Why Are The Dutch So Good At Speaking Foreign Languages?

July 14, 2021

It is not often that a tourist in the Netherlands speaks Dutch. Therefore, it is normal for many Dutch people to hold a conversation in a foreigner's language. If we go on vacation to another country, we will also do our best to make ourselves understood in the right language. In this article, I will explain why we Dutch are so good at speaking languages.

The Dutch are good at speaking a foreign language because Dutch is not a common language worldwide. To be able to communicate with people from other countries, a foreign language is taught from an early age. English, German and French are the most widely spoken foreign languages in the Netherlands.

If it is not Dutch that we are speaking, it is another language like English, German, or French. The Dutch are known worldwide for speaking another language well. The many foreign languages that the Dutch speak come in very handy in various fields. Read on if you want to know how this all came about, and what benefits it gives to the Dutch.

Why are the Dutch so Good at Languages?

As you can read above, the Dutch can have a conversation in many different languages. The many reasons why the Dutch are so good at languages can be found down below.

Required at school:

Learning a second language at school is mandatory in schools in the Netherlands. From an early age (around twelve years old), children follow English classes.

Apart from English, schools offer many other languages (read the heading below) that children can learn. Learning English at an early age is one of the reasons why so many Dutch people speak English so well.

Germanic language & Napoleon:

Dutch is a Germanic language, sharing many roots and characteristics with English and the German language. Learning to speak English and German is much easier when someone already speaks Dutch. Therefore, these two languages are often spoken by people who live in the Netherlands.

In addition, of course, the Netherlands and Germany are neighboring countries. As a result, many German tourists come to the Netherlands, so it can be useful for Dutch people to speak a word of German.

In some border areas between the Netherlands and Germany, the Dutch dialect spoken there is even incredibly similar to German. People from the western part of the Netherlands will even have trouble understanding it.

One advantage of Napoleon's occupation is that the Dutch language also has a French influence, making it easier for the Dutch to learn.

I should add that the German and Dutch languages are a lot more similar than French and Dutch. But certain French and Dutch words are similar, or very similar.

Dutch people like to travel:

The Dutch are explorers by nature and real travel lovers. Going on one holiday a year is often not enough for most Dutch people. When we are in a different country, we always try our best to make ourselves understood in the foreign language.

This has to do with wanting to adapt to another country and culture. In addition, of course, the chances are very small that someone in a foreign country will speak Dutch. This means we are forced to make ourselves understood in a foreign language.

Adaptation:

It is culturally embedded in Dutch culture to adapt to circumstances. We are not the kind of people who want to stand out and be the center of attention. We want people to feel at ease around us and make them feel welcome.

This is a reason why we try to speak a foreign language when a tourist speaks to us. When we are on holiday in a different part of the world, we will also try to speak their language.

Small country:

As many of you probably know, the Netherlands is a small country. Of course, with 17 million inhabitants, the Netherlands is not among the countries with the largest population either.

That is why Dutch isn’t a language spoken in a lot of parts of the world. To make ourselves understood in more parts of the world, it is easier when you know a second language, such as English, Spanish, or German.

As English is most common worldwide, most Dutch know how to have a conversation in English. It being a mandatory subject at school helps this process.

Trade:

The Netherlands has been known for many centuries for its trade with different countries. For example, with the port of Rotterdam, it has one of the largest import and export ports in Europe.

The Dutch found out early on that speaking a foreign language can be of great importance when doing business with another country or with a company in a foreign country.

Especially since Dutch was spoken in few places worldwide, they knew they had to adapt, and so they soon learned to speak foreign languages. This way of thinking has never changed and still applies today. Therefore, it is still important today for people in certain sectors to speak different foreign languages.

If you can speak several languages in the Netherlands, you have a greater chance that an employee will hire you. This is why many Dutch students choose to learn an additional foreign language during their studies.

Of course, speaking foreign languages is not important in every sector, but in the Netherlands, in general, everyone speaks at least one foreign language, regardless of the sector in which you work.

Exposure:

Being exposed to social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Netflix, and movies on a daily basis is nothing unusual in this day and age. Like almost every country, Dutch people love taking part in this modern technology.

