How a new way of looking at language levels can transform your Dutch

How a new way of looking at language levels can transform your Dutch

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Have you been learning Dutch for a while? Do you sometimes wonder what your level is? It is a legitimate question that seems to intrigue many people. Is it A1, A2, B1 or even C2? And then as soon as you know the "right" answer, a new question might pop up … How can you reach a level that is even higher? Albert Both from Talencoach explores this further.

It seems to make a lot of sense, to think that first you have to start with A1, then A2 and then B1, right? It is logical to start with A and then move on to B and so on. The higher you get in the alphabet, the higher your level probably is. Luckily, or unluckily, the highest letter that you can reach is C, not Z. And then a C2 looks better than C1, don't you think?

Reaching C2 Dutch

No wonder that most people love to think: just let's start with A1 and then hopefully I can reach C2 level really soon … All I need to do is to do some things in the right order at the right time.

But the thing is: although to everyone's minds these levels seem to make a lot of sense, this way of thinking is quite useless, certainly when it comes to speaking a language like Dutch. On top of that, if you truly believe in this system, then chances are high that your learning will go far slower than it could do, and you will lose a lot of precious time. Let me explain.


Here is one of the first problems. People that love to follow what I like to call ABC-thinking erroneously believe that if you like to talk in a new language, you should do it subject by subject. That is why with most language courses, you will have to start by learning a lot of boring stuff. The days of the week, the months, and telling the time, among other things …

To make it even worse, people believe that it should be studied and memorised. What you should do then is to lock yourself up and repeat many energy draining sentences about boring matters until you can reproduce them impeccably, and then you can move forward to the next boring subject.

For example, you may memorise some boring dialogues about making een afspraak, or "an appointment" in Dutch. The belief is that if you just memorise a couple of sentences, then you should be able to do it. That is the theory at least.

Unfortunately, this theory doesn't work too often in real life. The truth is that, if you like, you could make an appointment in 100 different ways, and just memorising some sentences does not guarantee anything at all ...

Now that I have been working for thousands of hours with at least 1.000 people as a Dutch language coach, I think that there is a new way that we need to look at these language levels. That is why I would like to share my perspective on four different levels:

1. The Party Level

With this level, you can go to parties and have some fun with your Dutch. You can order drinks and, if you like, you could entertain some other people with things that you can say in Dutch. The good thing about this level is that it can be a lot of fun and because of the fact that you just use it for parties, you do not have to talk about things that are too serious … It can be fun though to speak some Dutch as a nice party trick!

2. The Tourist Level

With this level, you can use your Dutch as a tourist. If you like, you can book a hotel, order food in a restaurant, ask for the bill and pay for things. Also, you can thank other people and even make some minor complaints.

3. The Expat Level

With this level you can do a little bit more than just the touristy things. You may have noticed that if you stay longer in the Netherlands, things can get a bit more serious. With this level, you could do some more practical things and arrange some things that you need. This could also include some consultations with a doctor or a dentist.

4. The "Be Yourself" Level

On this level, you can talk about anything that you want. You can express emotions, use humour and use Dutch the same way you use English or any other language that you speak. Once again, you feel completely free and you can talk with any emotion that you like, such as anger, frustration, curiosity and excitement!

Which level is best?

This might be a stupid question, but which level would you like to achieve the most? It's probably level four, right? Although you could have some fun with levels one through three, they are still quite boring … Yes, you can handle different things, but it does not allow for a lot of spontaneous interaction.

On levels two and three, you may be able to say something when you need something. I love to call it needy communication. But did you realise that most often when you talk in your own language, you just want to have a good time with other people? In many cases, the main goal of your conversations will be entertainment, something that is difficult to experience when you stay on level two or three.

That is why with level four, you can have a great time and also laugh a lot. By the way, when do you think that you could reach the "Be Yourself" Level? How much time would it take you to get there? Do you think that it would take a lot of time?

You can start on a much higher level, sooner than you believe

Here is some amazing news … Although you could see it as levels, I prefer to see it more as mindsets. It should be the real goal that you have in mind the very first moment that you start to learn and speak Dutch. If you like, you can start directly from level four. There is just one thing that you need to do … you must be willing to dump all your limiting beliefs about ABC-thinking. If you like level four, then why not go for it right now? Why wait?

The great news is that Dutch and English have many things in common. On top of that, if you live in the Netherlands, you are already surrounded by the Dutch language and that means that there is no need to memorise loads and loads of boring stuff.

All you need to do is to dive in the Dutch language for real and activate your natural learning. On top of that, from the very first moment you need to learn how to really understand Dutch for real - it works even better if you learn how to have outrageous fun with it.

Here is another important tip. Instead of boring your mind with boring information about things that have nothing to do with your life, the second that you realise that Dutch is that mysterious thing that surrounds you all the time, in real life, all of a sudden it gets fascinating and exciting … In the end, Dutch is about anything that could be important to your own life!

Don't study too much

I see it with my students all the time. Once they truly start to understand what they see and hear in real life, things change very fast. Many things all of a sudden start to make more sense; all of a sudden you can feel far more connected with the people around you and somehow Dutch life makes more sense to you, and then it is a lot easier to feel at home …

Once you change your perspective on how learning and speaking Dutch really works, many things change, faster than you could imagine. What is important and essential, however, that you are willing to work with some new strategies, new thoughts and great insights, while igniting your natural ability to learn. Just by playing, exploring and discovering, a whole new world can open up. Welcome to a new adventure! Certainly if you do it for a couple of days in a row with great intensity, almost miraculous things can happen …

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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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