How I Learnt English as a Second Language

As a Dutch native, I can give you a real insight into how I learnt English as a second language in my home country. It all begins at primary school age, when children are in the last two classes of primary school, English is introduced to them. It is worth knowing that English is not compulsory in primary school in the Netherlands, as it actually depends on the individual school if they decide to teach the pupils any English at this stage.  If it is taught, the group teacher is responsible for this, and it will be for 45 minutes a week.

Shannon and the queen

After finishing primary school, there is secondary school, where English is an important subject.  Secondary schools are divided in 4 levels, the lowest level is ‘praktijkonderwijs’, where skills are being taught with just a little of theory, they only learn the basics of English.

The second level is ‘voorbereidend middelbaar beroepsonderwijs’, students will be prepared to go to secondary vocational education, so the English course will have more depth. Then we have ‘hoger algemeen voortgezetonderwijs’, which is higher general secondary education. The students will take more English classes to prepare them for Higher Education or University. The highest level we have in the Netherlands is ‘voorbereidend wetenschappelijk onderwijs’, and they will be prepared for University.

The higher we get in the levels of secondary school, the more English will be important. Many students struggle with English classes, and there are different reasons for this: sometimes students don’t know how to start learning a language, some students will have problems with grammar, or the course goes too fast for them.

Most schools provide extra lessons in the first year of secondary school; they sometimes use students who are a couple of classes higher. There are also students who arrange their own private lessons. When we are finished with secondary school, the government expects students to talk English fluently.

At this stage it is time to make a decision, we can complete further study and education or go to work. Most of the students will continue and start a course they like. Then it depends on what they decide to do, how important English is for them. I study International Business and Languages and I just started my third year, the fourth year is the last one.

In my study, English is very important, I still have 1½ hours a week of English classes, and we learn Business English and they expect a B2/C1 level of us at the end of the second year. Sometimes we have entire projects in English, which is because we have exchange students from all over the world who also study International Business. There are also studies entirely in English, most of the time it is at University Level, but you can imagine a good knowledge of English is important.

In the Netherlands we live in a multicultural country: we have a lot of people who emigrated here over the last 50 years. Many of them never learned English the way I did, so they get a course if they want to learn English. We have a lot of possibilities and opportunities for them, they can do it in a class or online. It is the same for the older generations, as in former times they thought English wasn’t that important to teach.

In the Netherlands it is normal that most of the people speak a bit of English, and many people will pick up words if they are just watching television because we have a lot of programmes and movies in English, but there is still a high demand for courses and private lessons. Many people just want to improve their English because it is also becoming more important in jobs.

If you want to teach English in the Netherlands it is certainly possible, and you can check out more information about teaching English in this wonderful country here.


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  1. niraj ahuja

    Wow it really throws light on how important learning English is and really appreciate the effort you took to learn this language. It’s nice to know that there is a great opportunity for teaching English in Netherlands as it seems that the people there have realized the value of learning this universal language as knowing English definitely opens many doorways!

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