The language spoken on the different mediums is often in English. That is why many young people learn, understand, and speak English fluently at a young age.

In addition, movies and series in the Netherlands are not dubbed. This also contributes greatly to learning to speak a foreign language.

Multicultural:

The Netherlands is a multicultural country. Many immigrants and foreign citizens live in the Netherlands. Therefore, it is natural that you will have to deal with other cultures and languages in the Netherlands. This again contributes to your knowledge of a foreign language.

Exception

Although most Dutch people make an effort to speak another language, some Dutch people strongly believe that foreigners should make more of an effort to speak Dutch when visiting their country. This is often out of principle, and it is only a small percentage of Dutch people who think this way.

What Languages do Dutch Learn in School?

Depending on the level of the school you attend, many different foreign languages are taught in Dutch schools. The highest level is Gymnasium, followed by VWO, HAVO, and MBO.

Children often learn two or three foreign languages during their school years. In the Netherlands, children begin learning another language at the age of twelve.

Below are the most common languages taught in Dutch schools.

English:

English is compulsory in secondary schools in the Netherlands, and to pass you must get at least a 6.0 on your final exam. In addition, many universities in the Netherlands teach in English. Therefore, it is essential that you can understand, read and speak English.

German:

In some schools in the Netherlands, German is also a compulsory subject. In most cases, children are taught German for the first two years of high school. After two years, they can choose whether they want to continue learning this foreign language. German is not legally required to complete high school.

The reason why most schools choose to teach German is that Germany is close to the Netherlands. Throughout the year, many German citizens come to the Netherlands. If you want to communicate with them, it is easier if you speak their language. From my own experience, there are not many German tourists who speak Dutch.

Spanish & French:

The most common languages taught in schools besides English and German are Spanish and French. Spain and France are both not too far from the Netherlands, and both are very popular vacation destinations among the Dutch.

In addition, it is not unlikely that you will encounter a French- or Spanish-speaking person in the Netherlands.

French and Spanish are both languages that are popular worldwide. Being able to speak one or both of these languages can help you when traveling or working for international companies. Therefore, the Minister of Education in the Netherlands wants to give children the opportunity to learn these languages.

Italian, Russian, Arabic, Turkish & Chinese:

Some schools offer Italian, Russian, Arabic, Turkish, and Chinese as a third language. Often this is only taught in schools and to children who have at least a HAVO level.

Percentage-wise, very few people take any of these languages in Dutch schools. Of course, there are many people of Chinese and Turkish descent in the Netherlands, so these languages are widely spoken in family circles.

Latin or Greek:

Latin or Greek are two languages that are only taught to children who have the gymnasium level. If they are taught at this level, they must choose one of the two languages. If they are true language wizards, they may choose to learn both languages.

What Language do Most Dutch People Speak?

You now know that speaking a foreign language is common in the Netherlands. Perhaps you are wondering how many of the citizens actually speak a second language and what the most popular language is. To give you a better idea of that, here are some figures.

  • 94% of Dutch citizens speak at least a second language
  • 77% of Dutch citizens speak a third foreign language

When I write, "speak a foreign language". I mean that they speak that language well enough to have a conversation in that language.

The most common foreign languages spoken by Dutch citizens are:

English:

With approximately 90% of Dutch citizens speaking English, it is the absolute number one foreign language spoken by citizens from the Netherlands.

Is the above information not enough for you, and would you like to go deeper into why the Dutch are so good at English? Then please check our article about that topic.

German:

Approximately 71% of Dutch citizens can have a conversation in German.

If you are interested in knowing more about why this is, and if the Dutch do understand German, then please check out our article about that topic.

French:

French comes in third on the list of most spoken languages by the Dutch citizens and gets spoken by approximately 29% of the population.

Conclusion

The Dutch are great when it comes to making themselves understood in many different languages. It is a skill that is ingrained in our culture. We are taught a second language at an early age and are used to speaking foreign languages.

I hope you enjoyed the article and that you now understand a lot better why the Dutch are so good at speaking a foreign language.

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Written by

Leo van den Berg
As a Dutchman I am extremely proud of the beautiful country in which I live. My goal is to convey my passion and love for the Netherlands to as many people as possible.

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