You can truly get away with speaking only English in Amsterdam. I know a few who have lived here for more than 10 years and did not learn the language. They told me it has been fine.
Besides, Dutch is pretty tough to learn. There are rules of exception within standard rules. Then you also can argue that Dutch is not so useful because so few speak the language, especially outside this tiny country. It is nothing like learning Chinese, Spanish or French.
So why should you bother? I can count 7 reasons.
1. If you want to talk with kids
While most adults can speak English impeccably, young kids often don’t. Now you would tell me that you are young and child-free. You mostly hang out with other twenty-somethings who also have no kids. So this does not apply to you at all. Fair point. But let me tell you this: So am I. I haven’t got any kids. Only one of my friends here is with kids. But I can even speak with them in Vietnamese, our mother tongue. So the problem is solved.
But one day, I was watering my plant pots on the balcony overlooking my neighbour’s garden. Two kids were playing there. I waved like I always do with kids. Mostly they would stare at me silently for a minute or so. These ones didn’t. They started to talk enthusiastically. They smiled and pointed at each others. I had not got a clue. I felt like a little kid myself, missing out on the playground because I didn’t know better.
My point is that you probably live here without speaking Dutch. But there will be so much more fun when you do speak the language. Don’t think about being able to read tax letter from the Belastingdienst or water bill from the Gemeente. Imagine the fun of surprising a stranger by speaking his language, or picture the time when you finally get the inner jokes.
2. Not to embarrass yourself by calling an Emergency Line by mistake
Answer machines are often in Dutch. So if you need to see a house doctor, you will need to get through the challenge of listening to options in Dutch and making the right choice. Don’t be like me when I pressed the number for an Emergency Line and got shouted at. The woman was in too much of a hurry so she spoke Dutch. I didn’t understand a thing but I could really feel the urgency and her being pissed. I only realised my mistake later when I came to the help of Google.
You can find yourself in embarrassing, awkward or even dangerous situations because you don’t speak, even a little, the language of the country you are living in.
3. Feel less like a liability
You colleagues can all speak English very well, but still it must take some effort to speak a second language. I know it at least from my very own experience. I have been speaking English mainly for six years now, at work and at home. Yet it is not as effortless as speaking Vietnamese. I doubt it will ever be.
So when you notice that your colleagues switch back to Dutch as soon as you join a conversation on the other side of lunch table, you know you are a liability. Do you often feel guilty for making them do all the hard work? That is exactly how I’ve felt. I hate causing inconveniences for other people. So now I practice rolling my tongue and hurting my throat on a daily basis so I can speak good Dutch someday.
And the rest:
Knowing a language that others might think you don’t can be a great advantage. Even just for a laugh.
5. Don’t have to spend an hour for each letter sent by the Gemeente
Seriously, those hours can be much better spent in the park.
6. Befriend the fishmonger
So he will tell you about the catch of the day. Good food, good life.
7. Do not have to use Chrome
You don’t want to have Chrome translate all your sensitive details regarding internet banking and tax return, do you? Who know which part will be lost in translation, and which part the system will keep without telling you.
Basically, I don’t want to just get away with life. I want to live a life when I can learn about the people around me, make friends and be nice to my new friends. So I am learning Dutch.