I wish to start a series called the Dutchiness to explain the Dutch as I see and experience, their culture, food, people, places and various other oddities that come to my mind. A series somehow I thought would give me more motivation to post frequently. The first topic was easy to chose, the Dutch language of course. Dutch is the native language of more than 22 million people and is spoken widely in the Netherlands, Belgium and Suriname. Being one of the Western Germanic languages like English and German, Dutch strangely has similarities to Afrikaans, a language spoken widely in South Africa and Namibia. Dutch is definitely not the most difficult language to learn (think Chinese and Sanskrit) but then it is not so easy as well.
As an expat in the Netherlands, so is it absolutely essential to learn the language? Well, it depends on several things - how long you plan to stay here, which profession you are in and mostly if you have the interest to learn the language. Fortunately enough most Dutch can speak English. In work places I find it almost non essential (Engineering field). But it is at the coffee corners and lunches when you miss out the joke that you feel the prick to learn the language. Also, all the official letters, announcements in trains and buses, signs are in Dutch. So I have been at it for the past 10 months. I passed the beginner's course and am at the intermediate level. While my reading, listening and writing have improved quite a bit, speaking is still a problem.
In the initial days though (actually even now), my biggest help tool has been Google Translate. This God sent tool has eased several frustrating 'Dutch decoding' moments for me. In my opinion, if you are planning to stay in the Netherlands for more than 6 months, then go for atleast a basic course. It does please people to see that you are atleast trying. Did it help me at all at any point? I think it did. Recently at an interview for a project, the boss of the company was genuinely surprised when I answered some of his questions in Dutch. They offered me the post a couple of days back. If I decide to take it up, I will be their first non Dutch employee... :D
Some useful Dutch language websites:
www.taalklas.nl (highly recommended by my Dutch teachers)
Nothing replaces taking actual lessons though. Some Dutch language courses in Eindhoven: