How Dutch people can learn you how to speak better Dutch

How Dutch people can learn you how to speak better Dutch

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Albert Both from Talencoach gives us a new way to look at listening and making mistakes when you are learning a new language.

Of all the different techniques to learn another language faster, this is definitely one of my favourites. It is fun and highly entertaining, once you know how to do it. It's really simple. All you have to do is listen carefully when Dutch people speak English to you. Start noticing their mistakes and you’ll receive loads of information that you can use to your advantage. Another great thing is that this is free!

Listen for the mistakes

Have you ever noticed that if foreign people speak English (or your language) to you that they make a lot of mistakes? If you listen carefully, you can’t miss it.

If you hear mistakes, there are many things you could do. If the mistake is funny, it is hard not to laugh, right? However, if you are like most people, you just try to guess what the other person is trying to say, even if it is not entirely correct, and ignore any mistakes as much as you can. Realising that someone probably put in a lot of effort to speak your language, it would not be very polite to correct these mistakes on the spot. You just go with the story and, if needed, translate it one more time in your head.

But… have you ever noticed that the type of mistake someone makes often depends on what their native language is? For example, there are mistakes that Spanish speakers make when they speak English and if you talk with Dutch people, you’ll probably hear other kinds of mistakes. Once again, if you listen carefully enough, you cannot miss it.

A Spanish example

Let’s start with this example. Imagine that Juan from Spain tells you that Isabela talks about his house. Would you think that Juan is questioning Isabela’s gender? To your ears, it probably sounds terribly wrong, right? So, why would Juan do this? Chances are high that Juan only said "his house" by mistake. In Spanish, “su casa” could both mean his house and her house. Just look at the following sentences in Spanish: “Juan habla de su casa” and “Isabela habla de su casa” (Juan talks about his house. Isabela talks about her house). Can you see that there is no difference in Spanish?

Dutch people generally don’t make this mistake. “Haar huis” is “her house” and “zijn huis” is “his house” in English. This is just the first example of how your native language can cause you to make some very specific mistakes.

Let's "learn" you something new

So, here is a typical mistake that Dutch people make all the time. Have you noticed that Dutch people always want to “learn” you things? When you think in Dutch though, this is a logical thing to say. “Leren” in Dutch is both to learn and to teach, but in Spanish there are two different words for "to learn" (aprender) and "to teach" (enseñar).

So, here is a new thought to play with. What if mistakes are not stupid, but rather a consequence of logical thinking? If “leren” is both "to learn" and "to teach" in Dutch, then for a Dutch mind, it is quite logical to reason that in English it would probably be the same, right? After all, there are so many other things in Dutch that are just like English.

If you look at mistakes this way, you could say that making mistakes is a sign of intelligence rather than stupidity. The only thing that you need to do is realise that some things that work in one language do not necessarily work in another.

One fish, two...?

Here comes the good news. If you hear the same specific mistakes in English over and over again from Dutch people, it is easy to discover new things about the Dutch language! Let’s play with some examples. If a Dutch person says, “I have 2 gold fishes”, what do you notice? In English, you say one fish, two fish, but not in Dutch. In Dutch, you say: "een vis, twee vissen". Sure, it is only a small mistake, but you understand the system behind it, right?

I have to admit that I still don’t understand why in English you do not just say fishes… My Dutch mind still tends to think that two fish is just weird, but I’ll say it anyway…

Seducing you with stroopwafels 

The next example is more hilarious. In Dutch, “verleiden” can be "to tempt". If you say: “Kan ik je verleiden met een stroopwafel?”, it simply means: “Can I tempt you with a stroopwafel?” The only trouble (or luck) for Dutch people is that “verleiden” does not only mean "to tempt". That is why a Dutch person might ask you: “Can I seduce you with a stroopwafel?” So, now, you are officially warned… if Dutch people tell you that they want to seduce you, they might mean something else. Sorry.

Make or take?

Here is a mistake that I still make all the time. In Dutch, you can say: “Ik maak foto’s”, which literally means that you make photos. But in English, you generally don’t make a picture, you take it… Although you can also say: “Ik neem (take) een foto” in Dutch, this mistake is very easy to make. I must admit that I still make this mistake from time to time.

By the way, what would you do with a decision? Would you take or make it? Dutch people like to take it, they’ll say: “Ik neem een besluit”. If you say: “Ik maak een besluit”, then it means that you design it, you write it or you word it. But this would not be enough of course… a decision only makes sense in Dutch if you take it! Only then, you own it!

Context is important

The next example is very tricky. What would you think if a Dutch person told you that they were very self-conscious? In Dutch, “zelf” is "self" and “bewust” is "conscious". But… "zelfbewust" has a totally different meaning. It means that you are fully aware of your own strength and that you have loads of self-esteem and confidence.

So, here is a tip. If you hear a certain word and if somehow it does not match within the context of the conversation, simply assume that it’s very likely this word could have a different meaning in the other language! Once again, if you listen to the English that people from other languages speak to you, you could learn a lot about other languages! Their very specific mistakes often reveal a very specific way of thinking in their language.

Once you truly understand this, it can be really fascinating to discover that there are many different ways of looking at the world.

Positivity is key!

If you hear specific mistakes from Dutch people again and again, instead of getting irritated, you have another choice, which is more useful to you. If you can understand why people make certain mistakes over and over again, it is easy to guess how things work in Dutch, which will make it a lot easier to learn! And it is always a great idea to really appreciate other people’s effort when they try to speak your language, especially when they make mistakes. 

If you can still see other people as intelligent and competent when they make certain mistakes, you’ll be more positive about yourself when the time comes to return the favour. You’ll feel more at ease if the things that you say are not correct and I personally believe that the most beautiful thing is that it really allows you to discover great and interesting things about other people and cultures!

This is also why I love my job as a Dutch language coach. For me, it is easy to predict which mistakes my students could make and I learn so much about other languages and cultures when I hear certain things. It also helps me to be patient, because I can always appreciate all the effort that goes to speaking a new language!

What has been your experience so far? What is a typical mistake that Dutch people make when they speak your language? Please feel free to share!

Albert Both is a specialist in learning Dutch fast whilst having fun. Sign up for his free workshop "Finding Dutch Flow: Opening The Floodgate to Dutch Fluency" on Sunday, September 15, 2019 in Amsterdam.

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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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Leave a comment

Monika Durickova 10:15 | 5 September 2019

Not sure if the error in the headline ("learn you") was on purpose :)

ManjaKesteren 11:24 | 5 September 2019

Hello Monika, Not to worry, the error in the headline is there on purpose ;)

Kanika Mittal 18:37 | 5 September 2019

One of the mistakes Dutch people very often make is considering the letter ‘e’ instead of ‘a’ since the pronunciation for ‘e’ in dutch is same as that of ‘a’ in english. For example, when I spell my name on phone they always write Kenike instead of Kanika.