How English can help you to learn Dutch much faster
Is English a blessing or a curse if you want to speak Dutch? If you are like most people, you may argue that English only stands in the way, but … what if the opposite is true? Yes, English could stand in the way, but it also gives many advantages and shortcuts. Albert Both from Talencoach explains how English can lead to more Dutch fluency fast. ☺️
How English can slow down your Dutch learning
Why do so many people believe that English stands in the way of speaking and learning Dutch with ease? The first reason is obvious: Whenever you try to say something in Dutch to a Dutch person, they love to switch over to English in a split second.
Especially when Dutch people tell you that you can live a perfect life in the Netherlands while only speaking English, then yes, the temptation is very high indeed. Once you believe this, then chances are high that you will never ever learn any Dutch at all … because why should you?
However, even when people assure you that you can get by with English, soon enough, you may notice that somehow you are missing out on things. Yes, you can speak English with most people all the time, but at the same time it seems that if you do speak Dutch, it could make life easier and more special. Also, Dutch people speak Dutch, not English, so there must be a good reason why they are doing this.
English is not that different from Dutch
It is natural to believe that Dutch is totally different from English. The only thing is it is not true! So, let’s assume that you sign up for a Dutch language course. What would be your first impression? Would the thought come to your mind that Dutch is quite close to English and that therefore it should be easy to learn?
Unfortunately, in most cases the total opposite would be true. Chances are high that you feel totally overwhelmed by weird sounds, such as the Dutch g and ui, weird sentence constructions and loooooong words, words that I love to call “anaconda-words”.
On top of that, in many courses they would only speak Dutch and then your teacher may throw words at you containing grammatical jargon such as hulpwerkwoord (auxiliary verb) and samengestelde zinnen met nevenschikkende voegwoorden (compound sentences with coordinating conjunctions), terms that even many native Dutch people would not understand.
Once again, in many Dutch courses, the chances are high that you mainly feel overwhelmed. The thought that Dutch has a lot in common with English seems to be a ridiculous idea. How? Everything is foreign, alien, unintelligible, complex, and difficult! Now, in your perception, Dutch is totally different from everything else that you have seen and heard so far.
But here is the strange thing … if you look at Dutch linguistically and objectively, it is very easy to come to only one conclusion: Dutch is the closest language to English! If you like, you could also see it as “German light”; clearly structured and very logical!
The similarities between Dutch and English
So, how come it is so hard to see that Dutch and English are very similar? The answer is very simple and maybe even shocking. Most language courses are not designed to help you realise that you already know more than you think. On the contrary, in most cases they make it look far more difficult …
Let’s start with a simple question. Imagine that you are in Madrid and that you would like to come to Amsterdam. What would you need to do? Well, first you have to leave Madrid, go to the North, go through the rest of Spain, then go through France – stay some time in Paris if you like – then go through Belgium and then once you enter, make sure that you go North and that you stay in the Western part of the country.
Once again, you need to know where you are and then, step-by-step, you continue in the right direction. Well, one thing is certain, with learning a new language it works exactly the same. You need to start where you are, and then step-by-step you can move in the right direction.
It is all about taking the right bus!
Imagine that you are in Madrid and that someone from Amsterdam is yelling that you should go there. It would not make a lot of sense, right? And yet, this is what happens in many language courses. Instead of coming to you and starting with pieces of information that would be easy for you to understand, in most language courses they just overload you with random sentences and constructions - with many of them being too difficult for your level anyway!
Here is another way to put it. A teacher is like a bus that picks you up and it needs to come to your stop first, at the place where you are. Once you get on the bus at the place where you are right now, then you can start moving (pun intended).
Here is the problem, though. Many people - including Dutch people - believe that if you simply hear Dutch sentences and repeat them, then learning and success is guaranteed, but unfortunately this is not true … You can only really learn when things make sense to you. You can only learn things that you understand!
Speak Dutch as if you’re speaking English
So, now it is time for great news! You can create a method that uses Dutch that is very close to English. Here is one example, “Mijn tip is: begin te spreken en doe je best”. Would you be able to figure out what it means? The translation is: My tip is: begin to speak and do your best.
So, here is the thing ... instead of just memorising loads of senseless words, you start to look at Dutch words and sentences and then, while playing with some new information, you start to see patterns and draw your own conclusions.
Let’s play a bit more. Read the sentence: Ik begin Nederlands te spreken. Is there anything that got your attention? Can you see that ik is not too far away from I (it just has one extra letter, and it looks a bit like ich or “I” in German)? Also, I hope that you just saw that the word order is different. Can you see that you don’t say: Ik begin te spreken Nederlands?
Here are two versions of the sentence: I’m starting to eat a stroopwafel. Which sentence is correct, you think?
- Ik begin te eten een stroopwafel.
- Ik begin een stroopwafel te eten.
If you chose the second sentence, then congratulations! Now you can say: Joepie! Ik begin het te leren! (Woohoo! I am starting to learn it!)
Play with Dutch
So once again, instead of harsh study and hardcore senseless memorising, you start to play with Dutch words and sentences that are initially quite close to English and then step-by-step, while gaining important insights, you’ll be able to understand more words and sentences that are further away from English.
The first thing that you start to train is the flexibility of your mind. This would be the most natural way of learning and, by the way, every time that you can draw conclusions for yourself, you feel really smart. You’ll probably feel better and then you’ll learn faster. ☺️
And last but not least, a couple of tips. If your only language is English, it is easy to believe that by nature you should be bad at learning foreign languages, but this is not true! Just realise that learning a foreign language is a skill by itself and that if you learn more languages later, it will go a lot easier!
One tricky thing about English is that you may believe, consciously or unconsciously, that somehow this language is the golden standard. You’ll learn a lot faster when you truly accept that not all languages are the same as English and that Dutch will often be different! The sooner you can accept and embrace this idea, the sooner you will learn!
Embrace your inner Yoda
The last tip is a fun one … Do you know Yoda from Star Wars? If you start talking like him, then somehow, you’ll master Dutch a lot faster. Just say things like: I sleep not in my bed and, voila, it is close to Ik slaap niet in mijn bed. When you say things in a new language, it might sound strange at first, but don’t let it stop you! Go out, play, and start seeing more and more that Dutch and English are more connected than you could ever imagine!
Want to start speaking Dutch fast? Take part in the intensive, seven-day Dutch Brainwash programme from Talencoach.
- Download the e-book "3 Steps to Dutch flow"
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