How good is your Dutch?

How good is your Dutch? Or what is your level in Dutch? This is one of the most heard questions for expats in Flanders. You will probably refer to your level with a certain number e.g. I’ve got level B1-. What does it mean? And how can you estimate the level you’ve got?

That’s what this text is about. First we’ll give you an overview on how this classification in levels is done, we’ll put things a little into perspective and in the end we’ll tell you how we can help you with this. We will also offer you half an hour of FREE preliminary training to help you estimate your level.

The Common European Framework of Reference for languages – a background

The classification of your level of Dutch refers to a classification table known as the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). It was designed by the European Council as a reference tool for language teaching and learning. It was developed as an instrument to estimate the level in oral and reading comprehension. It’s main value is that it is used throughout Europe.

Although the CEFR is (almost) a common European standard the assessment is not. Teachers, schools and individuals each can asses in their own way whether someone has got a certain level or another one.

The 6 levels of classification by CEFR

The CEFR classification consists out of 3 levels called A, B and C. Each level has 2 sublevels: 1 and 2.
In general we can say that the A-levels are the basic levels, the B-levels are for independent users and the C-levels refer to proficiency.

Sometimes language schools make further differentiation within these levels. They will talk about an A1+-level or an A.1.2-level  or even go further. The reasons to do so are motivational or sometimes commercial. When you take classes at a school investing time, money and energy you’ll expect to evolve and what’s a better way then showing you the little steps you made? And when you’re happy with this improvement probably you’ll tell others how much that school helped you.

– The A1-level: “the false beginner”
People who have the A1-level are called “false beginners”. They have gained some knowledge of Dutch but the key words for their level are simple and elementary. (People who haven’t heard their first word in Dutch can then be referred to as A0).
On a grammatical level people with an A1-level can use the present tense and they can make the right word order in ‘one idea, one sentence’ sentences.
They will understand – written or spoken – familiar words, they can present themselves, describe concrete things using simple phrases and they can interact with other people providing the other person is willing to speak slowly, repeat and help them out. They can also write holiday greetings on a postcard or personal details on a registration form.

– The A2-level: “having the knowledge”
A person with an A2-level knows Dutch grammar and syntax (although honestly speaking it’s very common that imperfections against word order (e.g. the famous “rejet” or “catapult”) still occur).
These people are able to use the present tense, both past tenses and the future tenses in everyday situations. They understand and communicate in standard language
They can ask and answer questions about daily life like family, work, hobbies or shopping in simple but correct Dutch. They can go on a weekend to Flanders and make a hotel reservation, ask for directions or buy something in a shop but their skills in Dutch are too little to keep a conversation going.

– The B1-level: “independent but simple and concrete Dutch”
People having a B1-level are somewhat independent Dutch speakers. They’ve integrated Dutch grammar and make (in general) no more mistakes against these rules. They can take part in a conversation without preparation and they have learned to cope with most situations occurring on a trip through Flanders or the Netherlands speaking Dutch.
They understand and use longer, more complex sentences and they can talk about events, experiences, dreams and expectations. They will be able to understand texts with frequently used words like newspapers or websites.

– The B2-level: “independent and abstract Dutch”
On a B2-level we’re not really talking about grammatical knowledge anymore. It’s supposed to be integrated. On this level people can understand current affairs programs, they can start and maintain a conversation with native speakers and use more complex or abstract language.
In written language these people can write essays or reports expressing their point of view.

– The C1-level: “fluent and intuitive”
On this level people are speaking well, flexibly and efficiently in private, social, professional and even academic life. They understand complex articles and are aware of implicit meanings, humour and wit. The written Dutch is clear, well-structured and detailed, even if it is about complex topics.

– The C2-level: “bilingual”
This level is the native level. People mastering Dutch at this level learned Dutch as well as our ways of being. They express themselves spontaneously, very fluently, precisely and subtly in Dutch even in complex situations. They can read specialised articles and literary works and write complex letters, reports or articles in a way their audience notices and remembers significant points.

Via this link you’ll find a grid giving you an overview of the CEFR classification in levels with all the characteristics for each level.


What’s your level?

Now you should able to get what the numbers on your Dutch certificate mean and you can determine the classification of your Dutch level more or less.
Don’t worry if you’re not really sure. In the next paragraph we’ll explain why that’s normal and in the end of the text we’ll offer to help you with this for FREE.


The CEFR put in perspective

Although the CEFR as an instrument is used in most of the schools, universities and companies in Europe and it gives a good idea about someone’s level, some things have to be put into perspective.
Learning a language is a an evolution, it is a growth and it’s not identical for everyone. This means that it’s not always easy to say with 100% certainty on which level you are. It’s better to think about the most dominant level you’re in.

It happens sometimes that someone’s level can be classified as having a B2-level but when taking a closer look there are still some grammatical imperfections. A famous example of this is our Belgian minister Didier Reynders. He is a native French speaking person with a very good level in Dutch. In television interviews he switches to the language of the interviewer without a single problem and presents complex files in that language. However when taking a closer look at his way of structuring a sentence one can notice that he hardly respects the rule about “rejet” in Dutch.
The same counts for people with a German background. They can easily adapt to Dutch reading articles in quality newspapers and talking about them in an understandable way without having assimilated all the grammar rules. You can call it “German light” but it works for them. When vigorously applying the CEFR to them, their Dutch would be classified as being maximum A2 although they show characteristics of the B-levels.
For minister Reynders we can even talk about level C1 without being far too optimistic.

