Knowledge of the Dutch language will help successful integration within Dutch workplaces.

19 november 2020

Mick van der Vossen (23) is a student at Utrecht University. Mick wrote a thesis for his Human Geography & Planning studies about Indian expats in the Netherlands. His interest in this subject arose because he had noticed that the number of (Indian) expats is growing rapidly. He conducted 22 in-depth interviews for his research, 13 of which were with highly skilled migrants from India, who work within various positions for large companies in the Netherlands. In his Blog Mick writes about how knowledge of the Dutch language contributes to the successful integration of Indian expats in the workplace.

Despite the fact that English is the common language in many Dutch multinational companies, it remains important that highly skilled migrants have a basic understanding of the Dutch language. In my thesis, I investigated the workplace integration of highly skilled Indians, a fast growing and important group of highly skilled migrants in the Netherlands (See figure 1). The arrival and contribution of skilled Indians to the Dutch economy is extremely important. Cultural differences between India and the Netherlands, as well as differences in corporate structures and cultures, are important to understand when looking at successful workplace integration. Furthermore, it has also become clear that a basic understanding of the Dutch language will help highly skilled Indians in the workplace integration process.

The importance of the Dutch language in globalized workplaces

The development of globalized workplaces with English as the common language in Dutch workplaces, in addition to the fact that the Dutch society has become relatively multicultural, makes it easier to work and live in the Netherlands without speaking the Dutch language. According to Indian participants, learning the Dutch language helps skilled migrants during their integration process because understanding the basics of the Dutch language is important within various workplace settings. Although workplaces have become very international, it is important to realize that the environment is still Dutch and there are times that Dutch people switch to their own native language, mainly during work breaks or informal events. A Dutch manager working for a large Dutch bank remarked:

‘’If you do not know the Dutch language and you end up in a Dutch department you can sometimes miss out on things such as the jokes for example. Also, during lunch breaks Dutch people often want to switch back to their native language. So it is very important to develop your Dutch knowledge.’’

Arriving in the Netherlands with an international mindset and their willingness to develop their Dutch knowledge will help migrants in their new surroundings and as a result, they will be more likely to mix with other nationalities within the workplace. Mixing with other nationalities within organizations is also a way to get to know other cultures and to become more familiar with the host culture, which in turn can make you aware of what is expected from you within the workplace. An Indian Manager working for a large Dutch bank explained:

‘’If you want to become involved in the culture, you need to go to events, to restaurants, to bars etc in the evening, which is actually very important in order to understand the culture outside the workplace but more than that, it will also help you to understand how Dutch people take decisions at work.’’

The fact that skilled migrants and Dutch employees are not always likely to mix during informal events such as lunches within international organizations, is understandable. During breaks people want to eat their own food and speak their own native language. This can however have serious implications for the integration process within workplaces and on the impact of mixing within an international work environment. An Indian professional working for an Aerospace company explains:

‘’If you walk around high-tech campuses at lunchtime, you will see many Indians having their food and socializing with other Indians. A lot of informal networking and connecting happens during informal events such as lunch, so if you are not mixing with your colleagues during these types of events you will be missing out.’’

Due to the importance of learning the basics of the Dutch language (and culture), many companies initiate, or make skilled migrants aware of the importance of attending Dutch lessons. Some companies have developed a ‘buddy’ system where skilled migrants work closely with Dutch colleagues in order to support workplace integration and awareness of basic language and culture. Many of the skilled migrants I interviewed during my thesis mentioned the importance of this.

Feeling at home

Being able to speak the language of the country where one is living is an important factor, which allows you to feel at home in a foreign country and stimulates integration in the local community. It enables interaction with local people. This is an important part of integration, which is described below by a skilled Indian working in Finance for a high-tech manufacturing company:

‘’Sometimes when we have social gatherings you hear famous Dutch songs and you can then sing along. These little things really make a difference. You feel at home in these types of moments.’’

Conclusion

Learning the Dutch language will make skilled migrants more aware of Dutch culture; it will make them more likely to mix with other nationalities in the workplace and will be beneficial for the networking process, as a lot of networking happens during informal events. Therefore, it is important that companies facilitate these language courses and that in turn, skilled migrants really put the effort into learning the Dutch language and become aware of cultural norms. Creating a welcoming environment is crucial for the international working environment, both for integration, as well as for the retention of skilled migrants. Language lessons are very important, other programs such as a ‘buddy’ program, however, are also unquestionably helpful.