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The Netherlands (Holland) - Speaking the Language

The official language of the Netherlands is Dutch, which is spoken by nearly everyone in the Netherlands – approximately 90% of the population. It is also an official language in Aruba, Belgium, Curaçao, Flanders, Sint Maarten, and Suriname.

Dutch is a Germanic language, which is punctuated by glottal gs and schs (also found in Arabic). In its written form, Dutch is partially intelligible to speakers of other Germanic languages, such as German and Frisian. So, if you’re able to speak either of those languages, you should be able to get by in the Netherlands - as long as people don’t speak too fast!

Alongside Dutch, a number of other languages are also spoken in the Netherlands. In the North of the country, in an area called Friesland, a dialect known as Frisian is spoken as a first language by some 453,000 people (that’s around 2.2% of the population) and is also taught in schools. Frisian is an official language in the Netherlands, meaning that the country is officially bilingual. Despite this, Frisian, which is the second closest living language to English, is spoken almost exclusively in Friesland and is rarely heard elsewhere.

In the North East of the country, a number of dialects of Nederlands Nedersaksisch (Dutch Low Saxon) are spoken by around 1,798,000 speakers and are recognised as regional languages by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. These local varieties include Grunnegs and Tweants and are spoken in provinces such as Groningen, Overijsel, Drenthe, and Gelderand.

Limburgish, spoken in the southeastern province of Limburg, has around 825,000 speakers and has also been granted the status of regional language. Limburgish is unique amongst the other European languages, with its use of pitch and tone length to distinguish words. There are also efforts being made to see it recognised as an official language.

English is spoken throughout the Netherlands – in fact, it is the most English-proficient country in the world where English isn’t an official language. English is taught in schools from an early age and is an official language of the special municipalities of Saba and Sint Eustatius. In these areas, the vast majority of education is conducted in English, although there are some bilingual English-Dutch schools.

English is also recognised as an official language, but with a lower status than Dutch, in the municipality of Amsterdam. This means that communication in the region can be conducted in English, but publications, meetings, and administration will always be conducted in Dutch.

With such a strong presence of English across the country, English-speaking expats can often get far without knowing a word of Dutch. Of course, to integrate properly into the new community and secure work, it is advisable to learn the local language. This is especially important when dealing with older people or family situations.

Whatever the environment you find yourself in, whether it’s professional or personal, formal or informal, even if everyone involved can speak English, making the effort to communicate in Dutch is always appreciated.

Foreign language learning is well valued in the Netherlands and, in addition to their national language, the majority of Dutch citizens also speak at least one additional foreign language. More often than not, the primary second language is English, which is taught in all schools.

Many people also speak German, which has many similarities to Dutch, and some of them also speak French. It is thought that between 90% and 93% of the total Dutch population can converse fluently in English, 71% in German, 29% in French, and 5% in Spanish. The Muslim population of the Netherlands often also speak Turkish or Arabic, with each language being spoken by approximately 0.6% of the population.

For expats moving to the Netherlands and looking for work, you don’t necessarily need to learn Dutch, as English is used as the main business language in many companies, particularly in larger organisations. However it goes without saying that your chances of finding employment will be greatly increased if you do have a grasp of the language, especially if you are working for a smaller company.

There are a whole range of Dutch language courses and schools in the Netherlands, where expats can go to learn the local language. Popular language schools include the following.

PCI Languages
Tel: 072 5121190

British Language Training Centre
Tel. : +31 (0) 20 622 36 34

Telephone: +31 613913516

Of course, there are also a number of roles in which your language skills can be beneficial to you – although not as much as in other countries due to the fact that the standard of English spoken in the Netherlands is so high and fluent English speakers are easy to find throughout the country.

In the Netherlands, foreign TV programmes and films, including English ones, are typically shown in their original language with Dutch subtitles. Children’s programmes are dubbed into Dutch.

The Netherlands also has its own distinct sign language, known as Nederlandse Gebarentaal (NGT), which is used by approximately 17,500 users.

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