Dutch Language Blog

Why is integrating such a problem? Posted by on Nov 4, 2015 in Culture, Dutch Language, News

Earlier this year, I wrote about the requirement most immigrants in the Netherlands must go through: inburgering. In summary, those wishing to obtain a Dutch passport must take an integration exam within 3 years of their arrival to the Netherlands which covers topics such as language, history and the work force. An alternative to this is to take the Nederlands Staatexam which certifies you as a speaker of  Nederlands als tweede taal (NT2) or Dutch as a second langauge.

Pamphlets and information about the integration requirement

Pamphlets and information about the integration requirement

It sounds easy….right?

Recent reports state that about 6,000 people who are inburberingsverplicht by the end of this year will miss the deadline. DUO or the Dienst Uitvoering Onderwijs is the government entity responsible for the integration requirement for immigrants and provides assistance for those needing to take Dutch classes as well as preparation classes for the inburgeringsexamen. Although DUO provides plenty of information via the telephone, website and mail, it seems something isn’t working.

So what could be the problem?

  • While DUO does provide us with ample information about the requirements (and sends frequent letters reminding us that we are inburgeringsverplicht), the information is either in Dutch or English. Although a good portion of people around the world speak English, I have met immigrants who live in the Netherlands and speak little or no English and are barely learning Dutch. I must admit that when I moved to the Netherlands and received the first letter and pamphlets about the integration process (in the photo), I could hardly understand what these said.
  • There are plenty of ways to learn Dutch and it pretty much comes down to your learning styles. When I moved to the Netherlands, I started taking classes at a school my husband had found, and I didn’t feel that it was the right place for me. Some people like intensive and high demanding classes, others prefer to take it slow, while another group has little time because of other obligations and takes advantage of platforms like Transparent Language to learn Dutch. This requires a good evaluation of your learning styles, budget and time possibilities and then looking for the right fit. I was lucky and found the right school within a month of moving here. I have a friend who tried several and after a year, she finally found the right fit for her.
  • Money. Anyone who has learned a new language knows that learning isn’t cheap. You have to pay for the classes, the books, dictionaries, and the exams (which cost €350 for the inburgeringnsexamen or €150 for NT2) each time you take it. Some gemeentes in the Netherlands provide assistance to those learning Dutch, but this is on a case-by-case basis and isn’t offered all the time. From my research, Dutch classes run from €80 to €400 per course. DUO does provide with low-interest loans for those who are inburgeringsverplicht depending on the income of the person or that of his partner. Once the person has fulfilled the integration requirement, he/she has 6 months to begin paying back the loan.
  • The last factor is the exam itself. Can a person truly be considered “integrated” by taking an exam? This last question is quite controversial, and, on a personal level, I am split. While I do feel that I have to learn the language and learn about the country I am living in, does doing this and passing an exam mean I am fully integrated? Is one ever fully integrated?

What are your thoughts on the subject? Have any of you experienced the integration process?

A new TV show titled Praat Nederlands met Me  aired two weeks ago. The show follows the lives of immigrants living in the Netherlands and their hardships in learning Dutch. You can check it out via the NPO 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!


  1. Peter Simon:

    Dear Lady with a Hungarian Boy’s name,

    I have a lot to say about this latest post of yours. While I can agree with some of it, I have a lot of issues this time.

    To start with, ‘integrating’ is not a noun on its own as there’s ‘integration’ as a full noun form for the idea. I first thought you were going to tackle the way the country is trying to integrate immigrants (problems of integrating foreigners into the Netherlands), but no, you were not.

    Next, I have a problem of notions. ‘Integration’, however correctly used elsewhere, has little to do with taking language courses. Language is a prerequisite for integration, not integration itself.

