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Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Why don’t expats learn Dutch? Not because they’re too lazy!

So, a friend of mine posted this article on Facebook (thanks, Dan!), and it got me thinking about all of the reasons why expats- willingly or not- decide not to learn Dutch (or any majority language).

The usual argument is that expats don’t learn because they don’t want to, or they’re too lazy. The government usually tries to provide for possibilities for expats to learn the language, so they’ll become more integrated, but is it enough?

This of course is great news, but this also raises many questions concerned with the reasons why expats might decide not to learn a language.  Some of them might decide not to learn Dutch because they feel it’s not their home, not their culture. They are feeling left out and they don’t feel that learning Dutch is worth the effort. Is this feeling of alienation only the expats’ fault? Or maybe it’s the fact that not all culture and not all languages are equally valued in the Netherlands? Or maybe the fact that we feel that whatever we do is not enough? This is something I’ve been struggling with in the Netherland, but even more so in Germany- you can read about my experiences here.

Why are we required to speak Dutch perfectly? Why is it such a bad thing if my accent tells you that I am not Dutch? After all, the level of Dutch needed differs for everybody. Some might need to learn it in order to be able to communicate with their co-workers which requires a very high level of language skills. For others it will be enough to do their grocery shopping and run errands in Dutch so they won’t need such a high level of the language. The important thing is that your language skills meet your needs.

There might be more reasons. For example, as surprising as this may sound, Dutch is not always the best language to learn. Why? While I would whole-heartedly encourage English speakers to learn another language, it doesn’t necessarily have to be Dutch even if they are living in the Netherlands. Learning a language takes a lot of time and effort- and just like the Dutch apply status to a language, we have to figure out our language priorities.

For example, my husband already speaks German, English and French. He tried to learn Dutch but got discouraged by his bad teacher. Instead, he decided to focus on his French as he needs is for work, and dived into that. Then, he decided to learn Polish- for mine and for the children’s sake- a gesture I will always be grateful for, and a great topic for another blog post. He almost finished the course and will now continue to work on his French.

There are more reasons for NOT learning the majority language, and I haven’t even mentioned the financial side or the importance of a good teacher. But being lazy is not necessarily among them.

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