The difference that will really make the difference for your Dutch

The difference that will really make the difference for your Dutch

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Speaking real Dutch can be a huge challenge sometimes. It seems that no matter what you do, it is important to make that breakthrough and really go to that next level. Albert Both from Talencoach explains the secret to making learning Dutch just that little bit easier.

Although there could be many reasons why it is easy to feel stuck, there is one thing that keeps coming back for many people. It’s something really obvious and, with over 18 years as a language coach, I have seen this same thing happen time after time. The sad thing is that you could easily study Dutch for hundreds of hours and not notice the difference. So, if you like to know why you might keep on getting stuck, keep on reading and see if you agree.

Dutch is different

The secret is actually quite simple: accept that Dutch is different from English. Yes, I understand that this may sound and look like "een open deur" (literally an open door) – something so obvious, that it is easy to ignore. You may argue that you have already discovered that Dutch is different from English but, here is the weird thing, if you know that Dutch is different from English then why do you speak Dutch as if it was English?

Of course, you realise that Dutch is different from English because otherwise, you would already speak it right? However, you may have already discovered that somehow both languages have many things in common. For example, you might say "ik eet brood", which is "I eat bread" in English. Similarly, "ik drink bier" means "I drink beer".

However, this can be misleading. You might be optimistic and think that if you just change words a tiny little bit, ik instead of I, brood instead of bread, then that would allow you to speak perfect Dutch. Unfortunately, this is not true.

Why would you pronounce a new language in an English way?

So, although you understand that Dutch is different, you might keep trying to speak Dutch as if it is the same as English, which might leave you wondering why the results are not good at all. I will give you a couple of examples.

Let’s start with a simple word: "week", which is 7 days, right? But how would you pronounce it? Would you pronounce it the English way? If so, then it would change the spelling to "wiek", which is a blade of a mill.

The rule is actually quite simple: you pronounce "week" as “wake” because that's what double E should sound like. The same thing would be true for "veel" (much, many) and "steel" (steal, rob). The IE sound is like "thIEf" or "babIEs" in English, and all Dutch words with IE sound the same. In this sense, Dutch is actually a lot simpler than English, where "thIEf" and "recEIve" have the same sound. And to make it worse, if you say "dies" and "cries", then the sound in English is completely different!

Dutch is quite clear about it. In Dutch, you write IE differently from EI, because you pronounce it differently. So, if you keep pronouncing Dutch words the English way, it’ll be hard to get the words right. When you read a word in Dutch, in most cases, you’ll exactly know how to pronounce words, unlike in English, it can be a huge surprise every time.

Making sentences the Dutch way

Here is another easy thing. You may have noticed that the order in Dutch sentences is different from English sentences. Therefore, if you construct your Dutch sentences in an English way, you can be sure of one thing: they will be wrong!

Here are a couple of examples: In Dutch, you say: "ik wil wijn drinken" and not "ik wil drinken wijn". Sure, you may like the second sentence better, but haven’t we already discovered one thing? If Dutch looks too much like English, it’s probably wrong.

Here are some English sentences constructed in a Dutch way: “always like I beer drink”, “never buy I no alcohol-free beer when I beer in the supermarket buy”. So, be honest now… if someone spoke English to you like this, how would you like it? Sure, you might still be able to interpret certain things, but it would be a bit annoying to listen to, right?

Knowing how to construct sentences the right way is a critical skill that is actually not that hard to learn. Just remember that the order is different from English, and that will already be a huge step in the right direction!

Familiar words can have a different meaning in Dutch

Here is another tricky one… how would you translate "een ordinaire man"? Chances are you thought that it is just “an ordinary man,” right? Although "ordinair" looks a lot like ordinary, these two words are absolutely not the same. "Ordinair" in Dutch is very judgmental. It means vulgar, or low-class, with a bad taste and sometimes even obscene.

So, here is the third difference: many words that look familiar can have a whole different meaning! I must admit that for many people this can be tricky. It is easy to understand that spelling and pronunciation can be different in Dutch, but when people hear or read a word that is familiar to them, it often takes a long time before they realise that the meaning is actually quite different.

So, here is a simple rule, if you hear a familiar word and if somehow it does not make sense, then be open to the possibility that the word could have a totally different meaning. The sooner you start to notice these things, the more flexible you become and the faster you’ll be able to learn.

Dutch directness

Here is another question about ordering a beer. There are three sentences to choose from. Which one do you like the most?

  1. Eén bier graag
  2. Mag ik een biertje, alstublieft?
  3. Zou ik een biertje kunnen bestellen, alstublieft?

If you like simplicity, the first sentence is the best, right? This is, by the way, a great sentence that you can use in most situations because it is short and sweet.

However, if you think in English, you probably prefer the second one. This sentence is far more polite, and should therefore be better, right? However, once again, why would Dutch be the same as English? Sure, in English, you have to sound polite, but does it mean that you’ll have to do the same thing in Dutch?

The third sentence is the most literal translation of “could I order a beer, please?” Yes, it looks more complex now, but does that necessarily mean better? Luckily, the answer is no. You’ll be far better off if you go for simple directness in Dutch. Sure, if you like you can use the third sentence, but if this is what you say in Dutch, then chances are high that you are overly polite and Dutch people might believe you have some self-esteem issues.

Time to change the language you think in

So, if you are ready for a great and massive breakthrough in Dutch, here is the mother of all tips. Start thinking in Dutch – skip thinking in English – and learn as fast as you can how to pronounce words the Dutch way, how to construct sentences the right way and how to give Dutch words the right meaning, even if you see these words for the very first time.

Contrary to what you may think, it is not that difficult. Dutch has clear rules, is logical and consistent and it is often very funny. And yes… it also helps if you really start to believe that you can speak Dutch, no matter what other people say. Once you understand how Dutch really works and once you start believing in yourself, you can achieve great things, certainly, if you combine it with optimism and some patience and always remember that differences will make the difference!

Do you want to be able to express yourself freely and learn to communicate in Dutch quickly and effectively? Get in touch with Albert at or sign up for Talencoach’s Dutch Brainwash programme – an intensive 7-day Dutch course in the centre of Amsterdam.

You can also:

Download his e-book "3 Steps to Dutch flow"
Download his e-book "Why You Hate Learning Dutch and 7 Secrets to Change It"
Visit his website
Check out his Facebook page
Watch videos on his YouTube channel
All free of charge! 

Albert Both


Albert Both

I help with an approach of learning Dutch that is completely different from any other language course. It is called Dutch Brainwashing. The immediate result is that you learn at...

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