David Franz, USA
English is spoken widely in the Netherlands, so many expats find it difficult to get motivated to learn Dutch. However, learning the language early might help expats create a wider network of friends and peers, and may eventually lead to better job opportunities. Licensing consultant David Franz was motivated to learn Dutch so he could speak with his family, but his story highlights that learning Dutch in the Netherlands has professional benefits, too.
According to a 2012 Special Eurobarometer edition about European languages, 94% of Dutch people are able to have a conversation in at least one foreign language, while 77% have practical skills in at least two. English is the most widely spoken language, used by 90% of the population. So it’s no wonder that for foreigners who speak English, learning Dutch is not their first priority. But, later on, many expats wish it was, and for not-so foreseeable reasons.
"If I can give one piece of advice to expats, it would be invest the time to learn Dutch as soon as possible when you arrive," says David. "Even though most people here speak English, they will appreciate your effort to learn the language and once life gets busy again, you might not find the time to master it," he stresses.
David traded the Rocky Mountains of Colorado for the flatter landscapes of the Netherlands 10 years ago, when he moved to the Eindhoven area with his Dutch wife-to-be. Since then, he has worked as a freelance management consultant and as the head of licensing strategy with the Dutch multinational DSM.
He took up the challenge to learn the language of his new home country very early on. It took him six months of intensive training, but he was able to reach a fair level of proficiency, motivated not only to carry on day-to-day conversations, but also by the desire to communicate with his new in-laws in their own language.
David admits that he still faces some special language barriers that his seven-year-old daughter, Orissa, cleverly uses to her advantage. "She can speak perfect Limburgs and she also has now figured out that I can't," he says, laughing.
In a recent studyconducted by the University of Maastricht Language Centre among local and international employers, 60% of respondents indicated that language skills play a role in selecting new hires. Seventy-nine percent said that they expect their future employees will speak Dutch, while 47% required them to speak English as well. David: "Especially for consulting projects in the Benelux, knowing Dutch has been valuable, but even in a multinational environment, speaking and reading Dutch can really help an expat ‘connect.'"
After moving south from Eindhoven, David soon found his way at DSM where people from many different backgrounds work together and collaborate. The team he helped build remains especially international with colleagues coming from the US, UK and Germany as well as from the Netherlands.
David recently decided to re-join his family’s consultancy, based in Seattle and growing now in Maastricht, specifically to build on and share his partnership and licensing expertise. "I find international collaboration a key challenge not just for larger companies like DSM but also for universities, NGOs and SMEs. If we are all more productive in partnerships, the rest will follow."
Of course an expat’s experience is not onlyprofessional. Language skills become important when making social contacts and attending local events, and building or joining communities is important to really feeling settled.
In hopes of building a personal foundation in the community, David joined the Lion's Club Maastricht Mondial (LCMM) in 2007 and just completed a year as the club’s president. The LCMM is a special international club:English-speaking with mixed membership. In Maastricht, membership of LCMM has grown to include 11 nationalities, all keen to work as a team on ideas that not only bring people together but also help each other. Their annual charity event Aperitivo All’Italiana, or ‘Italian High Tea’ is an example.
"Expatriates can often live outside of the local community," says David, "But for me it was important to grow my roots in the area. I have enjoyed being president of the club, watch it grow and see the members come together and really make a difference."
Go back to overview