Is it possible to speak Dutch when you’re not a fluent speaker? (And the influence of English on the Dutch language)

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The short answer to the question is it possible to speak Dutch when you’re not a fluent speaker is, yes.

For many students starting to speak Dutch is a big obstacle. And that’s normal, because it’s a whole different language and you’re bound to make mistakes.

But what is really important when you’re learning Dutch is that practice makes perfect. The more you do it, the better you get at it.

With this practice comes the realisation that you have to make mistakes, and that is, of course, very scary!

Experiment: talk to REAL Dutch people

During our summer schools we like to get students out of their comfort zones, so that they speak as much Dutch as possible. And preferably with real Dutch people.

In this experiment you saw various students. They were asked to call customer service for a bike shop.

And what may have come as a surprise to them was that they all had a conversation … in Dutch!

Evidence: You can start speaking Dutch immediately

The students in the video are from groups from Level 1 (0 naar A1), to Level 4 (A2+ to B1) and they all spoke in Dutch. But first, what do these levels actually mean?

Let’s take a quick look at these levels.

What is A1 level Dutch?                                                                             

This level says that you had Dutch lesson for approximately 0 to 50 hours. A1 Listening means that you can recognise familiar words and very basic phrases about yourself. 

A1 Speaking means that you can use simple phrases and sentences to describe where you live and people you know.

What is A2 level Dutch?

This level says that you had Dutch lesson for approximately 50 to 100 hours.

A2 Listening means that you can understand the main points in short, clear, simple messages and announcements. A2 Reading means that you can read very short, simple texts. A2 Speaking means that you are able to speak a series of phrases and sentences to describe in simple terms your family and other people, living conditions, your educational background and your present or most recent job.

What is B1 level Dutch?

This level says that you had Dutch lessons for approximately 150 to 200 hours.

B1 Listening means that you can understand the main points of clear, standard speech on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school and leisure. It also means that you can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible.

What makes learning Dutch so difficult? Everybody switches to English!

So back to speaking Dutch. Yes it is possible to start right away. But there’s one big BUT.

Almost everybody in the Netherlands switches to English.

That was the second big surprise in the video, the people in the video spoke Dutch. So is it true?

In this blog I wrote about the English influence on Dutch.

It is said that in some streets in Amsterdam more than 25% of the shops ONLY speak English. That means that the people who work there can’t even speak Dutch with you.

It is important to note that this is mainly in the tourist area. But it still means that in a quarter of the shops and museums they won’t be able to speak Dutch to you.

If you go a bit beyond this area, the number of people speaking Dutch with you increases fast.

The same applies to other big tourist places and the more ‘normal’ (less touristic) parts of the Netherlands.

It is true: The Dutch speak good English (the best in the world)

The Dutch are better than anyone when it comes to mastering English as a foreign language. This is evident from the Education First (EF) English Proficiency Index, an annual international measurement of language skills in which 2.3 million adults worldwide participate.

Looking more closely you can see that in the province of Drenthe people speak the ‘worst’ English in the Netherlands. (1) The good thing is that you can learn Dutch the best here. 

Why do the Dutch speak such good English?

There are a couple of reason why the Dutch are so good at English.

The main reason is that the Netherlands is a small country and the language is not spoken by too many people.

But on the other hand we are (economically) heavily dependent on other countries, and so their influence in really great; also the Dutch are willing to learn other languages.

In history other languages were important

In 1602 the Dutch founded the first ‘multinational’, the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC), and the first modern stock exchange was established in Amsterdam.

To do business, the Dutch learned pretty quickly that if they traded their own language for a more universal language they got more done.

In the last century English has become more and more important. In the 19th century it was French. You can still see a lot of words in the Dutch language that have a French root. But, particularly after the Second World War with the introduction of film, television and music from Britain and the United States, English has become more and more a part of daily life in the Netherlands.

Dutch is, just like English, a Germanic language.

So can you survive in Amsterdam without speaking Dutch?

Yes, you can survive a visit here without learning Dutch. This is absolutely no problem. You can stay here for as long as your tourist visa lasts without having to learn Dutch.

But if you want to live in the Netherlands, you must learn Dutch.

And like I said, you can start right away!

Vocabulary / Sentences that can help

  • Wilt u Nederlands spreken? (Do you want to speak Dutch?)
  • Kunt u langzamer spreken? (Could you speak more slowly?)
  • Wilt u rustiger spreken? (Could you speak more calmly?)
  • Kunt u dat herhalen? (Could you repeat that?)
  • Kunt u dat spellen? (Could you spell that?)
  • Hoe spel je dat? (How do you spell that?)
  • Hoe schrijf je dat? (How do you write that?)
  • Hoe zeg je [….] in het Nederlands? (How do you say …. in Dutch?)

What is your level?

If you want to find your level, do the test on my site.


Bart de Pau
online Dutch teacher & founder of the Dutch Summer School & Dutch Winter School