Advanced Dutch: Levels B2, C1 and C2 explained
What does “can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics” and “can show controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices” actually mean? UvA Talen explains what you can expect from Dutch courses at levels B2, C1 and C2 using real-life examples. You can read all about levels A1, A2 and B1 in a previous article.
The Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) is used to describe language skills at six different levels, ranging from A1 for beginners to C2 for proficient language users. The CEFR gives educational institutes, employers and governments an impression of your language skills. Additionally, language schools usually use the CEFR to indicate the level a course is taught at, and many official language tests give your results based on its framework. Now, let’s find out what levels B2, C1 and C2 actually mean.
Level B2: Flexible language use
B2 is all about being flexible with Dutch. Expanding your vocabulary and learning new grammar will give you the tools you need to go from relying on standard expressions and conventions to being more spontaneous and flexible.
At the B2 level, you learn lots of new words that will help you express yourself, like synonyms or words you’ve known for a while and use frequently, such as “leuk”, “goed”, “lekker” and “lief”. With your new vocabulary, you can now describe someone beyond simply: “hij is aardig”.
The use of idioms is also important at this point. Expressions are so embedded in the Dutch language that native speakers might not even know when they’re using them and, with some practice, you will get better at recognising them. This will help you understand what to take literally and what to take met een korreltje zout. You’ll also become more aware of cynicism. Next time someone says “gezellig kamertje, zeg”, you will know better than to reply with “dankjewel”.
Writing at a B2 level means you don’t just write standard sentence after standard sentence. Instead, your texts are well structured, sentences connect to each other, and you can refer to other words or clauses. One way of adding structure is with transition words such as eerst, nadat and ten slotte. You should also clearly express cause and effect by using conjunctions like omdat, daarom, als… dan, doordat and daardoor.
Using the all-important Dutch word “er” is another way to communicate with a natural flow. “Er” can be used in five different ways. At the B2 level, you learn the more complex uses of the word, like in passive sentences: “Er is niets gebeurd” (nothing happened). You also learn how to combine “er” with other words, like separable verbs: Ik denk erover na (I’m thinking about it).
This new vocabulary and grammar will allow you to participate in discussions, give presentations, read in-depth articles, negotiate and write short essays. If you take a course at B2 level, you will practice speaking and writing by discussing social themes like health insurance systems, part-time working women, the environment and fireworks.
Having reached level B2, you are an independent user of Dutch, ready to work or study in Dutch!
Level C1: The finishing touch
At this point, you should be speaking Dutch with confidence in almost any kind of situation, whether at home, with friends, at work, or at university. This is a level you won’t master by taking language courses only but by using Dutch in your daily life.
Although you have moved past daily Dutch vocabulary, there are still new words to learn, for example, synonyms and idioms like een handje helpen, al dan niet and de vinger op iets leggen. Expanding your vocabulary will help you adapt your language use in different kinds of situations, such as in a formal (a job interview), business (a meeting) or casual setting (when joking with a friend).
You can say you’ve mastered Dutch when you start to notice "imperfect Dutch" around you. It could be in a song, in a Facebook comment, or spoken by a guest in a talk show. You might even start making "mistakes" yourself in certain situations. When writing a text message to a friend, it’s okay to skip punctuation marks, shorten words or misspell something from time to time.
At this level, most people still have their own grammar struggles. Some tricky bits of Dutch grammar are indirect speech (hij zegt dat…), the combination of “er” and a preposition to refer to a word or clause that’s still to come (ze hoopte erop dat…), and more complex relative clauses.
Level C2: Flawless Dutch
The C2 level is a level that even Dutch people don’t usually fully master. It involves specialised academic, legal and technical vocabulary. It means speaking and writing without any mistakes and understanding virtually everything you read or hear, whether it’s legal language in a courtroom or slang, spoken on the streets.
The way to reach C2 is by living, studying and working in the Netherlands for a longer period of time, so you won’t find a lot of language courses at this level. That being said, you probably won’t come across Dutch at level C2 often. Since companies in the Netherlands want their information to be clear and accessible, they usually communicate at B1 or B2 level.
Noortje van Scheppingen works at UvA Talen, one of the biggest language schools in Amsterdam. Their Dutch courses Advanced 1 to Proficiency 2 will help you get your Dutch to level C1. UvA Talen also offers courses that concentrate on a specific aspect of the language, like academic Dutch, business writing and fluency. All courses can currently be taken online.