The number of non native speakers of Dutch who voluntarily learn the language is small. This is partly because Dutch is not geographically widespread and partly because in its home countries of The Netherlands and Belgium many in the population are proficient in other European languages. In The Netherlands German is widely spoken (particularly in the regions bordering onto Germany) and the language is part of the core curriculum in schools for 2-5 years. In Belgium, German is less widely spoken, and not always required, but it still spoken by a lot of people. The French language is also taught for 3-6 years in the Netherlands, but it is not as widely spoken as German. In Belgium (Flanders) French is required from age 10 to 18 and is very widely spoken, not least because the southern half of Belgium, Wallonia, is French speaking. In both The Netherlands and Belgium English is taught in schools from a young age - from age 11 or 12 (or earlier) until the completion of secondary education. Most universities in the two countries, recognising the importance of the English language in the modern world, continue to teach the language to those students who need to improve their skills. As a result English is spoken throughout The Netherlands and Belgium with members of the younger generation often being fluent speakers.
Some long term non native residents of The Netherlands or Belgium have never learnt to speak Dutch/Flemish - perhaps put off by its guttural sound or by a perception of its difficulties. There is also the problem that because the native Dutch/Flemish speakers themselves are often so linguistically proficient they will try and help a struggling Dutch/Flemish speaker by addressing him in his own language!
The Dutch often make fun of their own language - for example Tom Meyer, a radio commentator, used to say on air that "Dutch isn't a language; it's a disease of the throat."101Pronunciaitoncan be a challenge as many of the Dutch vowel sounds are difficult for non native speakers. Diphthongs such as the "ui" sound in such words as "huis" (house) and "muis" (mouse), the "eu" in sleutel (key), and the "ij" sound in words like "fijn" (fine) or "wijn" (wine) present difficulties and even though some of these words are superficially like their English equivalents the correct sound is very different. Native speakers of German usually find Dutch easy from a grammar and vocabulary point of view but also struggle with the101Pronunciaiton. However those residents or visitors who do learn some Dutch will be rewarded, not only by the extra fillip this gives to their understanding of Dutch history and culture, but also because it will enable them to converse with people in areas away from the big cities where other languages are less commonly spoken.