Chuckles.. You MUST learn Dutch? hmm!

Here is, presented in full glory, a reply I wrote to an article which can be found HERE which shows a Dutch commercial, in Dutch, showing why you MUST learn dutch. I have probably see n the commercial. I’ve probably ignored it instantly as I wouldn’t have understood it. Mmm effective then eh? The responses are extremely interesting.


I advise people to read this looking for amusement while noticing some rather valid points. I especially would like to point out the disclaimer and the second to last paragraph starting with “For those Dutch/other people who tell people that they have not learned Dutch because they are lazy,”. I think it sums up quite a lot of the difficulties faced by the ex pat here.Joe states “because learning it (Dutch) transforms you from being a guest to being an intruder in the eyes of the natives.


I moved to Leiden 2 years ago to be with my gf who is now my wife. She is Dutch. I moved here from the Uk. I’m 35. 

It is psychologically proven that a persons capacity to learn a new language diminishes with age. 

At school, many years ago, I was given the choice of learning French, or not learning at all another language. I chose not to learn one. As of up until 2 years ago, I’ve never required another language, and as I am in Holland, and Dutch wasn’t available, I appear to have made the right decision. 

Having lived in the Uk in northern working-mens towns, attitudes towards foreigners not speaking English were more than a touch xenophobic. That’s something I’m accustomed to. 

My brother teaches languages. We never really got along once he became an adult. He’s 12 years older than me. Always has been in fact. He was teaching languages by the time I was given the choice as to which one I might like to supplement my English with. Oh, and I use the singular correctly! I believe I have already expounded upon the resulting outcome of that choice. 

My wife, being born in The Netherlands, has been learning languages since she was old enough to be programmed to do so by the education system. Her English is good enough to be thought of as a native speaker, especially now that, and I fear I have to take credit for this although it offends my natural modesty, the Americanisms which infiltrate Dutch English, have been suitably obliterated.

So far, I have had no need to learn the language. I have shown a desire to, having acquired various CD roms and other web orientated learning programs. My Mother in Law teaches non Dutch people Dutch, via English. The hand of learning has not been extended. I cannot as yet make up my mind as to whether this is a good or bad thing. After all, she is my Mother in Law. I’m seeing the word “Intruder” float about my consciousness looking for something to connect with.

Being familiar with the Uk program of teaching basic English as a second language for free (much like happens in the US of A), I set about trying to find something of that ilk over here. This caused much discombobulation for those whom I made inquires to, and much consternation for myself at their subsequent reactions. 

It appears that the concept of Free Basic Dutch is only available for those from outside the EU. I might be forgiven for thinking that perhaps, this might have something to do with economic reasons, rather than perhaps extending the hand of knowledge. But then I was always a sceptic.

I have, on many occasions, and with great loquaciousness, expounded on my “I’ve not needed Dutch so far”, to various people with whom I have conversed. I add my thoughts upon this which go something along the lines of as follows :
“I always feel rude not speaking the native language. Much of the English speaking world carry with them an arrogance which says something along the lines of “You should speak my language so I don’t have to speak yours”.. which is perpetuated by many schools being dis-interested in teaching languages. I am not like that. I do feel rude, I feel like I am imposing upon you, the None Native English Speaker, restrictions in communications and that is not fair.”

It is, in my opinion, a difficult concept for people to grasp who have never experienced the psychological effects of living in a mono-linguistic, often insular and xenophobic community, that I, the willing to learn yet none Dutch speaking ex pat, says that I have not required Dutch to live here, because they have no point of reference to work on. It is also difficult to grasp that, after the initial show of willingness, a person will eventually think “Sod it!”.

A person arrives with, more often than not, no experience of any Dutch whatsoever, and with their barriers already up (see above), and these barriers are reinforced by bureaucratic non sequiturs, a people which can actually communicate with a certain degree of proficiency in English anyway, and the fact that to actually learn Dutch academically will cost an inordinate, ney, extortionate amount! 

I believe I may have mentioned my wife is Dutch. Asides from her family, her social scene since I have arrived here has consisted of…. me and my new friends over here. Her Dutch friends, and I use that word really really wanting to substitute it for acquaintances, call on the phone maybe once every 6 months. She, reciprocates. Every 6 months. I have no concept of this. It is bizarre beyond belief to me. Her family live a few kilometers away. (25-35ish?). They have visited as many times as my sister has in 2 years. My sister lives in Sweden. Both used the same mode of transport, the car to get to us. It’s just that my sis traveled 1600k more. 

So when we go out, we go to the local British bar. There are many Dutch people within, and they speak Dutch between themselves and English to us, often not recognising that my wife is Dutch. She socialises with my (and now her) English / various other nationality friends (there are Danish, American, South African and French people as well), and now actually gets to interact with people rather than just having work and me as her whole life. That has to be healthier than, and I can only judge from what I have experienced, what she seemed to think was the normal way to be. 

And so no. Learning Dutch is not a must. It is not a prerequisite, and I have happily survived without it. For everyone who says “You need to learn Dutch to fully experience the culture”, i say “poppycock!” (which apparently according to Stephen Fry derives from Dutch). 

For those Dutch/other people who tell people that they have not learned Dutch because they are lazy, I say this : You probably have no concept of quite the size of the task being asked, because, to many, learning a new language is not just about learning new words and new pronunciations, it’s far more than that. It is about self expression. About who you are. It is about taking away from someone all that they are, block by block, and then attempting to reassemble it, but with a mirror! (and possibly upside down!) My passion for self expression is legendary in my world! Take that away from me and I cease to be me. Tell me I have to use a concise version, I cease to be me. Some people, are simply not willing to risk sacrificing themselves in this way. 

To be honest, I don’t blame them. 


disclaimer : I am aware that my wifes social life/family may not be indicative of all dutch society. Please don’t reply with bla bla not the norm… it IS the norm for where I am living, because I live with her and can only relate to how I find it here. I came here to be with her, not for the culture, the language, the inlaws, the work, the income tax rates, the stupidly high prices for housing, so again, please, don’t give me any of this “You moved here so you should…”etc etc. I’ve made more than enough “sacrifices” coming here to have new ones “Imposed” upon me. Ye gods I miss Real Ale from a Hand Pump in a tapped and vented barrel!! 

And.. as an add on… Learning a language in your own country (like the majority of Dutch people will have done with English), is a very different beast to learning the language of the country you are now living in.



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