Learning Dutch is a must!

Learning Dutch is a must!

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Everyone living in the Netherlands has to learn Dutch. This is the message of a publicity campaign the Dutch government is about to launch urging foreigners to take their own responsibility.

The move comes amid growing concerns that immigrants don't do enough to learn Dutch.

A short information film to be frequently aired on television shows several foreigners trying to explain something to a Dutch national - and clearly failing to do so. The subtitled film ends with the caption "real life comes without subtitles", followed by a call to learn Dutch.


The film aims to show that daily life requires everyone to know Dutch to find work, talk with neighbours and doctors, and raise children. Integration Minister Eberhard van der Laan, who oversees the campaign, emphasises that integration comes with obligations.

Integration Minister Eberhard van der Laan:

Minister Eberhard van der Laan"People who can't make themselves understood in Dutch, should not be surprised if others don't understand them."

The campaign, the minister explains, highlights people's individual responsibility because not enough foreigners are voluntarily enrolling in an integration course.

At Radio Netherlands Worldwide, whose staff come from all over the world, everyone agrees that knowing Dutch is vital. The publicity campaign, however, prompts widely differing responses, with descriptions ranging from funny to patronising.

For Abir Saras, a Palestinian woman who has been living here for ten years, the film views the language barrier too much from a Dutch angle, making it hard for her to feel involved. She thinks a film made from a foreigner's vantage point would make more sense, something she illustrates recounting an experience of her own.
Abir Saras
"I remember how my first year here someone in a shop tried to tell me something and I started crying for not understanding, something I found hugely embarrassing. The spot should emphasise these sort of feelings instead of showing how the Dutch view foreigners."


The "Dutch" publicity campaign




The fact that the infomation film adopts a Dutch perspective may be attributed to a growing unease among the Dutch that immigrants do little to integrate and speak the language with considerable difficulty or not at all. That is what many want to change. Davion Ford, an Afro-American who has been living here for four years, says it seems as if the country has finally woken up to the need to involve foreigners in society:

Davion Ford:

Davion Ford"In the past the issue was given little thought. People perhaps even expected foreigners to return home. But that didn't happen and now something needs to be done. I find the commercial funny and not at all repellent."


Alejandro Pintamalli from Argentina sees things very differently. For him this kind of publicity campaign, reaffirming Dutch prejudices, is bound to alienate immigrants, especially those with a higher education:

Alejandro Pintamalli:

"The Dutch government and politicians press too hard for people to learn the language, which provokes a negative response. For me it has always been extremely important to learn the language-but not in this way. This kind of commercial will only backfire."

Alejandro PintamalliPintamalli would prefer the Dutch to help foreigners learn the language in the street, in the shops or as neighbours over a cup of coffee. But before helping foreigners, they should first try to understand them.

The information film will begin airing on television on Monday and will be followed by a radio and newspaper campaign. How people in the country will respond remains to be seen.

Marijke van den Berg
Radio Netherlands

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3 Comments To This Article

  • Jennifer posted:

    on 11th March 2009, 10:46:40 - Reply

    If they are targeting people that don't speak Dutch ... why is the film in Dutch?!? It seems like a waste of money since it won't reach the people intended. Seems like it will just "fuel" the bad attitude of the Dutch toward foreigners that don't speak their language. I've found the Dutch to be extremely arrogant at times and I don't see any reason that they have to be arrogant!
  • Nick posted:

    on 11th March 2009, 10:42:58 - Reply

    That is not my experience at all. Most documentation is available in English, Turkish and other languages. I find the Dutch pleasant and very bilingual people.
  • terry posted:

    on 5th March 2009, 14:23:01 - Reply

    That does not explain dutch refusal to speak english when they can, i left with my E100,000 euros, because of the rudeness and ignorance generally used by the dutch over the last 5 years or so, this is clearly government led, same with utilities too, would of learned if did not get this behaviour, as in uk we are not like that at all and bend over backwards to help all, by providing info in a number of languages, so live and learn cloggies.......