Are you wondering what language is spoken in Amsterdam and the Netherlands?
You’re in the right place. I’m a Dutch native, and I speak the language spoken in Amsterdam and the rest of the Netherlands as my native tongue.
Walking around Amsterdam along the beautiful canals makes it hard to distinguish the dominant language. When you’re in Paris, you quickly hear it’s French. In Berlin, you hear predominately German as the primary language.
But when you’re in Amsterdam, something peculiar is happening. It’s English you hear spoken more than anything else. Besides the many tourists descending on the city every day, many English speakers (expats) also moved into the city.
So, what is the official language of the Netherlands? It’s English?
No. It isn’t. The official language of the Netherlands is Dutch.
Table of Contents
Is Dutch The Official Language Spoken in Amsterdam?
Yes, Dutch is also the official language in Amsterdam. However, unlike other Dutch regions, the city’s version has a distinct accent. As a Dutch person, you’ll instantly recognize it. But as a foreigner, it’s hard to hear the difference.
That is not a problem, though. It’s just a light dialect. Amsterdam residents understand proper Dutch (Kings Dutch) very well, and people from outside of Amsterdam understand the Amsterdam accent very quickly, too.
The Amsterdam accent is also slowly becoming less common. It was mainly a dialect for the working class. Since most working-class neighborhoods are becoming increasingly hip and trendy places (and becoming more expensive), the dialect is also slowly disappearing.
Dutch is the country’s official language spoken by the majority, but there are also many local dialects. And there is one other official language: Frisian. I’ll talk about that a little bit later.
Is It Rude To Speak English in Amsterdam?
No, it is not rude to speak English in Amsterdam. If you’re visiting Amsterdam or other places in the country, you’ll have no trouble communicating in English, and people will not take offense.
The people of the Netherlands speak English fluently. In the city, English is spoken almost everywhere. It might be a little more rusty in the country, but still enough to get around.
People in Amsterdam speak English so commonly that language barriers are rare. From cafes to museums, the people you meet can speak and are often happy to speak it.
This proficiency stems from kids taught English from a young age in the Netherlands. Some universities also have lectures taught in English, even to Dutch locals, and most TV series and movies are aired in their original language (often English) and subtitled in Dutch.
Amsterdam is a global city, and it is one of the top tourist destinations in the world. Almost everyone in Amsterdam can converse in English, even though it’s not their first language. Interestingly, some places in Amsterdam operate primarily in English, making it feel sometimes even for me, as a local, like a foreign place.
It’s the world upside down. It’s not uncommon for me to enter a store, attraction, or restaurant, greet a person in Dutch, or ask a question in Dutch, and they reply: “I’m sorry, I don’t understand Dutch. Can you speak English?”
Of course, I can, but it’s weird, right? I sometimes feel Dutch is a foreign language in this city.
However, if you’re worried about being considered rude speaking English, you can let go of that fear. It’s the most commonly used language, especially in the tourist areas.
Is it OK to speak German in Amsterdam?
Oh, now you’re touching on a sensitive topic. It’s OK to speak English at any time. But speaking German, be careful.
Know one thing up front: don’t think when you’re trying to practice a few German words you remember from high school when traveling to the Netherlands (Amsterdam) will be appreciated. It won’t.
But why not? To a foreign ear, Dutch and German sound very similar. And you’re right; both are West Germanic languages, so they sound similar. But not much, either. When the Dutch and Germans try to understand each other, they often quickly switch to English instead because it becomes too difficult.
But there is a more important reason: World War II happened. And the Dutch people have still not forgotten it on that level. Germany was the aggressor.
So it’s an insult to a Dutch person when they’re being spoken to in German. They still remember their parents and grandparent’s stories.
Americans, in particular, tend to do this since many had German classes at one point. Please don’t be one of them, although I know it’s good-natured. Learn some simple Dutch phrases instead, and the locals will love you.
If you are German and reading this, know we’re happy you’re visiting us, but it’s essential to be mindful of the past. It shows respect to learn a few Dutch phrases to greet a Dutch person in Dutch and then ask if it’s okay to continue in German. Often, it is, and when it isn’t, switch to English. Many Germans make the mistake of talking in German straightaway. It won’t said to you, but it will be considered rude.
Learn Some Basic Dutch
While English is widely spoken, attempting to learn some basic Dutch phrases will go a very long way. It’s simple to learn Dutch greetings and expressions of gratitude. Trying to use these basic phrases can defrost the locals, who sometimes are considered rude (the question is, are they? >> Read more in my article “Are the Dutch rude?“
When visiting the city, you don’t have to, but it will be fun to know and use. Here are a few examples.
|Hallo (or Hoi, informal)
|I don’t understand Dutch
|Ik spreek geen Nederlands
Frisian: The Other Official Dutch Language
Frisian is another official language in the Netherlands. Dutch and Frisian are both recognized as official languages. But the country’s second language, Frisian, is spoken primarily in the province of Friesland. It is recognized as a regional language. Frisian has its unique grammar and vocabulary. It sounds more like old English, while Dutch sounds more like German.
Did you know that native Dutch have trouble understanding Frisian? According to a cloze test in 2005, native Dutch speakers understood 31.9% of a West Frisian newspaper, while they understood 66.4% of an Afrikaans newspaper (which is not even an official language in the Netherlands).
Dialects of Dutch
Frisian is officially a language, but many other Dutch accents and dialects exist. Dutch people can often quickly hear which part of the country someone is from. And that might surprise you because the Netherlands is such a tiny country. But it’s true.
Some dialects can be (very) hard to understand for other Dutch speakers. The province of Groningen and the province of Limburg are two of the regions with one of the strongest accents. Especially Limburgian can almost be qualified as a separate language. It’s so distinct.
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Where in the World They Also Speak Dutch
In the other areas of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which encompass the Netherlands and also the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten, Dutch is the official language. But Papiamento and English are also widely spoken there.
Surinam (Suriname) is the only former colony of the Netherlands where Dutch is still the country’s official language.
Dutch is also the official language in part of Belgium, Flanders. However the grammar might be similar, but the Belgium version, called Flemish, is still very different and can cause misunderstandings among Dutch and Belgian people.
Afrikaans stem from Dutch; if both parties try hard, we can follow each other. It’s close enough. But Afrikaans developed into its language over time.
There are 23 million people worldwide who speak Dutch as their native language. Most live in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands and a melting pot of many languages and cultures. Did you know Amsterdam is home to more nationalities than New York?
While Dutch is the native language of the Netherlands, you’ll find that English and Dutch are commonly spoken throughout the Netherlands, especially in Amsterdam.
The people of Amsterdam, as well as the Netherlands as a whole, have a high proficiency in English. Many people in the Netherlands also speak English as a second language, making it easier for visitors who understand English but not the local language.
With most of the population speaking English well, you’ll find it easy to navigate through the city, but there can still be cultural differences.
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Does All Of This Feel Overwhelming?
Planning a trip well is a lot of work and can feel overwhelming. Know I’m here to help when you need assistance with your Netherlands vacation.
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Did you know Dutch is different then German?
I’d love your thoughts: Will you learn a few Dutch phrases when you visit Amsterdam? What's the tongue breaker for you?. Please share your thoughts in the comments below, and let’s start a conversation 💬.