How to finally master Dutch

How to finally master Dutch

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Dutch might seem like a difficult language to learn. In fact, many Dutchies will tell you just that. More often than not, you’ll hear newcomers to the language complain about how difficult it can be. But just like with any other skill, the right approach can make a tremendous difference. Dutch Ready explains!

So, what is the right approach? How does learning Dutch become easy? The key is deceptively simple: thinking differently and making the hurdle as low as possible, regardless of your level. The three pillars of generalisation, simplification and personalisation are the only tools you’ll need.

Generalisation: Working with what you know

So, what if I told you that you secretly know some Dutch already? Even if you’ve never even opened a coursebook! Try reading the following: “de man stapt in de taxi”. Two of these words you’ll know right off the bat: “man” and “taxi”. The verb “stapt in” might seem familiar as well: the man “steps into” the taxi. That was surprisingly easy, right? That’s because Dutch is actually quite close to English, something you can use to your advantage.

So-called “cognates” are words that share a similar origin, even though they now exist in two languages. The Dutch word “bier”, for instance, is related to the English “beer”. Similarly, “loan words” are taken directly from another language. The word “restaurant”, for instance, is actually a French word, but both the English and Dutch use it.

Making use of these words allows you to kick-start your Dutch with a massive vocabulary without actually even having to study! You just need to know how much you actually know already. Here’s the kicker: The more languages you know, the more words this applies to.

And that’s not all generalisation is good for. Unfortunately, many expats think that Dutch grammar is complicated. But it doesn’t have to be. Start by comparing Dutch grammar to the grammar of your own language and only note the differences. This allows you to forget about what you’re doing correctly by intuition, and focus on what is unfamiliar, instead of having to overthink every word.

Take the Dutch sentence: “Ik wil naar de film gaan” and the English “I want to go to the movies”. Many of the words in both sentences are actually in the same order. The grammar is very similar. There’s only one big difference, can you spot it? The extra verb (“to go”) is at the end of the sentence in Dutch. The rest of the sentence is still the same.

Simplification: Learn effectively, not thoroughly

It’s very easy to get lost in the details of a language. But more often than not, you don’t actually need the details as much as you think, or there are easy tricks to help you understand them. In the end, you’re trying to become fluent, not a linguist.

Imagine you want to make popcorn at a friend’s house. But they have a different microwave: different buttons, different layout. You can go looking for the manual to understand every button and function. Or, would you go and ask your friend which two buttons to press? You’d obviously ask your friend. With learning a language, this shouldn’t be any different.

When you’re not fluent in a language, there is always a lot of new information to take in. Even Dutchies themselves could learn a thing or two about their own language. That’s why it’s key to only focus on what’s important for your goals and simplify that information.

If you study all the Dutch grammar rules, you have quite the road ahead of you. But luckily you don’t need to. By focusing on a basic sentence order, the mould which most sentences use, you only have to learn an easy single rule instead. Just drag and drop, almost no thinking required.

Simple tricks often help you pace your learning as well. If you’re still struggling with making sentences, there’s no point in focusing on the grammar of questions just yet. But questions are an important part of any conversation. Instead, simply use the word “toch?”, the equivalent of the word “right?” to turn any statement into a question. “Dat was simpel, toch?” See, Dutch can be easier than you think!

Personalisation: Working towards your goals

More important than any method or trick is the fact that you should always keep yourself and your own goals in mind. Unfortunately, many of those looking to learn Dutch get frustrated by the pace of teachers, the timing of lessons or the things they focus on in class. This too can be much easier.

If you want results in the gym, you get a personal trainer. Someone to offer you personalised advice, lessons at your convenience and the motivation to keep going. Why would learning a language be any different? Investing in a private tutor helps you focus on the topics you want to learn, at times that work for you.

When lessons are tailored to your needs, you only spend time focusing on the things you want to be able to say. The things you want to be able to do. The things you want to learn. Not too fast, not too slow. Not too difficult, not too easy. Goldilocks would be proud.

The language itself can be a hurdle for some, even though it doesn’t have to be. Yet, this planning and pacing hurdle is often the most difficult for Dutchies-to-be. So, when using simplification and generalisation in your learning, don’t forget to keep personalisation in mind. In the end, you’re studying the language because you want to. And if you keep these tips in mind, I’m sure you’ll succeed.

Dutch Ready offers private Dutch lessons in Amsterdam, Leiden and Haarlem, designed to help you learn Dutch fast. Their unique method kick-starts your Dutch, so you can feel like a Dutchie right away!

Casper Zweerus


Casper Zweerus

When I moved from the Netherlands to the U.S. as a child, I didn’t speak a single word of English. All I could do was try to learn. I know...

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