[Read in Dutch/Italian] Some time ago I have written a post with tips to get to speak Dutch (how do I start speaking Dutch, by real?).
“Why should you want it? You can perfectly survive in the Netherlands without speaking Dutch.” That’s absolutely true, but I am still convinced that speaking the language of the country you live in makes the difference. On the other hand, I know perfectly that the level of English in the Netherlands works against our good will and demotivates even the most stubborn learner.
But there are a million reasons why I find it extremely important, especially for medium/long stay. Here I list my top 10
- You can survive without Dutch. True, but that already jars. We did not come here to survive, but to live. An experience, a period of our lives, an Erasmus, a job opportunity…call it as you want. But I bet nobody ever left his/her own country saying “I go to survive in the Netherlands”
- People appreciate you learning Dutch. I guess they appreciate our effort to learn the local language, to get integrated and not to ask the country to change or help us. Furthermore, in some cases they feel more comfortable in speaking their own language (who doesn’t by the way)
- Avoid a third language when possible. In general I think it is always good to speak the language of one of the two interlocutors – when this is possible of course. That way there is no doubt one of the two will speak the language very well. However, for that the level of the language needs to be good enough: consider the case of a conversation between you and a Dutch person.
Assume you are not native English speaking, and both of you are not studying English (i.e. both levels of English are constant in time).
The situation will then be either case I or case II in the graphs below.
In case 1 there will thus be a moment (T1) when your Dutch will be better than your English, and it will be advantageous to speak Dutch (although the level of English of the other person is also high).
In case 2 instead, there is a gray area between T1 and T2 where your level of Dutch is higher than the level of English of your interlocutor, but still lower than your level of English. You will probably feel more comfortable in speaking English, but you may still get advantage in speaking Dutch.
Before T1 it is probably inconvenient to be brave, but from that moment you should give it a try since it is hard to say what is the best strategy. From T2 onward instead, the choice should be easy.
PS. the learning curve is all but linear, I know. However, I made it somewhat simpler to put it in picture.
- Better understanding. It is true that you can survive just speaking English, especially in certain working environment. But living in the Netherlands implies more situations than just working. It happened to me that dealing with a plumber, an hairdresser, and a doctor Dutch came handy for a better understanding
- Free choices. You are not forced to go to a certain doctor because he/she speaks English, or a certain hair dresser, or shop. You slowly start settling your life here and moving freely
- Better choices. You are more alert to traps, at least to the ones based on your language limitations. Both from Dutch and non-Dutch, making use of it. You can deal with those who offer a service (almost) at the same level as Dutch people
- Practical. You get these long letters from the Belastingdienst, or from insurance provider, and what else. Maybe also speaking Dutch you won’t understand the message fully, but at least you’ll be able to read through the lines and find what that is about
- Integration. You walk into a group of Dutch people and you do not force them to switch. Maybe they will have to adapt the speed, or ask you to repeat your sentence a couple of times. But you will not be that distant anymore. Integration is a big word, but probably this comes as a first step for it.
- Personality in people changes with the situation. And also with the spoken language. I love meeting the “real” Dutch that is in every Dutch person I meet. And I notice the difference from other times they speak English.
- But above all,
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.
If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.