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Speaking Dutch in your workplace

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

Hoi! Hoe gaat het met je Nederlands?

Do you feel too nervous to make the switch to Dutch in your workplace? Ever feel daunted when surrounded by your colleagues all speaking in Dutch? This month we want to share some ideas about how you can turn this around.

(While we focus on the workplace here, a lot of this can apply to a non-work environment too – perhaps a daycare or school your child attends, or a gym you regularly go to…)

Firstly, identify a colleague (or a few) who would be happy to help you practise your Dutch. Maybe a colleague you regularly work with? A security guard or receptionist you always see on your way in and out? Or a colleague you often see in the kitchen at lunchtime?

Ask them if they are okay to speak Dutch with you and decide together on how you are going to go about this using the advice below.

Choose your approach!

There are several options to start speaking Dutch at work:

Option 1: Diving into the deep end Speak Dutch together, always, all the time.

Option 2: Taking it step-by-step Start with a specific time frame, for example, 2 minutes when you arrive at work, and 2 minutes when you are about to leave. Or 5 minutes over lunch. Build up slowly from there.

Option 3: Taking it space-by-space Choose a specific place together where you will only speak Dutch. Start, for example, with the hallway, the bathroom or the coffee machine and slowly grow your Dutch territory from there when you feel comfortable enough to do so.

Give it a go!

1. Start simple

It can be scary to suddenly start speaking to your colleagues in Dutch. Start with simple greetings: “Goeiemorgen” “Prettig weekend” “Tot morgen”. Once you feel comfortable, build this up. Remember: if you do things you enjoy, learning will be so much easier so choose tasks and topics that “spark joy” for you!

2. Short conversations

Focus on building your confidence through shorter conversations. Start with “Hoe gaat het?” and “What ga je dit weekend doen?”. Try to use your metacommunicatie-tools (feedback questions like “Sorry, wat bedoel je?” and “Wat betekent dat?”). Talk to the people you click with, that way you will feel less vulnerable when you try out new words or phrases. Learning is all about daring to make mistakes!

3. Messaging

Alongside your in-person conversations, try to use text or What’s App regularly too. Writing is slower and gives you the chance to grow your vocab ( and to practice the grammar and word order.

4. Speak til you get stuck

Don’t give up on the Dutch too quickly. Use your metacommunicatie-tools to help you. Practice conversations in your head, or review a conversation you just had with a real person and repeat with your ‘imaginary friend’ (a.k.a. ‘self-talk). If you get stuck, that’s ok but really try to keep the conversation going as much as you can. See if you can make the conversation go a bit further each time.

5. Expressions

Expressions and jokes can be a really difficult part of a language to get a grip on! Let your colleague know this. When you don’t understand something, check if it’s an expression or turn of phrase.


Tips to get the best out of this

1. Corrections

Let your colleague know if and how you want them to correct your mistakes. Would you like them to tell you about every mistake? Would you like them to do this mid-conversation, or just share a few things they noticed at the end?

You could ask them to focus on one aspect to correct: for example, pronunciation, word order, or vocab. Choose something that you are trying to improve in particular at the moment.

Ask them to guide you into correcting yourself by asking questions or repeating part of the sentence in response to you. For example:

  1. You: ”Ik ben te laat omdat ik heb gemist de trein”

  2. Them: “Oh, omdat je de trein hebt gemist” (recorrected word order)

2. Check: Is now the right time to practise Dutch?

Do you and your colleague have the time and focus right now? If one of you is in a hurry or stressed out over a deadline, perhaps this is not a good moment. Ask: “Zullen/kunnen we NL spreken?”

3. Keep it light

Find colleagues who you can laugh with about your mistakes, and try new things out with in a relaxed approach. Ask them to teach you fun phrases or jokes.

4. Use your metacommunicatie-tools

Always remember to use phrases such as: “Wat bedoel je?” “Wat betekent dat?” “Kun je dat uitleggen?”

Try to keep the conversation going as far as you can without switching to English. When you do need to switch to English, do that as much as you need and then switch back. Let your colleague know that this is the approach you want to take.

Using these phrases helps you take control of the conversation.

5. Written corrections

Ask your colleague to underline or use track changes if they are editing your written work so that you can see your mistakes or the improvements they are making.

6. Meetings

There isn’t always room for colleagues to check in with you throughout important meetings or group conversations. Sometimes it is better to save your questions or check you have understood things correctly at the end.


Joska has produced a leaflet (pictured above) that you can give to your Dutch colleagues, which shares these tips and ideas with them directly and in Dutch. Send us an email if you’d like to get a few for your workplace!


Rubio Dutch Blog

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