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Do They Speak English in The Netherlands?

Do They Speak English in The Netherlands

Before diving deep into the intricacies of language in the Netherlands, let’s get a quick snapshot:

Key Takeaways
1. Dutch is the official language of the Netherlands.
2. Around 90% of the Dutch population speaks English.
3. English proficiency is high, especially among younger generations.
4. English is taught at schools from an early age.
5. Many universities offer courses in English.

The Language Landscape in The Netherlands

The Netherlands, with its rich history, diverse culture, and strong educational framework, boasts a multi-lingual society. Here’s a breakdown:

Dutch: The Official Language

Dutch (Nederlands) is the official language of the Netherlands. It’s spoken by the vast majority of the country’s 17 million residents. With close ties to other Germanic languages, especially German and English, Dutch serves as the primary mode of communication in business, government, media, and everyday life.

Frisian: A Regional Language

In the northern province of Friesland, you’ll also encounter the West Frisian language, or Frysk. Recognized as a second official language in this region, it has its own distinct roots and is taught in schools and used by local media.

Other Languages

The Netherlands is home to a diverse population. This means other languages, such as Turkish, Arabic, Berber, and Papiamento, are also spoken, particularly in urban areas.

English Proficiency in The Netherlands

But what about English? Let’s dive into the numbers:

English Proficiency MetricsPercentage
Fluent SpeakersApprox. 70%
Conversational SpeakersApprox. 20%
Basic KnowledgeApprox. 10%

Why is English Proficiency so High?

  1. Education: English education begins early in the Netherlands, often starting in elementary school and continuing throughout high school. By the time Dutch students graduate, many are nearly fluent in English.
  2. Media Consumption: Dutch television and cinema often broadcast English content with Dutch subtitles, rather than dubbing. This exposure from a young age helps foster proficiency.
  3. Business and Tourism: As a major European hub for business and a popular tourist destination, English is a necessary tool for communication.
  4. Cultural Openness: The Dutch are known for their open-mindedness and interest in global affairs, which naturally leads to an affinity for languages.

The Role of English in Education

Primary and Secondary Schools

English is a mandatory subject in Dutch primary and secondary schools:

  • Most schools begin English lessons in Group 1 (similar to kindergarten).
  • By the end of primary school, students generally have a basic command of the language.
  • In secondary school, English education intensifies. By graduation, students are expected to be proficient in reading, writing, and speaking English.

Universities and Higher Education

The prevalence of English in the Netherlands’ education system doesn’t stop at the secondary level. In fact, the country’s universities are a testament to its English proficiency:

  • Bachelor’s Degrees: While most undergraduate courses are taught in Dutch, there’s a growing number that are offered in English to cater to international students.
  • Master’s and PhD Programs: A significant number of postgraduate programs, especially in fields like science, engineering, and business, are taught entirely in English.
University MetricsDetails
Universities Offering English ProgramsApprox. 70%
Popular Fields in EnglishScience, Business, Engineering

Visiting The Netherlands: Can You Get By With Just English?

Absolutely! Given the high proficiency rate, tourists and business travelers will find it easy to communicate in English across the country:

  • Cities: In major cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, and The Hague, English is widely spoken, especially in restaurants, shops, and attractions.
  • Countryside: Even in smaller towns and rural areas, you’ll find that many people, especially the younger generation, can converse in English.
  • Signage: Most signs, especially those in public transportation and popular tourist areas, are in both Dutch and English.
  • Business: For those traveling on business, English is the lingua franca in many industries, especially in tech, finance, and international trade.


While the Netherlands is proud of its linguistic heritage and continues to champion the Dutch language, its global outlook and emphasis on education have made English a widely spoken and understood language. Whether you’re visiting for pleasure or business, or considering studying there, you can be confident that language won’t be a barrier.