Things people ask when you say you’re learning Dutch

I could quite comfortably write reams and reams on this topic therefore I thought limiting myself wasn’t such a bad idea. In this post I am going to talk about 5 English responses and 5 Dutch responses you can expect when you tell someone you are learning Dutch. These are genuine responses I have had from people when they’ve found out that I’m attempting to learn, and I quote, “Freaky Deeky Dutch”.


English Response

1. “Why?” – Standard English response to anything that is out of the ordinary. “Why do you want to do that? / What’s the point?” Well the point is that personal development is a choice and my choice is to do it via languages.

2. “That’s interesting.” – This is the response from any other multilingual person. I’ve noticed myself doing it when someone says they are learning Spanish or Hindi or some other exotic sounding language. I think there is a mutual understanding of the struggles of learning a language that make for a ‘That’s really interesting’ response. Maybe you can share tips or experiences on your language learning

3. “What for?” – Similar to the standard response of ‘Why?’ the ‘What for?’ people always assume there is some grand end goal. They are never happy with a response along the lines of ‘just because’. The standard expected answers are work or love. Most people think you are either learning to for work or to impress a loved one. I have still not developed a good enough come back to this kind of question.

4. “Is that the same as German?” <Insert here a dodgy Audi advert impression> – This frustrates me. Dutch is a Germanic language BUT it isn’t German. I was a little naive at first about Dutch as there is some cross over but almost instantly when you hear the two together Dutch is much more soft and bouncy whereas I always feel that German is a harsh sounding language.

5. “Say something in Dutch then.” – The response of people that don’t believe you. Its almost as if these people want to catch you out. What should your response be? I end up going a long the super predictable lines of “Hallo Goedenmorgen, ik ben Maria, Hoe gaat het met jou?” (yes that is my standard, on the spot, Dutch sentence. I have used it that many times I think so people think that that is all I can say :/)

Dutch Responses

1. “Why? Everyone here speaks English”. – This is a cop-out. Most of the times I get this response is because some Dutchies like the fact that not many people speak their language so they can talk about you almost to your face and you’d be completely oblivious to what was going on. This is sneaky but I must admit I like it. I can’t wait to go on a package holiday and overhear a Dutch family. It will feel like they are talking in a code only we know and I can give them the node! (Or not, am I getting to carried away here?).

2. “Really? It is a super hard language to learn.” – That’s no reason not to bother though surely. Similar to response no.1 just because I don’t need it doesn’t mean it’s acceptable not to know the basic polite gestures. In my experience shop assistants like to have the small exchange of words at the till and I like to leave the store knowing I’ve said my bit.

3. “That is really good.” – This is from the supportive Dutchies. They acknowledge the difficulty of the language like response no.2 but they appreciate the commitment to learning something that sometimes feels most unnatural.



4. “Say something in Dutch then.” – Similarly to the reasons I gave for the English response the Dutch do the same only this time they really do want to catch you out and correct your poor pronunciation. I had the Dutch test of ‘say Scheveningen’ which apparently is a most scientific test to check whether or not your Dutch is actually German, or something like that. This has happened to me, around the dinner table, on more than one occasion. Or the best is when they say “Say this then…” and then judge you on your delivery of an insult to someone, the best thing in those occasions for me is that 80% of the time I know I’m saying something rude so the joke is just as much on them as it is on me! Also something to watch out for is the come back of ‘that sounds so funny in your accent’. Well SORRY for my Birmingham accent leaking through into my Dutch.

5. They carry on in Dutch, at lightening pace just expecting you to fully understand everything that is being said by everyone like a native. There is either that response or indeed a pop quiz on all the hard words. Similar to response no.4. The quiz is partly malicious in the fact that they expect you to get it wrong and embarrass you (that’s normally my response. I feel the colour rising in my cheeks and all of a sudden EVERYBODY is looking at me).

Here’s a little Austin Powers reference to leave you with. I love Austin Powers!




Maria Smith
Born and raised in England Maria is a Dutch obsessive. Not just in love with the windmills and tulips her passion for all things Orange has spanned over 10 years. Proud feminist and campaigner, Maria works in UK politics whilst dreaming about eventually moving to the Netherlands.


  1. I totally understand it…. and when I say something, the new joke is to say I sound like Maxima. Not even sure if it is a compliment or a offense.

  2. I lived in the Netherlands for about 11 months and of course also learned the language. I really like your article since I recognize a lot of your stories 😀 (like dutchies asking me why I’d learn dutch when everybody around there speaks english. Or once when I said Scheveningen in the right way they were so happy) even though I am german. Your last point on the dutch response is pretty much the best 😀

    • I think you really need to learn Dutch to be part of the community. For example it gets really boring going out with an entire group where everyone is Dutch except for you and they are all laughing and telling jokes on the top of their voices in Dutch while you sit in the corner.

  3. I think you assume a bit too much with Dutch number 4. Yeah, some people will have malicious intent, but most people are probably just curious what you can say or just want to encourage you to say something so they can compliment you (‘that sounds really good, keep going!’).

  4. Ah, Scheveningen! The story behind that one is probably that German people have some trouble saying that without immediately giving themselves away as German. There is a famous scene in the movie ‘Soldaat van Oranje’ where the main characters have to say Scheveningen to prove they are Dutch and not German spies.

  5. Soo Yeah Ofcourse we keep on talking in dutch.
    You told us you Can sprak our language Its easier for us then English (altough most of us speak English). Wouldn’t you do the Same if iT was the other way around?

    I Also know a few people who havent masterd speaking dutch But do understand everything we say. Thats really anoing i automaticly start speaking in german Or English to andere them?

  6. Yeah indeed, as Sylvia said, the Scheveningen-test was done in the war, to check whether they were impersonating the Dutch.


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