Learning Dutch: Where to start?

Does the whole Dutch thing confuse you? Have you considered learning the native language of Holland but aren’t sure where to start? Read on to find answers to that question…

bicycle against tree in The Hague Netherlands

You are not alone if you are confused by those alpha-numeric codes in Dutch language course titles. Seriously, what in the world is the difference between an NT2 I program vs NT2 II program? What are state exams? How can you tell if a Dutch class is for a total beginner so that you don’t end up in a class with others who are having a conversation in Dutch on day 1? What does ‘civic integration’ and ‘inburgering’ mean and how do you know if you are required by law to do this?

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.

I contacted someone who I felt could shed light on the issue of where exactly do you start when considering Dutch language training? Josien Deknatel, director of the Kickstart School (which happens to offer both English and Dutch language training in The Hague), was completly understanding of the questions, concerns and confusion expats experience in trying to get a grasp of where to start.

Here is advice from Josien for expats who want to OR need to acquire Dutch language skills…

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

For whatever the reason, acquiring a working knowledge on 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 personal skill level expectation one has.

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-levels 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 one’s natural talent and ability for linguistics in general. 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 a program similar to this should give one the ability to communicate well enough in the Dutch language to be classified a Dutch speaker at the B1 skill level.

The three common state exam types in the Netherlands are:

  1. 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 passing the NT2 Program 1 or Program 2 exams. Additionally, as it relates to further 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).
  2. 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. Those residents or migrants who fall 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.
  3. Korte Vrijstellingstoets : the short exemption test. This is an option for those who already have a good command of the Dutch language. Passive listening and reading are tested at the B1 level. The Korte Vrijstellingstoets exam can only be taken once and is scheduled to be discontinued as of January 1, 2013.

Passing any of these exams satisfies the Dutch social integration Inburgerings requirement. One difference among the three regards certification. When one takes the NT2 Staatsexamen or the Inburgeringsexamen, you receive documentation in the form of a certificate of achievement or diploma. With the Korte Vrijstellingstoets, the goal isn’t to quantify your exact skill level. It only tests whether it is strong enough to warrant exempting you from the Inburgering process.

Below is a flow chart which can assist a non-Dutch speaking resident navigate to an appropriate course in order to start learning the Dutch language.

Good luck to all.




Related information…



Dutch English French German language courses in The Hague Netherlands


Angloinfo South Holland