I recently moved abroad. I've been learning the native language for a couple of years, and can converse at a basic level, but I'm still not proficient enough to speak or write in it at a fluent level (at least not at the same level as English).

I'm looking at job vacancies, and I see some listed in the native language. With the help of Google Translate, I can understand what it is talking about. (It also helps that the jobs are in computer programming, so I can easily see the bullet points for desired skills.)

Would it be acceptable to send a cover letter written in English, which I am more comfortable and proficient in? I have a basic understanding of the native language, but I fear my simplistic writing would be a turn off of my potential (e.g. "I am smart and would like to work at your company. You would also like me at your company."). I could write "I understand [native language] and can speak and understand at a basic level, but I am more proficient in English.", but where in the cover letter would be a good place for it without it sounding awkward or forced?

Some might think: Why apply for a job in a language you aren't comfortable with?
I'm willing to work in a job that requires using the native language everyday - I am willing to learn the language. I just am not at a fluent level yet.

Context: I moved from the United States to the Netherlands. I know that most Dutch people know English, but I am not sure if it is okay to assume that the hiring people know it.

  • 3
    "With the help of Google Translate, I can understand what it is talking about..." - I would recommend waiting until you are at least comfortable reading the language without using machine translation. Then you can think about applying in the native language.
    – Brandin
    Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 13:32
  • @Brandin I should clarify, I use translate mostly for the unfamiliar words I encounter - a regular word dictionary could also be used, but copy-pasting is faster. Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 15:30
  • This question has been asked somewhere... early on in beta actually. But I can not find the question Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 19:59
  • Google translate is not as wonderful as everybody thinks. I am multilingual for the most part and I notice sometimes it translates too literally and would not be understood by a native speaker.
    – Old_Fossil
    Commented Aug 14, 2018 at 8:15

2 Answers 2


Either a person who speaks perfect English and not very good Dutch is acceptable for the job, or they are not. If this is no obstacle, then it is fine; if it makes you unacceptable, that's bad luck, but you weren't going to get the job with a Dutch letter either.

Especially in the Netherlands, you can expect HR people at least to realise that it is English, so in the worst case they ask for example the person who would be your manager, and that person would decide. PS. Your English better be good. If I got a letter in English with spelling mistakes, I would not be impressed. PPS. You can really speak Dutch? Impressed :-)

  • 7
    Nitpick: your English had better be good. ;-)
    – keshlam
    Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 13:04

You will have the highest chances of getting an interview with a good cover letter and cv written in the same language as the job listing.

Your next best alternative depends on the level of knowledge and expertise required for the job you are applying for and those of the people you are expected to communicate with. The higher the skill requirements of the job, the less it will matter (in general) whether you know Dutch or English. Thus for high-skill positions (most software developer positions), you are likely to get better results with a good letter in English, than with a mediocre letter in Dutch, and vice versa for low-skill positions.

A potential disadvantage of writing in Dutch is that you may get invited for positions for which your level of Dutch is not adequate.

An advantage of writing in English is that any Dutch speaking ability you display during the interview is a good surprise.

My advice is to use English for your letters and cv. You could call a company beforehand to ask them whether they are willing and able to handle your English application if you want to make sure. Should you have no success, then you can always see if you have more success with Dutch letters and cv.

Dutch people in general are not offended when foreigners who already speak good English do not know or learn any Dutch, so you really should not worry about it.

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