    The name ‘inburgeringsexamen’ is only translated into integration examination at your peril for want of a better word in En. As ‘burger’ means ‘citizen’ the name thus suggests the aim that it is done to allow foreign nationals to receive Dutch nationality, a status of citizenship in the country. Now, I’ve taken it, have received Dutch citizenship, but I won’t ever for the rest of my life be fully integrated, for a host of reasons – age, cultural background, dislike of a lot of aspects of Dutch culture in the wider sense, etc. An example is that when, after 3 years and a language course well done here, I met a couple of Ukrainian fellow participants, who knew very well that I had had very serious health problems during our common course and afterwards, and they asked me ‘Hoe gaat het?’. I couldn’t but reply that I’m not very well but beginning to be past the worst. They remarked that I should be Dutch enough here to answer ‘Alles goed’ and left. Their stupidity, on the one hand, shows how easily some immigrants may feel that they are already Dutch after a few years, while on the other hand, they missed my answer that on this basis I should also be Chinese as I’d lived in China for three years too before. It also show an over-optimistic aspect of the Dutch – on the surface. In real relationships, the Dutch can be very negligent, unfriendly and disinterested in other people’s issues. Coming from the direction of the USA, you may not feel this at its real scope.

    Further, the Dutch system to help immigrants with language support looks unparrallelled to me. Now that the ‘fluchtelingen’ crisis hits other countries, I’ve read an extensive and deep analysis on the problem in Germany, which had brought in masses of Turkish workers decades ago. From this it turns out they failed to help those people with language instruction, completely. They are now beginning to implement measures that have been in place in the Netherlands for decades, not without resounding success. When I hear loads of people of obviously non-Dutch origin in the streets in any city and on trains here speaking better Dutch than I can after six years and successful ‘staatsexamen’, this is in itself proof of success.

    There are problems with some, mostly Arabic males who haven’t even tried to learn to speak and send their wives out to do the shopping, teachers in the school said. These people will die out, but their offspring are already in integrated schools. My friend’s 4-year-old attends school, and when I go along to collect him, I can see that ALL the kids talk Dutch among themselves. It can pose no threat that they talk their mother tongues to their mothers, who, in their turn, also talk excellent Dutch. Parents have to talk to teachers and each other too. Here, the ‘lingua franca’ is Dutch.

    Granted, not all schools suit everybody. However, ‘gemeente’ help is really substantial when it is present. Considering how accommodating my city has always been to me and my Chinese and other friends all the way, and how far the country has developed in this respect from the times of almost total segregation (of their own kind!!!) a few decades ago, I can’t imagine that other ‘gemeenten’ with large immigrant communities wouldn’t act similarly. It is in everybody’s interest that immigrants get enought of the language as soon as possible.

    Why still a few thousands (out of millions of immigrants!) haven’t managed the language? Because, also based on my teachers’ information, some of them can’t even read or write! Not the Chinese, who only have to brush op Latin letters they are otherwise bound to know from primary school and for computer use. Some Arabic countries, on the other hand, do not teach Latin letters so extensively, and people who fled their country for lack of the most basic amenities also very often lack even basic education. On the other hand, some immigrants already speak at least 2 foreign languages, Indians very often several. How many natives of any average European country speak more than their mother tongue? In Hungary, that figure stands at 16%, in others, higher, but mostly because many speak English as a second language. So fear not!

    Back to the integration issue. It is far more than the issue of adding one more language to their arsenal. Except for those who left their home country they were born in at a very early age, they necessarily have that original culture ingrained in them. Full integration per se is well nigh impossible (seemingly with the exception of those over-zealous acquaintances of mine, but I wonder which language they speak to their babies at home now).

    The real integrating factor is always primary school. Afterwards, secondary school reinforces that, kinds get a host of local, Dutch friends along others of the same and various other cultures, so the integrating, common denominator is Dutch, culture fully included. They will love all the TV-utzendingen, ‘kermissen’, ‘Sinterklaas’, ‘kinderliedjes’, the odious Dutch pop music and so on that I deeply detest.

    All in all, adults can’t be expected to integrate, only to make attempts, in vain, to integrate. No worry, though, the second generation is there to be fully sucked in. Or, if not, the third generation is sure to do that. Even if millions arrive in Europe, hundreds of millions are bound to integrate them, except if they make basic mistakes, like not providing language education.

