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Rotterdam - Speaking the Language

The official language of The Netherlands is Dutch. As in many other parts of The Netherlands and Scandinavian cities, English is widely spoken and understood, thanks in a large part to their education system that places a heavy emphasis on language learning (other than Dutch). While English is widely understood, it is always useful for expatriates and foreigners to learn some of the dominant language used to help in everyday matters and at the workplace. Many expatriates who learn Dutch also learn to appreciate more of the Dutch culture by interacting more intimately with the locals. In addition, the major newspapers, road signs and instructions are usually printed in Dutch.

Although Dutch is not as commonly spoken and understood as French or German counterparts, there is a fairly large population of Dutch (and its variants) speakers - some 22 million people speak Dutch. Apart from Dutch nationals in The Netherlands, a variation of Dutch (Flemish) is spoken in northern Belgium (Flanders) by its residents. Dutch is also spoken in a northwestern region of France. In Rotterdam, there is a Rotterdam dialect (mainly spoken) that differs slightly from standard Dutch.

In general, migrants to Rotterdam and foreigners who live long-term in Rotterdam are strongly encouraged to have a good command of the language. Learning Dutch is emphasized during the naturalization process for Rotterdam migrants.

At the workplace, only a few formalities are used during communication. The formal 'u' and 'meneer' (sir) or 'mevrouw' (madam) are used if there is a wide difference in rank or age. Among colleagues, usually the informal 'je' and first names are used. Handshakes, maintaining good eye contact and exchange of name cards are common during business meetings. Among friends and family, Dutch people greet each other with kisses on the cheeks three times (right-left-right).

If you intend to drive, orientation in the beginning will be challenging if you do not understand a word of Dutch. While there are international no-language traffic rules, here are some useful phases to know: 'geen ingang' means no entry; 'nr door verkeer' means no through traffic; 'gesloten' means closed; 'afrit' means exit; 'beperkt' means restricted; 'fiet' means bicycle; 'drempels' means speed bumps and 'voorsorteren' means to get in lane. At the supermarket or out shopping, you may wish to look out for these signs – 'laagste prijs' means the lowest price offer, 'leegverkoop' means clearance sales. 'Let op' is a common term in advertisements that has the meaning 'watch this space' or 'look here'.

Newspapers, Bookstores

The main newspapers for local news around Zuid Holland and Rotterdam are in Dutch – Algemeen Dagblad, NRC Handelsblad and Rotterdam Dagblad. For online English-based newspapers, try NIS – it is the English version of national news agency ANP, which is considered the major source for news among Dutch media companies. Another option is There is a useful Expat Directory that lists links and contacts to clubs, organizations and associations that offer services expatriates would be interested in (e.g. childcare and playgroups, jobs and employment agencies, housing, schools, relocation services, and so on). Metro Rotterdam is a daily newspaper that is circulated free at metro stations. The Rotterdam Times is another newspaper summary that is circulated at bars and places frequented by expatriates. Both offer a small sampling of the local news.

Most bookstores in Rotterdam sell books and publications in Dutch, but there are a few bookstores for English-language books. Donner at Lijnbaan 150 in Rotterdamcentrum has a decent selection of English language books and magazines. There are two bookstores in Kralingen – Oosterboekhandel J Amesz at Voorschoterlaan 145 and De Lektuurwinkel S Manck at Lusthofstraat 43.

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