Why you should learn Dutch (and how to get Dutchies to speak it with you!)

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Like many internationals in the Netherlands, you’ve likely become comfortable with speaking English — we’re all guilty of it. But if you plan on ACTUALLY integrating into life in the lowlands, you need to learn some Nederlands

And yes, while it’s tempting to continue with the lingua franca of English, learning Dutch is packed full of benefits. You have more job opportunities, can navigate Dutch bureaucracy, and don’t have to ask for the English menu when you go out to eat. 😉 

But the best benefit is that you’re sending an important message to all the Dutchies in your life: “I’m trying”. After all, they’ve been catering their language to fit your needs, so it feels great to finally be able to return the favour!

Want to get a head-start and boost your Dutch-speaking ability super-fast? Taalthuis’ Summer Crash Course will teach you all the Dutch basics in one week of intensief Nederlands through face-to-face classes. 

The problem with learning Dutch in the Netherlands

With all those great benefits to learning Dutch, we’re sure you’re excited to start with Nederlands leren! There’s just one problem: it can be notoriously hard to make Dutchies speak Dutch with a non-native.

In fact, one of the biggest issues we hear at DutchReview is “Dutch people always switch to English when I speak to them in Dutch!”

Essentially, it’s a blessing and curse that Dutch people are some of the best non-native English speakers in the world. On the one hand, it makes it incredibly easy for you when you first arrive or when you want to have a complex conversation. On the other hand, it makes it too easy to switch to English for everything — and we’re all guilty of that. 😬 

Even if you pop up to the bar and say “Mag ik een biertje, alsjeblieft?” in your best possible Dutch there’s a good chance the bartender will turn around and say in perfect English “Sure, that will be four euro.” 

Speaking Dutch can be a great way to integrate in the Netherlands. Image: Pressmaster/Depositphotos

How to get people to speak Dutch with you

So now that you’re totally and wholly convinced that speaking Dutch in the Netherlands will make your life full of sparkly windmills and glass slipper clogs, here are our best tips to get those Dutch-dodging Nederlanders to speak their language with you. 

Practice Dutch directness: tell people you want to speak Dutch!

One thing you should always remember is that Dutch people don’t switch to English because you suck at Dutch. Instead, they switch to English because they think that they’re doing you a favour

So ask them to switch favours! Instead of speaking English with you because it’s easier for both of you, ask them to speak Dutch so you can practice! More often than not they’ll be happy to speak their native language and help someone out along the way. 

Try these phases to make the switch happen: 

Zullen wij Nederlands spreken? Shall we speak Dutch? 
Ik wil graag Nederlands spreken. Ik moet oefenen!I would like to speak Dutch. I need to practice!
Ik leer Nederlands. Kunnen wij Nederlands praten?I’m learning Dutch. Can we speak Dutch? 

Tip! If you’re just a beginner, it’s best to avoid asking this in busy or time-sensitive places. 

Try as much and as often as possible

We all catch ourselves taking the easy route and slipping back into English, especially if we’re going through a bit of a rut with our Dutch learning. But remember: the more you practice the more you’ll improve! Look for opportunities to use your Dutch anywhere and everywhere. You could: 

  • Use the full-service checkout instead of the self-service when you go to the grocery store.
  • Ask someone on the street what the time is (even if you already know).
  • Talk to your neighbour as you walk out the front door in the morning. 
  • Use an online chat service and write in Dutch. 

Wherever you see an opportunity to use your newfound language skills, seize it! Carpe diem! (Or in Dutch: Pluk de dag!)

Be honest about what you do and don’t know

Let’s get real: you’re not going to know every word at the start. We’ve all sidled up to the cafe counter and confidently said “Een grote zwarte koffie, alsjeblieft!” — only to receive a response that just sounds like a cat hacking up a hairball. 

Did they ask for your name? If you wanted something to eat? Maybe they gave you a huge compliment on your Dutch! Whatever it is, you have no idea. 

Sometimes Dutch people don’t follow the script (we know, how rude!). But if they do, take a deep breath, don’t panic, and remember: you’re allowed a second chance

Ask them to repeat themselves, ask them to speak slower, or just ask what a particular word means — easy! Here’s how: 

Kun je dat herhalen?Can you repeat that? 
Sorry, ik leer Nederlands. Kun je een beetje langzamer spreken, alsjeblieft? Sorry, I’m learning Dutch. Can you please speak a little slower? 
Wat betekent ____________?What does ____________ mean? 

Don’t give up speaking in Dutch (even if they switch to English!)

There are a few certainties in this universe: the sun will rise in the east, the Belastingdienst will collect taxes, and Dutchies will sometimes switch to English when you speak Dutch. 

Remember what we said above: Dutch people switch to English because they think that they’re doing you a favour. So be a little stubborn and just keep speaking Dutch. Because guess what: even if you end up in a half-Dutch half-English conversation you’re still speaking Dutch. And that win should always be celebrated! 🥳

Be ready to laugh at yourself

You’re going to make some Dutch mistakes and some of them will be hilarious. The best thing you can do is have a chuckle at your own expense. 

So here are some of our mistakes to make you feel better: 

  • Sam once accidentally ordered the whole ice-cream menu at Smullers. 
  • She also wanted to playfully call her girlfriend a “grote aap” (big monkey) but called her a “groente aap” (vegetable monkey) instead. 
  • Sarah once told someone “gefeliciteerd” (congratulations) after they sneezed — instead of gezondheid (bless you). 

We got laughed at, you’ll laugh at us, but one thing is for sure: you learn best from your mistakes (and a little side dose of humility). 😂 

Want to laugh while you’re learning Dutch? Taalthuis tops the charts when it comes to language schools in the Netherlands — and if you want to kick-start your Dutch learning, you can in their week-long Summer Crash Course!

Got any tips to get Dutch people to keep speaking Dutch with you? Drop them in the comments below!

This article was co-written by Sarah O’Leary and Samantha Dixon.

Feature Image: jolopes/Depositphotos

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  1. What a beautiful article! I am in the painful process of learning Dutch. Funny/sadly enough, I have lived already 6 years in the country. I didn’t dare to fully trying before due to X or Y (let’s be honest, there is always an excuse). Thanks a lot for writing this piece. I’ll save it somewhere to keep reminding myself that the process of learning is more powerful and useful than the shame I can feel when I make mistakes.

  2. Great topic and good ideas. Dutch is my second language and I had not been in the Netherlands for 25 years. When a family member told me that they would pick me up at 10 am I was happy “want dan kon ik lekker inslapen”. She laughed, and said that is for dogs and cats at the end of their lives. “Ik kon lekker uitslapen!”

  3. Actually, phrases like “Eigenlijk het helpt mij meer als wij Nederlands spreken” are much more helpful for getting people to switch back to Dutch than “Ik moet oefenen”. If I use that one, people normally react with something like oh how cute. Where if you explain to people in Dutch how they actually make your life easier by continuing to speak it, rather than the other way around as they previously thought, then they usually get the point very quickly and carry on in Dutch.


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