be really integrate in my new country. My son already learn dutch at school and he start To be fluent in dutch. He really like this new country and want To stay and live here after his studies. Thank you if you can share some informations !

  8. Good morning everybody ! I am french and I live in Netherlands and I arrived with Covid… my expatriation here was not previous like that, in my mind !
    I work in Maastricht but we are on homeworking since I live here!
    Can you give me some contacts or tips To help me To learn dutch in the cheapest way ?
    All courses are really expensive and as a single mum I cannot pay too expensenive lessons! As I decide To come and live in Netherlands for me it’s normal To learn dutch To be really integrated in my new country.
    My son already learn dutch at school and he start To be fluent in dutch. He really like this new country and want To stay and live here after his studies. Thank you if you can share some informations!

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