How learning Dutch can ruin relationships

14 February 2013, by

"My partner is Dutch, but I don’t speak Dutch." How many times have you heard - or said - this sentence?

It may sound strange, but if you have tried to practice your Dutch with your partner you will know exactly what it feels like. In most cases, learning Dutch with your other half is just not possible...

In the beginning it seems like the perfect opportunity: You love and want to share everything with him / her, and you have the impression that all he / she needs to do is to listen, answer a few questions, correct you, and of course, appreciate the fact that you are trying to speak the local language.

Seems like a constant expression of love; a genuine act that deserves support and recognition, right?


Before frustration and disappointment kick in, spend a few minutes to appreciate how your Dutch partner feels. It may be less romantic, but once you accept it you will feel much, much better.

The "shocking" truth is that even though your partner may be the perfect life companion, it doesn’t mean that he / she is the perfect teacher, and here are three possible explanations as to why:

Your partner doesn’t know how to teach
Many people erroneously think that if you speak a language, you can also teach it. Nothing could be further from the truth. When it comes to language, the vast majority of native speakers are completely unaware - or even ignorant!

How many times has your partner told you that Dutch has no rules? How many times has he / she claimed that Dutch is full of exceptions that "cannot be explained?" Did it occur to you that he / she can’t share that knowledge?

Your partner can’t speak simply enough so that you can understand
This second explanation is a little more tricky. Think for a minute about how the books looked like back in school, and remember how your teacher was trying to explain to you grammar and syntax.

Got it? OK, now compare these simple sentences with the ones you are using now. Do they really have much in common?

dutch book
Photo by Flickr user GabrielaP93

dutch relationships
Photo by Flickr user kelsey_lovefusionphoto

Of course, your partner can speak Dutch perfectly. But just like you, locals use much more complex expressions and slang language in their everyday lives. And this doesn’t help you - quite the opposite in fact.

Making things more complex is easy. Making things easy can be extremely difficult! Unfortunately, this is a universal truth, and applies to almost anything..

Your partner doesn’t appreciate the fact that you are trying or he / she doesn’t care
This may be the hardest one to accept but some people just can't. Let’s not talk about this case - this is something that you - and only you - can figure out or exclude as a possibility. Just a hint thought: Does he / she notice whether you are getting better at using the language?

"Are you telling me that it is a bad idea to speak Dutch with my partner?" someone might ask. Of course not! In fact, you should speak as much as possible. But you do need to learn how to speak first!

You need to realise that in most cases, being with a Dutchie doesn’t mean that you can learn Dutch. Put simply, it might sound like a good idea and the "easy way out" for you but it is highly unlikely that he /she feels the same way.

To conclude, I suggest you look to your partner for love, not Dutch grammar. Make sure you don’t bug him / her with things he / she does not specialise in , doesn’t have time for, or simply doesn’t want to do.

Learning or teaching Dutch is not the ultimate expression of love. So, appreciate your partner for what he / she really is, otherwise you might end up hating both him / her and the language!

Albert Both is a specialist on learning Dutch fast and gaining Dutch fluency while having fun.
Download his e-book "Why You Hate Learning Dutch and 7 Secrets to Change It,"
Join his workshop "Finding Dutch Flow, How to Open The Flood Gate to Dutch Fluency,"
Visit his website or simply comment below for inquiries / remarks. All free of charge!

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Comments arranged by date (Total 10 comments)  
February 14 2013, 10:38AM

This article doesn't reflect my experience at all. My partner claimed he didn't care whether I learned Dutch or not, but now that I am, he's incredibly supportive, encouraging, and exceptionally delighted when I manage to string together coherent sentences. The key is indeed, though, not setting our expectations of each other too high in this regard. The vast majority of our conversations still take place in English as my Dutch progresses -- but this is indisputably with my partner's help.

February 14 2013, 05:12PM

All right, good for you! And it is good to see that your partner really likes it too!

