Living in The Netherlands without speaking Dutch; should you go for it or ‘vergeet het maar‘? Here’s a glimpse into life in Holland when you forgo learning Dutch.
Do I need to learn Dutch before moving to the Netherlands?
Living in the Netherlands without speaking the language, it’s a bit like… like willingly trying to swim without using your legs: it’s not ideal, but you can do it.
Most Dutch people will understand that you are trying your best not to drown and going as fast as you can. But from time to time, you will meet someone who will simply ask you to move out of the way; you just don’t fit in this line, so take your weirdo swim elsewhere.
I’ve got a message for you: DUTCH IS BLOODY HARD TO LEARN!
But thankfully, for those of us who want to learn Dutch before arriving in the Netherlands or are just too busy for classes, there is Bart de Pau from Learn Dutch. Check out Learn Dutch (and their supreme Youtube channel) if you’re serious about learning Dutch!
Living in Holland without speaking Dutch: conversation or trial?
I love living in this country, and I love the fact that with Dutch people, you kinda always know where you stand. They are so honest and direct, not to say abrupt, that I see it as a “let’s not waste our time with bullshit” kind of mentality. And it’s refreshing.
However, the Dutch can also be very proud. Of their culture, of their language… sometimes of themselves. And this combination mixed with the wrong people can turn what started as a nice conversation into a true trial, in which you will find yourself defending your lack of language abilities.
I do agree 1000% that learning the language of the country in which you live is crucial to integrate into society, and turn the “one of them” into “one of us.” But let’s be honest: Dutch is one of those languages that is not taught at school in many countries.
Learning Dutch: let’s start with de/het/een
Living in the Netherlands without speaking Dutch can sometimes be embarrassing. Thus, if you want to learn it, you have to learn from scratch. It is also a known fact that the older you get, the harder it becomes to learn a new language. Especially when said language has completely different grammar or pronounciation than your own language. Being French, Dutch is to me what Italian is to Germans: a language that has nothing in common with my mother tongue.
It is also a fact that Dutch people are particularly good with English. It simply never ceases to astonish me: almost everybody you will encounter in this country can speak English.
Just imagine living abroad but being able to go to the supermarket, to work, to the doctor or to any shop and have a conversation in English. Just try to do the same in France, or Italy, or any other European country (really, go ahead, try!).
That’s a blessing for tourists, but also for expats who get an actual chance of building a life abroad.
But that might also just be the problem: because the Dutch are so good with English, they tend to think that anyone else who isn’t is doing it on purpose. I have stopped counting the times when I have heard “French people refuse to speak English”, or “French people think everybody else in the world needs to speak French like them.”
It would be like Cristiano Ronaldo not understanding why some people are not good at football.
This might be breaking news for you, but the reason why the French don’t speak English is because they cannot speak English. Not by choice, but because of, well, lots of things really: education, culture, movies being dubbed in French. And when they can (because yes, some people can), they are most of the time too insecure to dare to reply in English.
So there you have it. It is not because we are particularly arrogant or proud. (I mean yeah ok, we’re proud of our culture and our food, but who isn’t?!).
Is learning Dutch hard?
Personally, my main problem with learning Dutch is pronunciation. A common sentence that I learnt before arriving in the country was “Sorry, I don’t speak Dutch”. “Ik spreek geen Nederlands.” To pronounce the “geen” just imagine that you have something stuck down your throat and you’re trying to get it out… yep that’s it, you’ve got it.
Well, I have actually never managed to find the confidence in pronouncing that sentence to anyone. I did think that writing it down on my hand and showing it would make it a bit of an awkward situation.
Yes, Dutch is a hard language. But they know… luckily
But thankfully, the large majority of Dutch you meet here are nice and friendly, and they totally understand that Dutch is a very difficult language to learn. They will actually enjoy very much teaching you a word or two when they get the chance. Yes, living in the Netherlands without speaking Dutch means that everyone will try to be your personal teacher.
It goes from the friendly cashier in my local supermarket asking about my life story before telling me how much I need to pay in Dutch, to the work colleagues who enjoy teaching me the most random words they can think of, before bursting out laughing.
Thanks to them, I now even know how to reply to these people who don’t understand why the hell I cannot speak Dutch yet. Houd je bek! (shut up).
So are you tired of living in The Netherlands without speaking Dutch? Lucky for you we’ve also got some basic Dutch for you here. Start with these seven words at our YouTube channel:
Seven words of Dutch not enough? For those of us who want to learn Dutch before arriving in the Netherlands, check out Bart de Pau from the excellent Learn Dutch (and their supreme Youtube channel) they’ve got good tutorials and plenty of entertaining videos as well there:
So now you know what it’s like living in the Netherlands without speaking Dutch. Liked this article? Be sure to follow DutchReview on Facebook in order to not miss out on any other good stuff!
Feature Image: College Degrees 360/Flickr
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in June 2016 and was fully updated in October 2020 for your reading pleasure.