An overview of the Dutch language (‘nederlands taal’) for expats and foreigners in Holland, its history, benefits gained by learning the basics, exams in the Netherlands that test Dutch skill level knowledge and more…
It can all be very confusing and frustrating for the person looking into Dutch lessons for the first time. It can even have an adverse impact on their decision to even attempt learning the language. This, in turn, is likely to affect one’s impression of the Dutch as a whole and ultimately, how long they decide to stay in the Netherlands.
Learning Dutch is challenging for many non-native speakers, but it needs to be looked at as an investment in your new life in the Netherlands. Everyone has his or her own motivations for learning Dutch. These may include:
- to increase marketability for employment
- to be admitted into a certain Dutch educational program or university
- to enhance one’s social life while living in the Netherlands
- to become more involved in the local community
- to better understand Dutch culture
Whatever the reason may be, acquiring a working knowledge of the Dutch language when you live in Holland is going to benefit you.
There are various ways one can set about learning Dutch: self-study, e-learning, enrolling in a class at a language school or adult education program, receiving training in a corporate environment or taking private lessons with a tutor. The method chosen is as important a consideration as the skill level one expects to achieve.
Dutch language ability is often measured and referred to by the name of the state exam which is used to test a certain range of skill level. In turn, these state exams correspond to a skill-level coding structure formulated by the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference) for languages. These codes are derived from four components associated with every spoken language: reading, writing, speaking and listening. Most Dutch language text books and course materials display a code which indicates a particular range of Dutch language skill levels as defined by the CEFR table.
CEFR codes range from A1 (basic knowledge) to C2 (proficient aptitude). This system of assessment helps match a language training course or exam prep class to ones personal language goals.
Whether your goal is to have a basic working knowledge or complete comprehension, you need to invest time in both study and practice. The amount of time depends on the person’s natural talent for acquiring linguistics skills. Speakers of languages with Germanic roots will tend to learn Dutch quicker, as sentence structure and many pronunciations are similar. As a general guideline, plan on 100-150 contact hours in combination with double that amount of time for homework and additional study. Following such a program should result in the ability to communicate well enough in Dutch to be classified as a Dutch speaker at the B1 skill level.
There are two common state exam types in the Netherlands are:
- NT2 Staatsexamen (Programma I & Programma II): NT2 stands for Nederlands als Tweede Taal, or translated to English, “Dutch as a Second Language”. Employers who may require knowledge of Dutch for a certain job, will often refer to the skill level associated with one of these exams. As it relates to Dutch higher education, an NT2 Program 1 level is usually required for MBO programs (vocational studies), while an NT2 Program 2 level is usually required for an HBO or WO degree (university level).
- Inburgeringsexamen: this is the civic integration test. Inburgering classes are available which teach some Dutch language skills along with Dutch culture and history. The exam also tests one’s ability to perform common daily tasks when living in the Netherlands. The Inburgering exam is not optional or voluntary. Residents or migrants within certain parameters are obligated to pass this test within 5 years of arriving in the Netherlands. Failure to pass it could result in a revocation of one’s Dutch resident permit and, ultimately, the right to live in the Netherlands.
Passing any of these exams satisfies the Dutch social integration ‘Inburgering’ requirement. When you do, you receive a certificate of achievement or diploma.