February 17 2013, 12:24PM

And these conclusions of yours are based on what evidence again? I assume you are well aware that in order to make such statements you MUST come up with something more than your own personal anecdotal evidence.

Your article doesn't reflect my experience, nor that of anyone i know, heard or got acquainted with.

February 17 2013, 06:09PM

Hi Cruz!

Believe it or not, it is not my personal experience either. But.... while working with hundreds of different people I noticed that some of my students experience that the partner is not that helpful. All I wanted to do was to inspire some people with a similar experience in a provocative way with some humor....
Because at the end once people find out for themselves that they can learn and speak great Dutch, it all turns into a positive experience. I hope that you like this idea :)

Let me know if you have any further questions. I will be happy to answer them.
Cheers! .

February 18 2013, 12:28PM

While this maybe your personal experience, i think its bad advce to give people who are trying to learn dutch.
Of course theres going to be frustrations and irritations that you and your partner will experience. However your dutch partner has IMO the obligation to help you learn the language. He or she wanted you to come here and should do everything in their poer to help you overcome a langugae barrier.
Second, I think the complete opposite about learning dutch breaking your relationship.From personal experience I found it more frustrating that I was dependent on my partner to translate things for me than him correcting my dutch every now and again. Being able to speak the languauge and being able to rely on yourself will open more doors for you and allow you to move more freely through dutch society. Speaking dutch will ultimately make you and your partners more equals which will lead to a more long lasting and happy relationship.

February 18 2013, 03:25PM

I found that my family was so proud of their great English skills that they really just wanted to - and still do - speak english with me.
It never hurt my relationship but it was such torture for my wife to try to listen to me struggling to speak Dutch that it was just easier.
Now the worst part was my daughters school. I thought,"this is my chance to really learn from the basics. Watched Sesame Street with her, read lots of books with her until I got a very polite but firm telephone call from her school asking me not to speak Dutch with her. My Dutch would just confuse her while my English would give her a second language.
Speaking Dutch is very helpful simply because so few ExPats really give it much of an effort. Even it you just try, you will get loads of credit.
Because the Dutch are so good with many languages the hardest part is just getting them to speak Dutch with you;)
My two cents,

February 18 2013, 05:24PM

Hello Amy!

Thanx for your great words! I agree with you for 1000% that it is always good to speak Dutch and that it will help you to become independent. Speaking the language of your partner is always a good idea, because it will also help you to understand your partner better when he/she speaks English.

And yes, your partner should help you to learn the language, but unfortunately many people do not how to do this. I can imagine that for many people, it feels like being alone. It seems that some partners do not care and others demand too much! Also, many people cannot understand how the language works, or they simply cannot see that you are doing your best. Many things that seem easy for Dutch people can be a huge challenge if you speak English. No wonder that some people experience some negative feelings when speaking Dutch with their partner, and that is a pity!

So yes, I am all with you and certainly the two last sentences of your story has an important message. Speaking Dutcch has a great value, also for your relationship!

February 18 2013, 05:26PM

Hi Jim!

Good that you have already experienced some benefits. And yes, you must claim your rightful place in the Dutch universe! One skill that you need to master is that Dutch people will not switch over to English... Luckily it is a skill that you can learn.... good luck!

February 18 2013, 05:34PM

That will happen when my Dutch is better and it is not as painful for the dutch to listen too. My spoken is now pretty good. On to the writing! Now that is a real challenge! One step at a time. Thanks for the words of encouragement.

February 18 2013, 06:17PM

Sure Jim one step at the time! But.... your Dutch may be less painful to listen to then you think.... Really grasp those moments to practice your Dutch! If you do it, it can only have benefits. Don't worry that it might use the ears of some Dutch people :) This is simply a minor price that they will have to pay for your success :) Keep on doing the great work!

About the Author
Albert Both

I help with an approach of learning Dutch that is completely different from any other language cours...



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