International employers: “Mastering the Dutch language is essential”


German President Joachim Gauck recently shared his vision for Europe. An interesting aspect of that vision was his proposal to use one language – English – throughout the European Union.

A recent study conducted among employers in the Netherlands on behalf of the Maastricht University (UM) Language Centre showed that both English and the language spoken in the country of establishment – Dutch – are important for local as well as international employers.

Research study

The study, commissioned by the UM Language Centre, was conducted among 60 large employers in the public and private sectors. These included companies and organisations in the fields of medicine, finance, services, manufacturing, higher education, consulting, government and law, many of them operating internationally. The study’s objective was to investigate how important language skills are when recruiting young university graduates. The results will be used to revise the UM’s language policy.


Sixty percent of employers indicated that language skills play a role in selecting young university graduates. There are, however, large differences between sectors: 90 percent in the manufacturing and services sector, but only 23 percent in the health sector. Seventy-nine percent of employers even said it was a must for employees to be able to speak Dutch. This has important implications for international students who want to work in the Netherlands: to increase their opportunities, it is highly recommended that they learn Dutch. Almost half (47 percent) of the companies and organisations who participated in the study require the young university graduates they hire to know both English and Dutch. Only 10 percent of the employers only require applicants to speak English. This shows that even internationally operating companies consider it important to be able to communicate in Dutch.

Five percent of the employers indicated that a third language – French or German – is important. Employers do distinguish between the different positions and set higher language requirements for jobs with an obvious international focus. A few of the employers associated language skills with other skills, such as intelligence, openness to other cultures and perseverance.

Although employers consider language skills to be important, they do not attach any great importance to language certificates or other proof that an applicant has attained a certain level.

UM Language Centre 

The UM Language Centre offers courses in English, Dutch, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Arabic and Russian. International students and employees can receive funding from UM to do a Dutch course. By providing funding, UM aims to contribute to the social integration of international students into Dutch society. Each year, about 1200 students and prospective students do a basic or advanced Dutch course at the Language Centre.

Source: Maastricht University, 25 February 2013

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