Portrait: Claire, 28, learns Dutch to make a new start in Amsterdam

For Babbel’s Portraits series, Claire discusses learning Dutch and starting a new life.

Presenting the latest chapter of our Babbel user portraits — a snapshot of users’ lives and experiences learning a new language. Want to share your own story? Let us know in the comments section below!
Have you ever dreamt of leaving everything behind in order to make a fresh start abroad? This is exactly what 28-year old Claire did. She left her life as a city planner in Paris and moved to Amsterdam, where she met Mirjam, with whom she lives today. She talks to us about her experience learning Dutch and her new lifestyle.


Before I moved to Amsterdam 3 months ago, I was working for the city as a project manager in a community of urban areas in an eastern suburb of Paris. I managed projects aimed at improving the living conditions of people residing in unsafe and/or substandard apartment buildings of which there are many in this area of Île-de-France.
I have always loved Amsterdam, but what really made me decide to take the plunge and move is a love story. I met Mirjam about 2 years ago via a French friend who was living in Amsterdam, and whom I sometimes visited. Mirjam is tall and blonde, just like the stereotype of Dutch women, but that is about as far as it goes. She has a group of international friends, so it’s not really possible to say that there was an initial linguistic barrier, because we simply spoke to one another in English (which we still do today). She thinks that sooner or later we will switch to Dutch, but at the moment I’m not ready at all! This is the first time that I have been in a relationship with somebody who is not French, and I now realize that once you get over the difficulty of talking about your feelings at the beginning to the point where you can talk to each other just as successfully as in your mother tongue, it is truly an advantage and something which enriches your relationship even more. I am still discovering the differences in lifestyle and the particular habits unique to each country. For example, it seems like 50% to 70% of Dutch conversations revolve around “fiets” (bicycle) and “vakantie” (holiday). On the other hand, my housemates are surprised about my eating habits: dinner after 9 p.m. and eating a warm meal at lunchtime.
I began learning Dutch with Babbel for three months in June 2015. The progress I made, thanks to the application, has allowed me to directly enroll in an elementary course at the Nouveau Centre Néerlandais (New Dutch Centre) in Paris from September until January 2016. I have now reached level B1, and I will soon start a cycle of intensive courses in Amsterdam in order to reach level B2. Originally, I had a rather bad impression of the Dutch language, which I thought was guttural and dry unlike Italian or other Latin languages. But when I began familiarizing myself with the language, I changed my opinion and now I think that it is a quite a pleasant language to learn and quite funny and playful in some ways (compounds words are used similarly as in German, for example, “handschoenen” = gloves, but literally means “shoes for the hands”). Of course I always find the letters “g” and “ch” and others very difficult to pronounce! I also have a special relationship with this language because I have a family name of Flemish origin, even though I never knew the language or its culture. In a way, by learning the language, I feel that I am going back to my roots.
At the moment, I have taken 6 months of sabbatical leave from my job in France and I am volunteering for a NGO and a foundation, which both help refugees living in Amsterdam. This is a good way for me to combine active involvement and discover professional Dutch in context while having the time to perfect my knowledge of the language.
Working hours and work schedules are very different here — you are judged less for staying later in the evening, be it good or bad. I was talking to some people who told me that when somebody stays late at work in the evening, rather than being appreciated; it is more regarded as a sign of somebody who is not very organised. I also get the impression that people here are more direct in how they praise, or rather the opposite, criticise other people’s work (in France this subject is kind of taboo). But here, as everywhere else, nothing is perfect. For example, I feel that it is difficult here to admit that you do not know how to do something and that there is less team spirit than in France.
My goal is to get settled on a long-term basis. I therefore plan to start looking for a job during the next 1 or 2 months. As of today, I still have a long way to go before I become bilingual, but I am motivated, my aim is to reach a proficient linguistic level so that I can find a job in Amsterdam, because I would like to live here in the long run. Of course it is possible to find a job in certain sectors where you can just speak English. However, my field (habitat/urban planning) involves contact with inhabitants. Therefore, I think that it is essential to master the language.