How to learn Dutch (and why I haven't)

I have a confession to make. I have lived in the Netherlands now for over a year and I can barely speak a word of Dutch.

One year ago I arrived in Holland with infinite ambition to explore a new place and to immerse myself in a new culture. And to some extent I have. I have travelled around, tried some different food and engaged locals in conversation.

But to truly know a culture also requires some knowledge of its language and it is here that I have utterably failed!

Making excuses

As I look back on my stay I cannot help but wonder why I have only succeeded to capture a few useful Dutch phrases for daily interaction. Granted I am no polyglot. As a Canadian, I am rather embarrassed to admit that I have only a basic grasp of French, our country’s other national language.

When asked why I cannot speak French I often sheepishly joke, "They taught it to us in elementary, I just did not learn" or "I only know one language, but I know it really well" - which of course is another way of saying I was too young to care and am too lazy to learn.

Yet, looking around I seem to be the only one making excuses. The Dutch are a great example of a culture that is unofficially yet overwhelmingly bilingual. The Netherlands has one of the highest English speaking populations for a non-English country in the world.

From my own experience, few Dutch appear unable to converse in English and there seems to be little discrepancy in terms of education, gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status.

Ironically though, perhaps it is the very ubiquity of English that serves as a deterrent for expats to learn Dutch. In a country where so many others adapt to English speakers, there is little incentive for English speakers to learn the native language.

Moreover, the fact that Dutch is not widely spoken beyond Holland’s borders may make some more willing learn other so-called global languages (i.e. French, Spanish, German) instead of the local dialect.

A strong global community and the reality that some expats only see the Netherlands as a temporary home may mean that learning Dutch is not a necessary condition for integration, but rather a choice to know the culture further.

Regretting not having learnt Dutch

In short, I regret my choice not to learn Dutch. Having spent the last year stumbling over the sound of Dutch consonants, and politely saying gesundheit every time I hear the word alstublieft, I am not exactly in the best position now that I am in the process of looking for a job.

While employers may not expect an expat to be fluent, after one year they do expect that you have at least attempted to pick up the basics. And so it is with a New Year and new energy that I resolve to overcome my lingual deficiencies.

Resources to learn Dutch

Here are a few resources beyond standard Dutch courses to learn the language that may help you too:

 Live Mocha is a language-learning community that combines interactive language review, writing and speaking exercises with the opportunity to learn and practices new languages through global connections. Basic Dutch courses are offered for free.

› LingQ also offers an online language-learning community and content. They do not currently offer Dutch though they plan to soon.

› MeetUp is a great way to connect with people in major cities who may have an interest in learning Dutch or want to exchange through a language conversation partner.

› Podcasts. An on-the-go way to learn languages. The podcast "Laura Speaks Dutch" is one of the few Dutch language-learning resources and can be found on the iTunes library. 

Any other resources out there? Which ones have you already used or heard of?



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