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How Long Does It Take to Learn Dutch? A Few Things to Consider

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Choosing to learn a new language can be an immensely rewarding path to choose. It opens up new opportunities and offers the potential for experiences that you might not otherwise have access to. It allows you to experience a country and its culture with greater clarity and intimacy, stepping beyond the limited bounds of a tourist. However, it is also an enormous goal to adopt and, frankly, it can be quite intimidating when faced with the sheer scope of it. So an obvious question that might spring to mind is, how long does it take to learn Dutch?

In short, it depends. Although it may be a frustrating answer, I think learning a new language is a lot like exercise. It’s about building sustainable habits. Ultimately, it’s a marathon, not a race. For many learners, it’s a lifelong pursuit, and I think settling into the right mindset can have an enormous impact on overall success.

Although it may take a year or two to reach a conversational level, there will always be more vocabulary to learn or moments when you’ll encounter interesting new slang. Visiting different parts of the country will bring you into contact with different accents and depending on your interests, you may find that conversational Dutch doesn’t cut it. An interest in politics or TV dramas may push you to learn to a more advanced level. Meanwhile, a desire to work or study in the country will demand even further study.

Having said that, if you have ambitions to move to the Netherlands, or you are the type of student who thrives on meeting fixed deadlines, I can understand that a more concrete answer would be helpful.

A Few Things to Keep in Mind When Considering How Long Does It Take to Learn Dutch?

Several factors can either help speed up or hinder the overall learning process. Below are some things to consider when getting to an answer for “how long does it take to learn Dutch?”

What Is Your Motivation?

Motivation is a huge factor to consider when learning a new language. Understanding exactly why you want to learn Dutch and keeping that at the center of your learning can be incredibly helpful once the journey gets a little challenging. It can also help you to tailor your studies so that you never catch yourself wondering: “What’s the point of this?”.

For example, if you want to learn Dutch to connect with friends or family, ask yourself how you want to connect. Do you want to be able to watch Dutch TV shows with them? Or do you want to be able to chat with them comfortably? In that case, learning to an intermediate level would be satisfactory, and you might focus your learning more on casual expressions. Depending on the age of you and your friend or friend group, knowing a little slang might also be beneficial. If this is your motivation, you would probably benefit from incorporating media you enjoy into your studies. If this is something you’d be interested in, we have an article covering tips and resources for Dutch listening, including a list of TV shows and other types of media.

Alternatively, do you want to be able to travel comfortably? In that case, learning basic Dutch will be sufficient in most cases. If you are traveling to popular city locations, such as Amsterdam, you will find that a lot of people speak English and are more than happy to accommodate you, especially if you make an effort to speak Dutch.

However, if you want to learn Dutch to study or work in the Netherlands, then a more rigorous, structured form of study might be beneficial. Ultimately, you would need to pass the Staatsexamen Nederlands als tweede taal, (also known as the Staatsexamen NT2) which you can take at either B1 or B2 level. Enrolling on a course would likely be best in this situation.

Whatever the case, taking the time to examine your motivations and adjusting your learning accordingly will have an impact on how long it will take you to achieve your goal.

How Experienced Are You With Learning Languages?

Another factor to consider is how much experience you already have learning other languages. If you’ve been learning languages for a while or you’re a polyglot, you will likely already have study methods that suit you. Familiarity with the process of learning a language, having access to reliable resources you enjoy working with, and familiarity with how to incorporate study into your daily routine will all help you slot into the mindset of learning a language from scratch much faster.

Alternatively, if this is your first time learning a new language, you will be discovering a lot of this for the first time. Although there are plenty of excellent resources available, knowing what works best for you is part of the journey. Some people work best with a structured course they can take in person, while others might be motivated most by engaging with media they enjoy, such as books or TV shows. Alternatively, you might be someone who prefers to gamify the learning experience by using apps or computer programs.

Knowing what works for you and finding ways to build sustainable habits is crucial. Ultimately, someone who studies for 20-30 minutes each day will pick up Dutch much faster than someone who puts in 2 hours once a week.

What Is Your Native Language?

Something else to consider is your native language. Dutch is a Germanic language, which means it shares some similarities with other Germanic languages, such as English, German, Swedish, and Afrikaans. Having one Germanic language as your mother tongue will make it easier to adapt to Dutch, as some of the rules and vocabulary will be similar. If you know a second Germanic language on top of that, it should make learning Dutch even easier.

What Opportunities Do You Have Available?

An additional factor to consider will be the opportunities you have available to you already. If you can visit the Netherlands frequently, have Dutch friends or family you can practice with, or you already live in the Netherlands, you will be in a position to pick up Dutch much faster than someone without those resources.

What Level of Fluency Are You Aiming For?

Another factor that will impact the amount of time it will take you to learn Dutch is the level of fluency you are aiming for. Knowing what your motivation is for studying will be immensely helpful in this regard, as it will give you a rough indication of the level you need to aim for.

When studying Dutch, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) offers a guideline that splits proficiency into three tiers. For Dutch, the levels look like this:

  • Basic – A1/A2 – Beginner to elementary school level.
  • Independent – B1/B2 – High school level.
  • Proficient – C1/C2 – College and university level.

It’s worth noting that the Staatsexamen NT2, which you need to complete before working or living in the Netherlands, is B1/B2 level.

Ultimately, the level you require to meet your personal goals will have a massive impact on how long it will take you to learn.

How Long Does It Take to Learn Dutch? Let’s Look at Some Figures

Okay, so that’s all well and good. There are lots of things to consider, but that still doesn’t answer the question. Putting everything else aside, roughly how long does it take to learn Dutch?

According to research conducted by the University of Cambridge, it takes roughly 100-200 hours of guided study for a motivated adult to progress from one CEFR tier to the next.

Guided learning is specified as learning in a classroom environment or working through a structured program, typically involving homework.

The study gave the following breakdown when working between levels. Please note that the hours outlined are cumulative. The estimated time indicates how long it would take to reach that level from scratch.

Level Estimated Hours
A1 90-100
A2 180-200
B1 350-400
B2 500-600
C1 700-800
C2 1,000-1,200

If we break that down, it indicates that if you have the time and resources to dedicate an hour each day to structured study, you could progress to A2 within a year. Alternatively, if you could dedicate 20-30 minutes each day, you could attain that level in roughly two years.

So to answer the question, “how long does it take to learn Dutch?”, take a look at your motivations, figure out what level you need to study to, and then you’ll have a rough idea of how long it should all take, keeping in mind all the additional factors that could have an impact.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, it’s important to view the figures outlined above as nothing more than a guideline. I’d also caution trying to race through the learning process too quickly unless your goals demand a faster uptake of the language. Unless your career goals demand you move to the Netherlands in the next year or two, there is no rush.

Take an honest look at your schedule and see what time you can afford to give your studies. Whatever you dedicate must be sustainable. Wearing yourself thin with studying will only rob you of your joy and potentially leave you feeling burnt out and frustrated. At the end of the day, rather aim to reach your intended goal in a few years than try to race ahead and give up within a few months.

Although learning a new language has the potential to be frustrating and daunting, it should ultimately be challenging, fun, and rewarding. In that regard, when answering someone asking me “how long does it take to learn Dutch?”, I am inclined to suggest that learning a new language is a lifelong pursuit. Even when you have reached a C2 level, you will constantly find yourself learning new things about the language, the culture, and the country. There will always be things to improve, new slang and new vocabulary to pick up. Try to view it more as a marathon instead of a race and do your best to incorporate the things you enjoy into your studies. It’ll make a world of difference in the end.

I wish you the greatest luck with your studies, and, as always, blijf oefenen!

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