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Held back by language barriers? Finding non-academic expat work in the Netherlands

How real are language barriers in finding expat work? You are a researcher who wants to leave university and enter the Dutch non-academic labour market. You think most jobs require you to speak Dutch and you feel severly limited in your choices. How to find out if your concerns are real?

Image: Merilin Kirsika Tedder

Work for academic expats: how real or unreal are language barriers?

You are feeling held back by language barriers in your search for expat work. You are looking for English language jobs in the Netherlands. Or you have some Dutch language skills, but are not sure whether they are sufficient. Most job ads do not provide an indication of the language skills required, which makes it hard for you to assess the possibilities. Perhaps you have heard or experienced first hand that in certain non-academic jobs language barriers are hard to cross.

At the same time there are more Dutch employers then ever before that realise that they need to be welcoming to English speaking staff with PhDs.

Therefore, I would like to invite you to research the realness or unrealness of language barriers in your preferred field of work.

This will help you get into view the possibilities that are there.

And to choose a work environment that fits you.

Where do you experience or expect language barriers?

In order to look for possibilities it is helpfull to first better understand what barriers you wish to avoid.

To delve a little deeper into your concerns about language barriers, I want to invite you to do the following exercise. It is shaped to help you get a clearer picture of what barriers you are facing. And to help you make aware of the aspect of work (getting hired/ interaction with colleagues/ being able to execute your work/ etc.) your concerns are related to.

Take some time to write down for yourself:

  • How have you encountered language barriers whilst living in the Netherlands?
  • How does language impact your jobsearch?
  • What is it you want to gain or overcome in your future work (in relation to language)?
  • What is it you want to avoid (in relation to language)?

Now consider what you have written down:

To what extent do your answers concern…

  • The requirements of employers to hire you?
  • The expectations colleagues have of you?
  • How your work activities are shaped by language?
  • How your interaction with colleagues are shaped by language?
  • Whether you will feel at home in your job?

All these concerns are valid concerns, but some will be more important to you than others.

Which concern is holding you back most?


Now it is time to research if your concerns are founded.

Depending on your answers you can formulate research questions for yourself:

  • How does [barrier x] feature in [job y]?
  • How does [barrier x] feature with [employer z]?

And use the method of

  • searching the employers website
  • interviewing employees
  • or phoning employers

To find out more about whether your concerns are justified.

Finding non-academic expat work

Languages barriers are real and your search might bring the conclusion that the jobs you are interested in require Dutch language skills. Then at least now you know whether your concerns were founded.

Which ever outcome: now it will be easier to decide on your next step and move forward.

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Are you looking for ways to integrate your jobsearch in your research activities?

Or do you want to find out if an employer has the same values as you?