    Kind regards,

    • Karoly G Molina:

      @Peter Simon Hello Peter,

      You left me deep in thought with the comment about the real integrating factor being primary school. I want to agree and yet a part of me also wants to disagree. I moved from Mexico to the States when I was 8 and had a fairly easy time feeling like an American. To this day, that is perhaps the country I feel more like mine. My older sister was 13 when we moved and she had a harder time. My younger sister was 1 so she was more American than any of us, however, she finished high school and college in Mexico and is now perhaps the most Mexican of the three. While integrating and adjusting and adapting is different from each person, I use my family’s example because it is so varied. I do think having started school early for my younger sister and I made moving to the States a lot easier. When we moved back to Mexico, my younger sister seems to be the best adapted one because she also went to school there. Could just school in general (primary to secondary) be the real integrating factor? So in this regard, I agree with you. I have looked into friends and family who have also migrated and this theory seems to fit most but not all cases.

      However, is there no hope for adults who move from one country to another? While I agree with you when you say that you nor I will ever fully integrate into Dutch society no matter how much we speak Dutch, watch Dutch TV, take integration exams, etc., will people like you and me ever feel “at home” here? My husband and I discussed this and he disagrees. His paternal grandfather, together with his wife and children, migrated from Sicily to Belgium and they are a well-blended mix of Italian and Belgian. They are very much “at home” in Belgium while they have retained a lot of their Italian culture. Is it then, really, just a matter of a person’s willingness to feel “at home” by simply making the new country their “home” without the politics of it?

      I have no answer to all the questions, but you did leave me deep in thought. Perhaps in 10 years we will have a better grasp of what it really means to feel at home in the Netherlands. For now, I think it is a very complex and extremely persona process that no exam or language can substitute.

      Kind regards,
      Lady with a Hungarian boy’s name 🙂

  2. Errol:

    I think it’s wonderful that the Dutch authorities should go to so much trouble to encourage people to become Dutch citizens. The people for whom this assistance is intended should be eternally grateful. If I had half a chance of being the beneficiary of such assistance I would jump at it.

    • Karoly G Molina:

      @Errol Deal Errol,

      I agree with you that the many people who receive help to become citizens are quite lucky. Not many countries do this. In the U.S., for example, many people stay as eternal residents without becoming citizens (which requires an exam…I’ve heard its quite easy but I wouldn’t know for sure), and there isn’t much help with classes and/or the exam. Learning a language and learning about a culture helps many immigrants such as myself adapt to Dutch life, and having to do it is sometimes the best motivation. Thank you for stopping by!

  3. Caroline:

    Interesting, and very different from my experience. I’ve been Herr a year now and received no help with learning Dutch, I was looked like at as if I had asked for a kidney donation when I asked at the gemeente. DUO do indeed offer loans, but you have to take their certified course and the cheapest one here is €2250, rising to €6500 for an intensive. Profits are being made because it’s now required for non-EU immigrants. So, I am muddling through with the Volksuniversiteit. I don’t claim benefits here because they say that if you do they will kick you out, and my home country won’t pay me anything, so I am living on the goodwill of my partner, which is vanishing fast. I don’t see any evidence of the unparalleled support some mention, and I feel very much alone.

    • Karoly G Molina:

      @Caroline Caroline, your situation sounds very difficult. I personally have not asked or received any of the services I mention. I am fortunate enough to not need them. The information I have is from friends who also migrated to the Netherlands for similar reasons and have been able to receive help with their Dutch courses. I believe the help from the gemeente varies by city. I know this year Maastricht offered help, but it is still not clear if they will continue to do so next year. As a language teacher and learner, I can tell you first hand that you can learn and practice the language in more ways than just a class. Push yourself to practice with your partner, your neighbors, friends, etc. That is the best way to practice. Watch tv, listen to the radio, pick up the newspaper and catch up on the news. With a dictionary at hand, you can help yourself learn Dutch. Take advantage of free resources such as this blog, word of the day, etc. You are not alone and this is not impossible! -Karoly

  4. shashidam2holand:

    As far as i am concerned, paying 52% tax (which I do), is enough to consider myself as integrated.

    The slaver dootch government can deport me if she doesn’t agree.