Dutch level A1, A2 and B1: What does it all mean?

Dutch level A1, A2 and B1: What does it all mean?

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What do “can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters” or “can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters” actually mean? UvA Talen explains what you can expect from Dutch courses at levels A1, A2 and B1, using real-life examples.

You’ve probably heard of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). This framework is used to grade language proficiency, using six different levels with the skills you should have mastered at each level. Most language schools use the CEFR to indicate the level a course is taught at, and many official language tests give your results based on the framework. But, what do these levels actually mean in real-life?

Level A1: Mastering the basics

Level A1 is all about the basics. You learn the alphabet, colours, how to tell the time and basic vocabulary about clothes, appearance, food and family. You also learn the basic grammar rules, including the present tense, plurals and adjectives. This means that once you have reached level A1, you can manage yourself in situations where everybody does exactly as expected.

You can order food at a restaurant, buy a train ticket and order a haring at the market. If the answer is as expected (wilt u daar een salade bij or dat wordt dan vijf euro), you are perfectly fine. If the answer is different than expected (heeft u een voordeelurenkaart or mag het een onsje meer zijn), you will probably have to ask them to explain it in English.

This basic knowledge can come in handy at work. If a colleague asks if you’d like milk with your lunch, you can politely decline with a “Nee, bedankt. Dat vind ik niet zo lekker”. And knowing days, months and times in Dutch means you are ready to plan your first borrel. Why not ask your colleagues to check their diary and see if they’re available for a drink and bitterballen on a Friday evening, three weeks from now? Proost!

Level A2: The relaxed one

Level A2 is usually seen as a relaxed level. You’ve plodded through the basics and don’t have to worry about the irregularities and exceptions just yet. You will probably love showing off your new language skills to others by now.

If someone invites you to a birthday party, at this point in your language-learning journey, you’ll be able to start conversations that go beyond “hoe gaat het met je? Met mij gaat het goed”. You’ll be able to talk about your hobbies, interests and work, as long as it is in the present tense.

If they tell you something about themselves, you’ll know the right response, like wat leuk or wat jammer! At level A2, you can ask for or give someone directions because you are able to structure sentences and know the right vocabulary (ga links, ga de trap op naar boven, het is aan de rechterkant).

At this point, you also start to understand what is written on signs and maps, and you understand short pieces of information in brochures. When out walking, instead of automatically using Google maps, why not ask someone for directions? If you don’t understand the instructions, you can always say "bedankt", turn a corner and take out your phone again.

If you're visiting the IamExpat Fair in April, try asking someone from UvA Talen in Dutch where their workshop is taking place. You will probably understand the answer!

One bit of tricky grammar you will learn at level A2 is “soft ketchup”, the mnemonic that tells you whether to use a –t or –d at the end of a verb in the present perfect tense. Make sure you get to grips with this bit of grammar now, because you’ll also need it when you are learning the simple past.

Level B1: Expressing yourself

B1 is often seen as the hard one. You think you’re familiar with Dutch and now it turns out that there is much more to the language: the past tense, the future tense, the passive, idioms, formal language, irregularities and the dreaded "er".

Even though "er" is just a tiny word, it is hugely important in Dutch. It helps you add accents to a sentence, which in turn enables you to express yourself better. It can be used in five different ways and you will learn all about them. Some uses will turn out to be quite easy to learn, for example, when you use it to express a location ("er" is een park), other uses may well reduce you to tears until you get the hang of it.

All your hard work will definitely pay off though! You will notice that you understand more without making an effort, such as a Facebook post, a magazine article or a conversation on the street. You will now know the 2.000 most common Dutch words. Combined with your new grammar knowledge, you can start being more creative with Dutch. You won’t have to rely on familiar contexts anymore and expressing your ideas and emotions will come easier. You’ll be able to answer questions confidently with something other than ja, nee or ik weet het niet.

And your new-found command of Dutch will prove invaluable in getting to grips with the weird and wonderful ways of the Dutch culture. You’ll never be left with "een mond vol tanden”, that’s for sure!

Noortje van Scheppingen works at UvA Talen, one of the biggest language schools in Amsterdam. Their Dutch courses Beginners 1 to Intermediate 2 will help you get your Dutch to level B1. Want to improve your Dutch further? UvA Talen also offers advanced Dutch courses and specialised courses if you want to concentrate on a specific aspect of the language.

Noortje van Scheppingen


Noortje van Scheppingen

Noortje works as a course coordinator at UvA Talen, where she organises tailor-made language courses for companies and individuals. Loves languages, animals and Amsterdam.

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johanndut 10:05 | 2 April 2020

I have passed my B1 exam with CNaVT. But still when I apply for a job and do mention that I have B1 in Dutch then I get responses that I do not speak the language and therefore they not considering me for an interview. Thus it seems like this certification does not mean much.