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I'm an Indian student who recently moved to the Netherlands to study. I'm intending on it becoming my permanent home at some point. While I was in India (and when I briefly moved to the US with my dad), I practiced Dutch through Duolingo and Clozemaster and was comfortably at an A2 level, but I unfortunately did not have much speaking practice as tutoring/classes were hard to find and expensive.

Sum total being that while I am pretty good at understanding most basic-intermediate Dutch conversations, my speaking is still not the best. I'm taking a course taught in English for computer science. But in everyday life, I still want to practice Dutch.

As you may know, the Netherlands is a country with absurdly high English knowledge. So whenever I speak Dutch to the cashier, or someone I'm trying to become friends with, or even people with whom I'm vaguely friendly already, or the teacher sometimes, they usually reply in English. Often I end up replying in English as well, out of a sense of social anxiety, and so I end up only saying one or two sentences in Dutch. This makes it so that I can't practice getting more comfortable, and so I'm always stuck in this position. I've been trying with audio courses and such, but that can really only take me so far.

I know that it's not every stranger's position to teach some kid their own native language. But then I hear people complaining about lack of integration and language skills in immigrants and I just get angry.

Basically: how do I get people to speak Dutch with me more, without feeling like I'm imposing a teaching role on them? I don't think they should be sitting there correcting me in everything, but just letting me speak and have conversations would be nice.

  • Have you already asked those people you're slightly friendly with to practice your Dutch with you? What was their reaction? – Tinkeringbell Jan 4 at 15:03
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    @Tinkeringbell I did ask one of them, she seemed ambivalent to it and was generally hedging around, saying "Oh you know it's fine, we can all speak English", and "Oh you can learn with one of those courses until you get better, then I promise I will speak in Dutch". Basically it's really akward and I don't know how to clarify that courses can't do much about my slightly stutter-y speech. – NederlandsZitVolGevaren Jan 4 at 15:05
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I think you might be struggling with picking your 'target audience' for your practices. You said you would like people to 'just have a conversation with you'. But if there's a language barrier involved, a conversation isn't something you 'just' have, it becomes something that actually takes a lot of effort. Let me give you a few examples:

I've worked retail, and one of the things that's in my top 10 of annoying things are people that try to have conversations that hold up the line. If you add a very clear language barrier on top of that, I can confirm I'd be one of these cashiers that will probably switch and try whether speaking English (or, if I have some knowledge of your native language, that language) to you will move the line along quicker/answer your questions faster/be understood quicker.

Teachers are also not so great for practising your Dutch skills: They probably already know you're a foreign student, and that your English is much better. I've seen teachers (whose native language wasn't Dutch) use English in these cases, not necessarily because they're busy but because they know that you'll understand them better when they talk English: It's about them feeling more confident their message comes across, not having to explain things multiple times, and avoiding misunderstandings due to miscommunications.

People you're trying to become friends with, or whom you're already vaguely friendly with, will probably also default to English for the same reasons a teacher might: It makes them feel more confident they'll be understood, and that they understand you correctly. It removes the risk of misunderstandings and avoids a whole lot of 'work' from just having a conversation with someone.

You said that so far you've asked one person whether she'd be willing to practice with you, and she wasn't very enthusiastic about it, at least not until your Dutch was a bit more fluent. It might be yet another sign that perhaps having 'just a conversation' with you isn't as easy as you might think for the people that have to listen to you.


My best advice would be to understand that people usually try to avoid misunderstandings in communicating with you, and to keep trying and find people that would be willing to practice your Dutch with you. Do not give up, keep asking people.

Given the amount of effort that might be involved in having these conversations with you, try and find people that you're growing closer with, that you made friends with. Friends are usually more willing to provide you with their time and effort than strangers, at least mine do.

People with who you have a closer relationship also often might understand you better, even if you do mess up your words. Good friends or siblings can sometimes be said to 'finish each other's sentences' after all. It might thus be worth it to first build a solid foundation in English, and then ask people if they'd be willing to practice.

I don't know how you've asked, but you say that you can understand most conversations. It might be worth it to point this out: that you can understand them better than they may be able to understand you. This may alleviate some of the weariness of them being misunderstood by you, of having to explain themselves multiple times in what is supposed to be 'just a conversation'.

Also, a bit off-topic but maybe a taalmaatje might be able to help you already. These are people that volunteer their time to teach people Dutch, through having 'just a conversation'. If your school/university has a notice board or something, asking for a volunteer there might help too, and if you haven't yet, it might be worth looking into whether the school offers classes or other resources for foreign students as well.

  • Yeah, it's true that I've not been admitting to myself how much of a burden my terrible speech is. Fair answer, I think a taalmatje is a good idea, or I might try to find a cheap course here. – NederlandsZitVolGevaren Jan 4 at 15:43
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As a dutchy:

Just ask them you want to try to learn Dutch. We're a fan of direct communication, be clear what you want.

Pick your timings though, a cashier is good for a basic "hi, lovely day" conversation, but not much more. They get paid to cashier, not to talk.

I suggest creating specific situations with specific people, e.g. you can ask a friend to speak only Dutch while on your lunch break, only allowing English to clarify. Or during dinner at your place, etc.

Most Dutch people switch to English because it's very easy for us and we know speaking dutch isn't and we want to help you not feel awkward. Apart from that, trying to understand broken Dutch costs extra energy, this way we know beforehand it's for a set period of time. And that in this period of time it's expected that you get corrected.

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I'm in a similar situation to you -- I'm an English speaker who moved to Montreal a few years ago and I'm working on my French. Most people in Montreal speak English, so when I try to speak to people in French they'll often switch to English.

Honestly what's been most helpful for me is trying to put myself into social situations where French is strongly preferred, which makes people less likely to switch. I moved to a heavily-French-speaking neighbourhood and joined a hobby group where the main language of communication is French.

I'm not sure what the language demographics in the Netherlands are, but are older people less likely to speak English well? Maybe you could volunteer at a community centre or elder care facility.

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