Why bother to learn Dutch during a temporary stay in the Netherlands?
The Netherlands is a popular choice for internationals from across the globe. It is safe, well organised, flat (handy when cycling!) and, perhaps the greatest advantage: almost everyone speaks English. During your time here, it is therefore not strictly necessary to learn Dutch. So, why would you spend time and energy on that crazy language with those weird sounds, if you don’t plan on spending the rest of your life here? Because you can soundly benefit from it, argue teacher Annemieke and course participant Maria.
More comfortable stay
Annemieke van Ballegoyen is an NT2 (Dutch as a second language) teacher at In’to Languages and teaches Social Dutch courses, among others. These courses are popular among international students, including exchange students who are only in the Netherlands for one semester. Annemieke: “Even if you are only living in a country temporarily, learning the language can still make your stay easier and more comfortable. Being able to engage with the local population can make you feel more at home. In addition, by learning the language—even just a bit—you will get a better overview and understanding of certain cultural aspects.”
A good example is Dutch directness, explains Annemieke: “Apart from the question of how much you earn, everything can be discussed and there seem to be few taboos. This outright manner of communicating, and also giving your opinion without being asked for it, for instance, is very unusual in some cultures and can be experienced as being uncomfortable. It is therefore good to know that this is not meant negatively and that you don’t need to take it personally.”
Annemieke with a group of her students
The Social Dutch courses are an accessible introduction to the Dutch language and culture and are particularly suited to people who are only staying in the Netherlands for a relatively short period. “We work with everyday topics and mainly focus on the content and to a lesser extent on grammar, for instance,” explains Annemieke. “In this way, course participants can soon join in a conversation or respond appropriately to questions and situations in everyday life. For instance when going grocery shopping, ordering something or making an appointment. Or, a very popular discussion topic: the weather! If it isn’t too cold then it is too warm or wet, so it is nice if you can join in with complaining, right?”
Not everything is in English
Maria Nino is Colombian and started her PhD at the Radboud university medical center a few months ago. She expects to live in the Netherlands for about three to four years. She previously studied in Sweden, where she lived for two-and-a-half years without ever learning a word of Swedish: “My Master's programme was entirely in English and everyone at the university spoke English. Since this was the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, I also had little social interaction outside my study programme, so I didn't really have a reason to learn Swedish.”
But here in the Netherlands, she's decided to take a different approach: “It now feels natural to learn the language. My colleagues in the lab communicate in English, but everything else in the hospital is in Dutch. And I also have some Dutch friends. They don't mind speaking English to me, but when we’re with a group, people sometimes switch to Dutch. It makes sense, of course: it's easier to speak your own language.”
You've got to start somewhere
Maria has now completed part one of the Social Dutch course, and she’s keen to learn even more. “It's fun to learn practical things that you can immediately use in practice. Although I haven't spoken much Dutch outside class yet. Not because I find it scary; we all have to start somewhere. I personally appreciate it when someone makes the effort to learn another language. But speaking Dutch is often not necessary – for example with the self-scan in the supermarket – or the people I speak to quickly switch to English. They think they’re making it easier for you, but that means I have little opportunity to practice.”
“My plan is to also complete the more intensive Dutch courses later on, although they’re more difficult to combine with my work. I hope that completing Social Dutch will give me a useful foundation from which I can continue to learn later. I don't know yet what I want to do once I obtain my PhD, but if I can speak a bit of Dutch, it will at least give me more options to find a job here. And for now, it's especially nice that I can already understand more things, like the name of products in the supermarket, for example.”
Annemieke: “Even the small things can contribute to feeling more at home and more comfortable during your stay in the Netherlands. And you’ll soon see that you’ll also experience nice responses from your environment, for instance if you greet someone in Dutch and ask how they are. In the end, you will look back on the time you spent here with a smile and with even more pleasure. And you’ll remember some of the words that you learned for the rest of your life!”