Vivien Collingwood is an English-language editor and copywriter, and a Dutch-to-English translator. ...
Learn Dutch: Newspapers & Print media in the Netherlands04 March 2014, by Vivien Collingwood
A new year typically starts with resolutions: many of us try to eat healthily, get fit and recycle more. No doubt for many expats in the Netherlands, "improve my Dutch" also features on the list.
With the Dutch being so proficient in English (and so willing to switch to English whenever they hear a foreign accent), learning Dutch can become a struggle that takes years, rather than months.
Why should expats read Dutch news
As seasoned linguists will tell you, the best way to kick-start your Dutch is to ignore those well-meaning English-speakers and use it. And keeping abreast of the Dutch media is a great way to start. Why?
› Small bites
News comes in small doses, for one thing. Reading a short news item or opinion piece is a much less daunting prospect than tackling a 300-page novel. Even if it is the start of the year and you’re feeling optimistic, it pays to be realistic.
› Broader knowledge
Second, it stands to reason that the more you read the Dutch news, the more you learn about where you live.
As an expat with international colleagues, surrounded by global news, it’s easy to drift along in an international bubble where local events and national politics are reduced to background noise.
But the more you understand about what’s going on, the more you become aware of the nuances and intriguing details. In other words, life becomes richer.
› Different perspective
Third, as well as learning about what the Dutch think of themselves, you’ll learn about what the Dutch think of you.
The Dutch press is deeply engaged with what’s happening elsewhere. You’ll often encounter news with a fresh perspective on your home country: the Dutch view on foreign cultural traditions, for example, or the birth of a royal baby.
And when the issue is a Dutch one, such as the recent re-run of the "Zwarte Piet" debate, a fascinating cultural loop develops: what foreigners think about what the Dutch think about what foreigners think of them...
With all that in mind, here's a beginner's guide to the Dutch print media, in the hope of inspiring you to get reading. Starting with the broadsheets, there's a cluster of big-hitters.
› De Volkskrant
De Volkskrant is a left-leaning daily offering quality national and international news and opinion. It’s especially good on social issues and education, and has a great sense of humour (see the spoof Speld column on the back page). The weekend edition has reviews and a colour supplement.
› NRC Handelsblad
NRC Handelsblad is a centre-liberal evening paper that’s more business oriented than De Volkskrant. It has excellent arts and culture coverage, and a great book review section on Fridays. Its little sister, NRC Next, offers a shorter, snappier take on the news.
› Het Financieele Dagblad
If you’re particularly interested in business, opt for Het Financieele Dagblad (the Dutch equivalent of the Financial Times).
Trouw occupies a special place in Dutch hearts, as it is one of the papers founded by the Resistance during World War Two (the other being Het Parool). It’s often said to be the best paper to read when learning Dutch, as its clear, no-nonsense style is particularly reader-friendly.
With its Protestant roots, it offers a distinctly different, philosophical take on the news. If you want to understand the Dutch, or at least one pillar of Dutch society, this is a great place to start.
Moving on to the tabloids, De Telegraaf offers a Daily Mail-style take on Dutch politics, life and celebrity gossip. If you’re looking for popular culture rather than considered reflection, this is the paper to choose.
Likewise, you’ll find free papers on the train or tram, such as Metro and Spits. Again, these won’t offer much beyond short news or reviews, but they’re great for regular reading and boosting vocabulary.
Monthly Dutch newspapers
Another option is the Dutch news weeklies or monthlies. These offer longer articles on political, social or business issues, like The Economist or Time magazines.
You have a number of choices: Vrij Nederland, Elsevier, HP/De Tijd and De Groene Amsterdammer. It takes more courage to tackle a longer article, so make sure that you’re truly interested in the subject.
News for children
Lastly, a fun option for learners of Dutch is to read a paper for children. One such paper is Kidsweek, which offers a weekly round-up of topical issues in accessible language.
The downside, of course, is that the articles tend to focus on subjects that appeal to children - news items are interspersed with features on boy bands and giant plastic ducks.
You’ve got to start somewhere, though, and children’s papers offer a great way in to reading Dutch without too many tears.
Check the News & Improve your Dutch
Hopefully, this short overview will inspire you to pop a newspaper in your basket next time you’re in the supermarket, next to the karnemelk, hagelslag and pindakaas.
So that along with all those other resolutions, improving your Dutch doesn’t fall by the wayside this year!
Vivien Collingwood works for UvA Talen, the independent language centre of the University of Amsterdam. Their courses are geared toward educated professionals who can benefit from a rapid learning curve. For more information, please comment below or visit their website.