We also often notice that there is a gap between the level someone scored on an assessment via telephone preliminary to a training and after half an hour of talking in Dutch during the training. This can easily be explained. People need a little time of “warming up” to talk relaxed in a language they’re still leaning. When they are working the entire day in English or French and suddenly they get a call in Dutch, they lack the warming up, speak less fluent and make more mistakes. Their level on the CEFR will subsequently be considerably lower but keep in mind that the “picture” of your Dutch level is taken at a certain time and that affects the accuracy of it.

The CEFR therefore is a good way of indicating someone’s level in Dutch but it is not rocket science. Never let it pull you down. There is no reason why not to try discussions on complex topics in Dutch with native speakers when you “only” have a B2-level. A lot has got do with the level of comfort someone is experiencing when talking. And that’s influenced by a lot of factors.

Other types of classification

There are schools in Flanders which don’t use the CEFR as the reference for their way of classifying your Dutch skills, they use their own system with 8 levels. This counts among others for the CVO-schools and Groep T in Leuven. When we take a closer look the differences between these systems are not that big. Their level 1 “breakthrough” corresponds with the A1-level, level 2 “waystage” with the A2-level, the levels 3 – 6 “waystage” with the level B1, level 7 “vantage” with level B2 and level 8 “effectiveness” with the C1-level.

How long will it take to get to a next level?

People sometimes ask us how much time it takes to get to a next level in Dutch. This question is almost impossible to answer. Among language trainers who work with small groups of trainees an average of 60 hours of intensive training is an often heard answer. It’s a good indication but again for the German learning Dutch it will take way less time and for a Chinese having to memorise every word, every sound and every grammar rule it will take more.

Learning a language is a personal evolution so take the pace you feel comfortable with on at the moment. Like this you will always feel stimulated to try a new step but comfortable enough to experience the confidence of talking, to accept the risk of making mistakes and to grow from the experience.

Dutch Language Classes is a tailor made Dutch training program that delivers conversation based trainings on an individual basis or for small groups. Because of the way we work we often need less time. Mostly we advise people to take a certain amount of trainings (e.g. 8 x 1,5 hours = 12 hours of training). That’s not only because then we can make you a nice price, it is especially because it’s enough for us to guarantee you that you will be able to see the evolution you’ve already made. Because of that result, most of clients ask for a new set of trainings.

The ideal level for your Dutch when you’re living in Flanders

When you want to build your life and career in Flanders your Dutch should constantly evolve. In another article on this website (Improve your Dutch… and multiply your options in Flanders) we listed the ways you will benefit from this effort.

One could say that it is possible to start living here without any Dutch knowledge. Because of the habit of Dutch people switching to another language they know when they hear you’re a foreigner it is not completely untrue. To go to a shop, to a baker or on a weekend trip the A2-level will come in very handy. When you leave the bigger towns (Brussels, Leuven, Antwerp and Ghent), people will not always be familiar with other languages after all. When you get to the B1-level you can also enjoy Dutch films, read books or go to a theatre. When looking for a job it is almost impossible to find one when not mastering the B2-level. (In another article on this website (Improve your Dutch … and multiply your options in Flanders) we explained why it is so.) Your Dutch will be tested with an interview in Dutch or by having you to give a small presentation.
How Dutch Language Classes can help you to reach the right Dutch level

Dutch Language Classes is a tailor made conversation based Dutch training program developed to make you actively speak Dutch. For many years we’ve been helping people to start to speak the language they were studying for a long time and with results. One of our students even wrote this for us:


Specific personal challenge you wanted to work on during the training:
“I had a background in grammar but I couldn’t talk”.
What was the result of the course you participated in?:
“At the end of the course I was able to have a conversation with colleagues and to express my point of view.”
Aline H. – see the testimonial)


The special focus of our project means that we can really help you the best when you have already a certain background knowledge. It’s not that we don’t want to explain things. We do but our focus is on making you speak so you can get around in Flanders.

This is why we are not focusing on you getting the A-levels. There are many of high quality schools in Flanders that can help you with that. We even made lists of the language schools in Leuven and Brussels in other posts on this website.

When it comes to training the B-levels and make them actually speak, we can help you to make miracles happen. That’s why people write things like this about us:


Specific challenge you wanted to work on during the training:
“Even though I had a good theoretical background from Groep T classes, I was always little shy to speak Dutch and make mistakes. Therefore, my goal was to use what I have learned in Groep T and transform my passive knowledge into active”.
What was the result of the course you participated in?
“I became lot more confident to use Dutch in everyday life. Since I look for a new job this is a big plus for me and these days I even speak Dutch with hiring managers.”
(Sona K. – See the testimonial)


Earlier in this text we explained that it won’t take you many years with courses to see results yourself. Normally we advise people to take a package of 10 to 12 training hours to see the first results. Afterwards most of them ask to make new reservations. In this atmosphere, with your motivation growing and our dedication you will evolve at the fasted tempo possible.

One of our clients put it in these words:


Specific challenge you wanted to work on during the training:
Afleggen de Selor Examens (art. 9 en 12) – Een hogere rang in de Europese schaal krijgen.
How much trainings did you take?
Ik reserveerde 30 uren taaltrainingen gericht op mondeling Nederlands (met grammaticale oefeningen via e-learning).
What was the result of the course you participated in?
Ik ben geslaagd voor de examens (85% en 60%) en voel me comfortabeler in het Nederlands.
(Caroline R. – see the testimonial)


We are also trained to help you out with the determination of your Dutch level on the CEFR scale.

Are you an expat living in Flanders? Than you have to get speaking Dutch! Let us help you. Just fill in the contact form on this website or send us an e-mail. We’ll offer you the first half an hour of preliminary training for FREE. We can use that time to determine your actual level in Dutch, to have a first conversation and give you some feedback our just to set our agendas.


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