For migrants, one of the most significant challenges is to learn the local language. Being able to communicate in the new language is life-changing. Almost everything depends on that. Besides the fact that knowing the local language will affect one’s chances to find work, it also determines the ability of the migrant to belong in the new country, and the new society. It determines if one is an ‘outsider’ or not.

When immigrating at a young age, usually it is not a problem to learn the new language, and children are lucky to grow up and to learn any language that is necessary. But unfortunately this is quite different when immigrating at an older age.

I have faced this issue every day since I arrived to the Netherlands. I think the most frustrating thing is the fact that I will never be able to use Dutch or even English in the same way  that I can use my Hebrew. This is a hard thought for me, because I am a person of words. As long as I remember I have read lots of books, I know lots of vocabulary and sayings, and I can use the language at a high level. I love talking (too much sometimes) and writing, using language is a central part of my daily life, in the professional sphere and the personal one.

This is not easy at all!!! Sometimes I feel it is really like a disability! Also, doing a Master studies in English, it is quite a challenge! I can do it, but not as good as I want, or as I could have done it in Hebrew. And Dutch? Wow – for now it feels like it will take years until I will be able to control the Dutch language good enough, so that I will be able to work in a Dutch environment. It is really frustrating, when thinking about my future here, I don’t know how I can do this. How long will it take me to learn Dutch at the age of 28?

But this is not only about me. I met many migrants in the Netherlands who struggle with the language. The worst part about it is that not knowing the language, or not controlling it at a high level, makes you look much less intelligent and smart than you really are. Sometimes, I feel that people think I am stupid because I can’t ask something in Dutch. This is a terrible feeling, really like a disability – I know so much more in Hebrew!!!

My greatest concern, and that of other migrants too, is how to find a proper job that reflects my personal and educational abilities and experiences. Unfortunately, when working in Zaandam I meet many migrants who are unemployed. They are educated, intelligent and motivated to work! But sometimes their Dutch is simply not good enough or not professional enough. And of course it is not! And maybe it will never be as good as their mother tongue because it is not their mother tongue!

Do you think that employers should be less tough about it? Do you think migrants like me and other people I met, should be judged by their professional abilities and experiences instead of by their knowledge of Dutch? is it possible at all? Or am I being too pessimistic?




Ronie Barel

verhuisde van Israël naar Nederland, activist, blogger

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