Don’t hit the wall, have a breakthrough instead

Don’t hit the wall, have a breakthrough instead

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Have you noticed that studying Dutch and speaking Dutch are two different things? Have you ever wondered that sometimes it seems that the more you study Dutch, the harder it is to really speak it? Albert Both from Talencoach let's you in on a little secret...

You may have taken courses at A1, A2, B1 or B2 level and still wonder: what should I do to really increase my speaking? The answer is simple, but it may go against your intuition… One thing is certain, if you want to make progress fast, you need to stop studying. Start playing and exploring instead!

A great challenge

Learning a new language can be a great challenge. Most people who sign up for a language course fail. So, if you already made it up to A2 or B1 level, then congratulations! You really made it quite far. However, if you'd really like to speak Dutch, there is something else that you need to do.

Many people believe that mastering a new sound or having a perfect pronunciation are the only things that they need to strive for. Some people struggle with "g" or "ui" sounds and then they believe that this is the only thing that stands in the way to Dutch fluency, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Others believe if they memorise long word lists or if they study more, that this will do the trick. And although knowing more words and having more knowledge is always very useful, this is not enough. The problem is that most people have a focus that is too narrow and, also, if you study, the problem is that you do not see how a language really works.

Understanding how a language really works

Contrary to what you may think, understanding how a language really works does not require a lot of studying, and it may be more fun than you think. The most important thing is that you are willing to explore things and that you like to experiment.

Let’s say that you do a lesson from your traditional language course and that you learn 50 words. Then how many words do you know? Only 50, of course. It may seem like a lot to you, but the truth is that Dutch - like all the other languages - is a vast ocean of thousands and thousands of words. If you only know 50, you will not learn very fast.

@#!@ that hurts!

But… if you live in the Netherlands, there is good news. It means that you are already surrounded by the language. So, the first thing that you can do is to simply observe. You may have noticed that many Dutch words are not too far removed from English. This must be a great relief!

Let’s do a little test. Would you know what “een distel” is in Dutch? If you try to remember the word list of your language course, you will not have an idea of course.

Here is a hint. Would you be able to understand “drie distels”? You may have learned that “drie” means “three." But here is the thing… If you only remember that “drie” means “three” and you stop, then, of course, it will not help you to guess what “distel” means. But… if you realise that many D’s in Dutch are often English TH’s, then things might start to look different all of a sudden. Alright, here is a new clue. “Een distel is een plant.” This is quite close to English, right? Now, it may be easier to guess that “distel” means “thistle."

Of course, you may argue that normally you don’t talk about thistles, but this is not the point. The main thing is that you can start guessing the right meaning of words, even if you see them for the first time. And you never know, maybe you like to have a picnic in a park, and you hear: “Au! Ik zit op een distel!” (I am sitting on a thistle!). Now you’ll understand why this Dutch person is screaming and cursing!

Once again, this is how many people operate. When they see a new word, but when they have never learned it before, they simply stop. But if you know how to start guessing and exploring, you can learn thousands and thousands of words with absolute ease.

A different meaning

Here is another “danger” if you only study. Imagine that you’ve learned: “ik woon” (I live) or “Ik heb gewoond” (I have lived). Can you guess what often happens if people see or hear: “gewoon”?

You could say, for example: “ik fiets gewoon in het park." If you think that “gewoon” means that you live, then you will be stuck of course. Although it looks like “woon” and “gewoond," “gewoon” has nothing to do with living.

Believe it or not, “gewoon” is a whole different word with a whole different meaning. “Gewoon” means that something is normal, not special at all. If you say: “Ik fiets gewoon in het park”, it means: I just bike in the park and there is nothing strange about it, it is something very normal.

Let’s make things far more complicated. What if you say: “De man is gewond”? If you only think of “gewoon” or “gewoond," then you will not get very far. Although it looks similar, there is a small difference in spelling, and the pronunciation is different as well. So, how would you translate it?

Many people might say that they have no idea. But, here is something that might help: “Help! Ik zie bloed, de man is gewond!” Here is some more help: “bloed is rood." Hopefully you guessed that “bloed” is blood in English - it is not that different. “Bloed is rood” means that “blood is red," of course. So, now you might deduce that “wond” in Dutch could mean "wound" in English. Therefore “gewond," means “wounded” or "injured."

It is a small difference that makes a great difference!

So, what can you do if you hit that Dutch wall? What can you do if you notice that somehow it seems that you cannot speak freely in Dutch? First of all, it is good to realise that hitting a wall can be a positive sign. It does not mean that you cannot make any progress anymore. However, the message is very clear: it is a great idea to change the way you approach learning and speaking Dutch!

Sometimes it may look difficult to change your strategy for speaking Dutch. The way you have been doing it may have given you some great results already. But everything comes in stages. A certain method that was productive in the past may not be the greatest way to boost you to new heights in a very near future. If you'd like to achieve new things, then often there are different things that you need to do.

Noticing more details

Another thing that you need to do if you want to have a new breakthrough is notice more small differences. That is why you need to make many more mistakes, because this is the fastest way for you to learn! Noticing more details is a sign of huge progress, but often it feels as if the opposite is happening. You may worry that you still make mistakes, but once again, if you really realise what it is happening, you would be far more positive and optimistic!

Be willing to guess and test a lot. If you guess things, you may get it wrong, but it is the most natural way of learning and it works far better than just memorising. Do not stick to the information that you already know, but always be open to the idea that you could learn something new.

Why so serious?

Here is a last tip: most people are too serious when they try to learn and speak a new language. However, if you do not really enjoy the process, it will be hard to become fluent. Luckily there is some good news: once you notice how easy it is to make huge progress while speaking about many different topics, the higher the chance is that you will actually like speaking Dutch.

The most important thing is that you really learn how to express yourself, and learn that this is not the same as parroting sentences from a textbook. If you are willing to explore and experiment, you’ll discover many great things, also about yourself. You could discover that you have more talent for speaking a new language than you could ever imagine. Certainly if you see the process as a great adventure! This is exactly how I like to learn and speak many languages, and this is why I love to share it with others!

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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