What language do you communicate in?

door Regina Coeli

When you zoom in on language, you find that a multitude of languages are spoken in the Netherlands. Recent research has shown that 25% of adults here prefer to speak a language other than Dutch at home.

Frisian, Turkish, Arabic, Kurdish, Polish and Cantonese are some of the more commonly spoken languages in the country—all languages that will get you by only within a limited circle. To communicate with each other in public life and at work, we have to adapt and speak another language; for some, this is required a bit more than others.

Although English isn’t considered an official language in the Netherlands (except in the Caribbean part of the kingdom), it is the language that will best help you get by here alongside Dutch. Over 90% of the Dutch have some knowledge of English. Universities and colleges offer a range of studies exclusively in the language, and numerous international companies have adopted English as their working language.

English or Dutch

For people who need to integrate in the Netherlands, it isn’t a question of wanting to learn Dutch. They have to. Even if you want to work as a foreign employee in healthcare or a social profession, speaking Dutch is mandatory in most cases.

If you aren’t required to learn Dutch, you can generally get by with English. An important question then is: is your English and that of your conversation partners up to scratch? And you could also ask yourself whether you’re comfortable not being able to understand and speak Dutch.

How do you get by in English?

If you’ve come to the Netherlands as an expat, chances are you already speak some English. If it’s your mother tongue, you could very well even teach the Dutch a few words, some new expressions and good pronunciation. Or perhaps you learned English as a foreign language yet at times need to think carefully about how you want to put something or have your doubts about whether the other person has really understood you. Or maybe you can find the right words, but people around you have trouble understanding you because you have an accent they aren’t accustomed to.

If you’ve chosen to spend your life as an English-speaking expat in the Netherlands, you might give some thought to whether it would be helpful to improve your English.

Speaking English in an international team

If you work in an international team, you’ll find that your colleagues’ English can run the gamut. This could be because of their skill levels, but it could also be because everyone has learned English from the perspective of their own language and culture. After all, those factors can determine not only an accent but also the way someone thinks or how they feel about a given word or phrase.

Even when everyone hears the exact same sentence, in an international setting, each person might understand it differently. That means it’s important in these kinds of situations to not automatically assume everyone’s on the same page. It’s wise to check whether you’ve understood others correctly and whether the other way round is also the case. Communicate with caution!

Or Dutch?

Even when you live in circles where everyone speaks great English, you’ll still come across a lot of Dutch-language communication. Whether that’s in the conversations around you in the supermarket or that letter from your municipality that’s just dropped onto your doormat. Wouldn’t it be great to at least have a clue what those are about? Understanding Dutch is the first step towards feeling more at ease in a Dutch-speaking environment. A beginners’ course in Dutch can get you off to a solid start.

Do you notice it really bothering you that you don’t speak Dutch? Like when:

  • your children go to a Dutch school or join sports clubs?
  • your work environment changes and you end up with a manager who prefers to chat away in Dutch?
  • you want to apply for a new position that requires knowledge of the language?

If so, it’s time to take the bull by the horns and get good advice on how best to learn Dutch.

Sound advice

If you want to improve your language skills, seek professional help. You’ll learn faster with a coach or language trainer because together, you can work on the exact language you need in a highly targeted manner, and you get corrected on the spot.

Contact Regina Coeli to find out how you can gain a command of the language, whether that’s Dutch, English or yet another.

Are you interested in language and career?

Just leave your email address with us and we will be happy to keep you informed.