Dutch Language Blog

Living in the Netherlands Means Integrating Posted by on Mar 9, 2015 in Culture, News

The Netherlands was the first country to require a language and culture exam for those who want to live here (except for expats or students). The purpose of the exam is to push immigrants to integrate or integreren into Dutch life by learning the language, history and culture of the country. This seems to me like a reasonable and proactive approach to helping people adapt. Although most people speak English, I couldn’t imagine living in a country where I did not know the language.

How do I integrate?

For those wanting to come to the Netherlands, the first step is to take the first inburgeringsexamen in your home country. This exam consists of sections testing your knowledge of history and culture, language use, and reading comprehension. Once you pass the exam, you can proceed to your immigration application.

The second step is to take the second inburgeringsexamen here in the Netherlands. You have three years from when you first arrive with your residence visa or verblijfstitel. While the first exam is level A1 (first level of the European Framework for languages), this second one is level A2. As a teacher, I would tell you that these two levels are very basic and easy to achieve. If you want to study in a Dutch university (in Dutch language) or you want a bigger challenge, you can opt to take the NT2 exam which is the state exam for the Dutch language. This exam does not have any of the culture questions, but the language level is B2 which is the advanced level.

Why should I take the exam?

Like I said, I think integrating and adapting to Dutch society is crucial. This is my opinion, and I am sure there are many people who happily live in the Netherlands knowing hardly any Dutch. However, I truly feel I have gained some insight by learning about the culture and history of the exam. My personal integration has gone beyond what the exam packages offer; I’ve looked for books, movies and online articles to enrich my knowledge. I also ask a lot of questions and travel around the country.

The mayor or burgemeester of Rotterdam is an example of someone who integrated fully into Dutch society. Ahmed Aboutaleb was born in Morocco and came to live in the Netherlands when he was 15 years old. He learned the language, went to school, worked in journalism and later pursued a political career. In 2009, he became the first immigrant burgemeester of the Netherlands. One of his areas of interest is the integration of immigrants because he feels it is crucial. With Mayor Aboutaleb and Queen Maxima as examples to follow, anyone wanting to and needing to integrate can do it!

Problems with Integration

As far as I can see, there is only one problem with integration: the fear of losing your culture. Some people feel that if they integrate fully, they will lose a part of their heritage. I sometimes feel like that, but I know it isn’t true. You can integrate into Dutch society and still have your heritage, it’s just a matter of balance. I see it with my boyfriend’s family. His father was born in Italy and came when he was very young. The whole family speaks Dutch, they have jobs (some are even retired already), have friends of many years and carry both passports. They are also very Italian: they speak italian and Sicilian, they can make the best italian food, they keep up with soccer and the news, and they visit Italy. They are Italian AND Dutch.

What if I can’t pass the exam?

Like I said before, the level required for passing both inburgeringsexamen is basic level. The exam, however, is tricky in other ways. First of all, it is graded by a computer rather than a person. This makes pronunciation critical for the exam. The computer cannot distinguish whether what you are saying is correct if it doesn’t hear the sound it was programmed to. Another trick of the exam is that testing a language is always hard to do in an exam. For the inburgeringsexamen I took in Mexico, I had to become a sort of papegaai or parrot where you just repeat what you hear.

Most people can become papegaaien and pass the exam with flying colors. However, the limitation of the computer makes it harder for a few. People with Asian accents have a harder time because the computer cannot detect their Dutch as Dutch. The following video talks about the problems one woman had with the exam.

What are your thoughts on the exam and the integration process?

For more information about the exam taken in the Netherlands, check the DUO website.

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About the Author: Karoly Molina

Since I was a little girl, I was fascinated with languages and writing. I speak English, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and a little bit of French. I am a writer, reader, language teacher, traveler, and a food lover! I now live in The Netherlands with my husband Riccardo, our cat Mona, and our dog Lisa, and the experience has been phenomenal. The Dutch culture is an exciting sometimes topsy-turvy world that I am happily exploring!