Learning Dutch and Integrating Into Society, the Utrecht Way
When it comes to being an expat in the Netherlands, there are two reasons why most will find that the Dutch language is a great challenge. Reason one, the Dutch speak English. Reason two, the Dutch speak Dutch. If you are an expat living here, you will know exactly what I mean by this. I bet there have been many times where you decide to put on your brave coat of armour and try out your shaky Dutch on the baker, only to be responded to in English. I also bet there has been a time when a Dutch member of society has said to you ‘oh, you aren’t learning Dutch?’ with a look of disapproval on their face. It doesn’t look like a win-win situation here in the Netherlands, does it? But it can be. Even if you don’t speak Dutch fluently, learning the language is actually an integral part of slotting into society here. Once you master words like ‘gezellig’ and ‘kut’, your world will open up, trust me. If you are living in Amsterdam, then lucky you, you probably have a handful of guides on how to learn the Dutch language and make Dutch friends. These tips and tricks are for people residing in the central city of Utrecht and want to try a different approach other than large language schools.
- Language Café Utrecht or Taal Café Utrecht as the Dutch would call it is a fantastic way of learning Dutch and making friends. A group of people meet every week on a Wednesday evening at Café Marktzicht and practice languages in an informal setting. Perhaps you have some brilliant Italian you could teach in return for learning Dutch. Or maybe you picked up a spot of French on your year abroad in Paris. Exchange languages and learn Dutch for free! Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to partake.
- Give a shout out on Facebook. Expat groups on Facebook are a wonderful way to not only connect with other expats in your area, but also reach out to the local people too. Let people know you are looking to learn Dutch on the Expats Utrecht Facebook page and I promise you a Dutch student or tutor will connect with you. Perhaps you can’t afford private tutoring – ask other expats online if they would be interested in learning with you. The world of social media can be a fascinating platform, especially when it comes to learning languages.
- Embrace the movie buff within you. If you ever ask a Dutch person how they learnt to speak English, most of them will tell you they learnt it at school, as well as from American and British films. You too can do this, by watching movies and following the Dutch sub-titles or even better, watch a Dutch movie (yes, the ‘Hillywood’ of Holland actually exists) with English sub-titles. Cinema’s such as the Louis Hartlooper Complex in Ledig Erf show many foreign films, as well as mainstream films and the best part about it – an introduction is done of the movie by a staff member in Dutch.
- Join Meetup and mingle with people from all over the world, including Dutchies. Meetup is really useful when you are new to Utrecht and you want to meet people, as well as practice your language skills. Expats are invited to join, but ‘internationally minded’ Dutch are also encouraged to join too. This group meets up once a month at a fun location around Utrecht and has a few drinks and laughs. It is the perfect way to slowly start immersing yourself in Dutch life.
- Babysit adorable Dutch children. Perhaps your boyfriend’s sister has a couple of small children that need minding one afternoon or your neighbours are dying for a date night but need someone to look after their kids for the night. It might sound silly, but children can often be the best teachers when it comes to learning a language. Depending on what age they are, there is a big chance that your Dutch language level is the same as theirs. The conversations will be slow and basic which is perfect for a beginner and you don’t have to feel self-conscious about making a fool of yourself.
- Learn how to say ‘downward dog’ in Dutch. A great way to learn basic words in Dutch is by participating in Dutch spoken gym or yoga classes. Yoga Moves on the Biltstraat teach most of their classes in Dutch and it is easy to follow even if your Dutch isn’t great as you can just look around you. It is helpful because it makes you remember body-part words, such as hands, feet, legs, face, back and neck as well as left, right, forward, back and down.
- Practice makes perfect. And it really does. If you want to learn a language, the number one rule is to practice actually speaking the language in your day-to-day life. Which is why is can be irritating if you are spoken to back in English, however, persevere. Practice your newly found language skills with the delivery man, florist and personal trainer and if they speak back in English, keep speaking in Dutch. They will pick up on the fact that you are not a native Dutch speaker but will appreciate you for speaking it. Another great thing about practicing your Dutch is it is a perfect opportunity to make Dutch friends or even a Dutch romantic partner! Practice with your colleagues, neighbours or a friend of a friend. It is an opening into the Dutch society and a way to feel even more at home here.
If all else fails, learn the conventional way. There are a lot of Dutch language schools in Utrecht that have excellent teachers and great reputations such as: Babel Language and Communication Training, Utrecht Language Academy, Utrecht University and more.
About the author: Rahima is writer and expat living in the Netherlands