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Kun ik Nederlands spreken?

Er…no. Nog niet…
confused and frustrated

When Dan & I first moved to the Netherlands, we wanted to learn Dutch but we were naive about just how important it really was. “Oh you don’t need to learn Dutch” people (not just non-Dutch people) would say to us, “Everyone speaks English in the Netherlands”. “Oh they speak something different in Limburg” was another one (true, but still not an excuse). We even had individuals advise us to learn French or German instead; purported that it would be “more useful” since the Netherlands is a small country and one of the few in the world that speaks their tongue.

We said, “No, no. Learning Dutch is the right thing to do if we’re going to live there.” We understood that it would matter for finding work, making friends, and joining clubs. But honestly we didn’t try very hard. But everyone speaks English in the Netherlands. No problem right?

Wrong! Maybe if you live in Amsterdam, in a community of all expats, and never want to connect with someone cross-culturally you don’t have to learn Dutch. But if you can’t stand being functionally illiterate and live anywhere else you better get yourself enrolled in a course ASAP. Because that is exactly what it is like to live in a country without speaking the language: like being illiterate. And I’ve got it easy.

I think what people really mean is “you can get by”. That’s true. I’ve been getting by for nearly a year now, but its embarrassing to order poorly in a restaurant and sad to miss out on conversations with colleagues and friends. I don’t have an office to go too, but it would be nearly impossible to engage with your coworkers without making the effort to speak their language. While everyone is friendly about speaking to me in English (and stares at me funny when I try to speak Dutch), I feel guilty and separate from the people around me. It’s a very foreign feeling and not a pleasant one.

So what’s taking so long? Well, honestly I’m not very good with languages and scheduling conflicts kept us out of the Dutch for Expats course for longer than intended. Poor excuses I know, but there you go.

We are now enrolled in Maastricht University’s Dutch for Expats second module and struggling through homework on a nightly basis to get a handle on all aspects of this new language. The first module was taught more or less in English, but this one is exclusively being taught in Dutch. While that’s good for my ear, I feel like I’m falling further behind every week.

Despite its apparent similarities to English, Dutch is actually quite different and difficult to learn, but I still believe it is worth learning. After a module and a half my reading comprehension has shot way up (long articles wear me out) and my writing and speaking is slowly improving. My listening comprehension remains terrible; probably because I don’t get forced into Dutch conversations or situations very often and it is easy to miss things when you’re not prepared to be spoken to.

I’m still extremely nervous about testing out my measly skills even in simple situations because while I’m sure I can say what I want to, I’m not sure I’ll comprehend the response. Hopefully by the end of the three modules I’ll be more confident and will be able to at least do simple things freely. I’ve got two more years to get it right.

Moral of the Story: Learn Dutch. Please. Seriously. And don’t say I didn’t warn you.

11 Responses to “Kun ik Nederlands spreken?”

  1. memdin says:

    I have had two attempts at learning Dutch and have every excuse under the sun for not… Best of luck, I know that my 3rd attempt will be starting soon.

  2. locusta says:

    What learning methods have you tried? For example I’m taking a twice weekly class, but I’ve heard good things about one-on-one instruction.

  3. Nice blog..while living here as an expat you more or less face the same situation regarding the language, as you have aptly described. I remember myself making the same arguments over and over again and then finally settling down to learning it..Long way to go though!!
    I came to your blog through Dave’s blog on NL. .nice to know another fellow expat blogger out here!!

  4. locusta says:

    Hi! Thank you for the kind words. It’s good to run into some more expat bloggers. :)

  5. Thanks for sharing this! And I agree very much with you because I too heard the “you don’t need to learn Dutch because everyone can speak English” before I came here. Same as you wrote, outside of an international city like Amsterdam, the chances become slimmer. Long story short, I too have had to learn it & am glad I did because it’s helped me with my work and I feel more integrated.

  6. Melissa says:

    I agree it’s absolutely important to the learn the language and plan to take the Inburgering courses. Do you know anything about these specifically in Maastricht? I’ve been chatting with other expats in Utrecht(why can’t there be this many in Maastricht too!) and found out each city has their own protocol..for ex in Utrecht I think it’s completely paid for and they also provide childcare.
    Also, what do you think about the language course you’re taking..would you recommend it?

  7. locusta says:

    I don’t know what is available for Inburgering in this region. Because Dan & I aren’t here as permanent residents we’re not required to go through the process. There is a man in my Dutch class however who has been talking about taking the Inburgering test, so Maastricht probably doesn’t offer its own course. Or maybe he’s just taking my class for extra practice. His Dutch is really good comparatively.

    I’ve actually been relatively happy with my current class (its hard, but it would be hard under any circumstances). I don’t expect to come out at the other end fluent or anything, but I’ve probably learned more Dutch in 4 months than I learned Spanish in 3 years during high school. Its pretty expensive for non-employees of the University though; we’re paying about 1000 euros for three modules for just me (Dan gets it free). I want to join or start a conversation club at the end of it so I don’t start forgetting as soon as I stop going to class. :-/

  8. Melissa says:

    Thanks for the info..wow, that’s quite expensive! I have read at some point though that the classes through the University are the best…not to mention it’s my husbands Alma Mater..I’m sure I’ll be enrolled as soon as we arrive.

  9. locusta says:

    No problem. I can say that a live class has been much better than a language CD. Rosetta Stone wasn’t much help.

  10. Daniela says:

    Hello Locusta,

    My name is Daniela, I am from Romania and I moved to the NL.I am interested in taking some Dutch classes in the University of Maastricht but I have seen that only one module costs 1500 euros.One module contents 7 weeks with 2 h/day + 3 hours of learning by myself home.It’s the same as you have taken?

    I am still in the periode to decide between University classes and local classes.For both I have to pay.

    Thank you

    Daniela

  11. Paul says:

    Locusta,

    While I may not be an Ex-Pat, I’ve got myself a Dutch girlfriend and while her family (overall) speaks primarily Nederlands she speaks primarily in English and can’t write her native tongue. I took three semesters of Duitsch and look at Nederlands and while I am terribly thankful there are none of those awful umlauts, the grammar and my pronunciation (she laughs whenever I try to say anything starting with ‘g’.) still give me the willies.

    I’ve tinkered around with Rosetta Stone and while she tries to help me I still find one very important part of learning missing… Actually using it.

    Ik spreek geen heel goed Nederlands. :(

    See?

    Cheers!
    Paul