Good reasons to learn or improve your Dutch
Many people live in the Netherlands for years without ever learning the Dutch language.
Dutch people, especially in larger cities, generally speak English with enough fluency to make it possible to do your shopping, ride the tram and even attend a Dutch birthday party only recognising the most basic words.
Gestures and nodding will get you pretty far here...
Foreign & Funny
Dutch feels really foreign if you just look at it, and it’s even worse when you first hear it. It seems like just a series of misshapen vowels strung together with guttural sounds delivered at top speed.
When you start to learn it, however, you realise what a close relationship it has to English. For instance, coleslaw, a common salad in the United States, is basically cabbage salad. The word coleslaw comes from koolsla, which is literally Dutch for cabbage salad.
Then there are words in Dutch that are sort of funny. The word for gloves is handschoenen, which literally means "hand shoes." The word for gums is tandvlees, which literally translates to "teeth meat." It’s sort of fascinating...
Good reasons to learn Dutch
"I had lived here four years before I even tried to learn Dutch," says Walter, 38. "But when I finally did, I realised that it wasn’t that difficult, and I wondered why I hadn’t done it before. I guess I just thought I wouldn’t be able to do it."
There are a number of really good reasons to learn Dutch or to improve your Dutch. Here are a few:
› Shopping, cooking and eating
Of course, everyone learns the basics (kip, brood and melk) when they move here. You learn how to find your weekly supplies at the supermarket and how to navigate a menu at a restaurant. But there’s more.
"When I dug a little deeper and learned a few more words, I was able to discover items that were very interesting and that were sitting right underneath my nose on a shelf," Walter says.
And while it may be hard to believe, there’s a whole Dutch culinary world that you can only explore if you can make your way through a Dutch recipe.
› News, cinema and theatre
It’s not so much that the Dutch have a particular grasp on the news items of the day, it’s more that there is an advantage to being able to understand what is going on in the country where you live. "It’s handy to be able to get it from the people who live here. It’s a convenience thing," Walter says.
New Dutch movies don’t come out at the rate Hollywood puts them out by any means, but watching them can give you a new view into what Dutch people are like.
Similarly, there are many TV shows that are worth watching when actually understanding them is a possibility.
Enjoying one of the many Dutch theatre performances is a huge challenge if you don’t have a reasonable command of the language, while cabarets are beyond even some extremely seasoned Dutch learners. But they could be a goal to strive for. Again, it’s a different look into Dutch society.
› Friends, parties and socialising
If you don’t speak the language, social situations can often feel like you’re standing outside a circle of friends. There’s a wall in between. Dutch people don’t always want to speak English.
There are myriad expat groups in any reasonably sized city and even groups in villages. But with a bit of effort, you can learn to speak easily to the natives and vastly expand your social and professional network.
Sometimes when you do make the effort to speak Dutch, Dutch people - especially in Amsterdam - will answer you in English so, annoyingly, you aren’t able to practise your Dutch. They are not trying to offend you.
Don’t be put off and insist that they speak Dutch to you. Of course, your chances of actually having a conversation are much higher if the person is acquainted with you and knows that you are making an effort to learn the language. They’ll take the time.
It may be worth your while in the long run to speak in Dutch from the start with co-workers or in-laws, as it tends to be quite difficult to break the pattern of "what language our relationship will be in" once you have set up a routine.
Take the plunge
There are many reasons to learn Dutch or to improve your Dutch. It takes some time and effort, but the rewards of making the effort will pay off in ways you never expected.
Stop putting it off. Just take the plunge. It’s worth it - ga ervoor!
Andy Baker works for UvA Talen, the independent language centre of the University of Amsterdam. Their courses are geared toward educated professionals who can benefit from a rapid learning curve. For more information, please comment below or visit their website.