Languages in the Netherlands

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Languages in the Netherlands

The national language in the Netherlands is Dutch. It's a charming, lilting language punctuated by phlegm-trembling glottal gs (not in the south) and schs (also found, for example, in Arabic). Dutch, especially in written form, is partially intelligible to someone who knows other Germanic languages (especially German and Frisian), and you might be able to get along at least partially in these languages if spoken slowly.

Besides Dutch, several other languages are spoken in the Netherlands, in the eastern provinces of Groningen, Overijsel, Drenthe and Gelderand people speak a local variety of Low Saxon (Grunnegs or Tweants for example). In the southern province of Limburg the majority speaks Limburgish, a language unique in Europe because of its use of pitch and tone length to distinguish words (for example: 'Veer' with a high tone means 'we', while the same word with a low tone means 'four').

Officially, the Netherlands is bilingual, as Frisian is also an official language. Frisian is the second closest living language to English. Despite its status as official language, it is spoken almost exclusively in the province of Friesland. Other forms of Frisian are also spoken by small minorities in Germany. When travelling through Friesland you will come across many roadsigns in two languages (similar to Wales and South Tyrol). This is also the case in southern Limburg. Everybody speaks Dutch, but the Frisians are so protective of the minority language that ordering a beer in it might just get you the next one free.

"They all speak English there" is quite accurate for the Netherlands. Education from an early age in English and other European languages (mostly German and French) makes the Dutch some of the most fluent polyglots on the continent, and the most English-proficient country in the world where English isn't offical (90% of the population speaks English). Oblivious travelers to the major cities should be able to make their way without learning a word of Dutch. Dealing with seniors or finding yourself in a family atmosphere, however, will probably require learning a bit of the native tongue.

In areas bordering Germany, German is widely spoken. However, outside of the eastern provinces, a good amount of people (especially amongst the younger generation) can also speak basic German too. French will be understood by some as well, especially the older generations. Immigrant languages are prominent in urban areas, they include Turkish, Arabic, Sranan-Tongo (Suriname) and Papiamento (Netherlands Antilles).

Foreign television programmes and films are almost always shown in their original language with subtitles. Only children's programmes are dubbed into Dutch. 

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