There is no urgent need to learn Dutch. You are living in the International City of Peace and Justice on Sea. You are part of the ten percent of the English speaking population which calls itself diplomat, expat or international. With so many global companies, embassies and institutes your working environment is English. Your kids go to international schools. Many Dutch schools and university courses have an English stream. All Hagenaars you meet, speak excellent English. You have a busy job and lots of commitments. So why waste your precious time? Here are a few reasons why Ruud Hisgen (managing director of the Direct Dutch institute) thinks you should reconsider. He’ll also expose some persistent myths that fool you into believing that Dutch is a hard nut to crack.
by Ruud Hisgen
Believe you me, it pays off to invest a little money and time in Dutch. You probably think that you’ll only be here for a few years and so, what’s the use of learning a minority language for such a short period? Well, research done by the International Community Platform, shows that the average length of stay of an international in the Netherlands is longer than ten years. There’s a good chance that you might be around much longer.
Lost for words
Without any knowledge of Dutch you’ll feel as if you’re moving along the margins of Dutch society. At parties people will be polite, but after a while the conversation and the jokes will slide into Dutch. Soon, you’ll run into the boundaries where hospitality ends. Your children make Dutch friends and will pick up the language very quickly. You’ll feel lost for words when your Dutch colleagues are making some weird remark. Travelling in the country, you’re likely to encounter people who are not as good at English as the city-dwellers that you’re used to.
Speaking at a recent debate with internationals, Hague alderman and deputy mayor Ingrid van Engelshoven said that the municipality is supportive of the many international networks and willing to give information in English, but personally speaking she would also like to see internationals merge with the Dutch people and their culture. “The best way to assimilate to a new culture, is to learn the language. Being able to speak with Dutch people, read the newspapers or watch Dutch television. It broadens your horizon. And if the Dutch don’t speak Dutch to you, you can show them your button ‘Spreek Nederlands! Met mij!’”
She referred to our successful campaign that was launched last summer. This campaign was inspired by the common complaint that many students find it hard to practise Dutch, because any attempt is met with an English reply. It is true, Dutch shop assistants and waiters are so accustomed to newcomers that answering in English has become their second nature.
English and Dutch, one big family
If you ask anyone if Dutch is a difficult language, the answer will be affirmative. But that’s nonsense. If you’ve managed to learn English or German, Dutch is only one step away. Our languages are close family members. Just look at the words and you’ll recognize the similarities (boek, pen, water, etc.). Most of our words you’ll learn effortlessly. Grammar is not so very different either (we zien de koffiepot en de kopjes). Okay, spelling and pronunciation are slightly different, but that’s a mere matter of practice. So, is it all easy-going? No, let’s be honest… advanced students will agree that idioms take longer to learn.
To conclude, mastering the basics of Dutch can be achieved within the span of 24 90-minute lessons within a couple of weeks or months, depending on how much time you can spare. You’ll be surprised how fast you’ll learn, how rewarding it is, and how much fun! You’ll understand the culture better, make new friends and feel more at home in the depths of the Lowlands.
Article written by Ruud Hisgen for the Feel at Home in The Hague Summer magazine 2014