How the S word can enrich your Dutch

How the S word can enrich your Dutch

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There are many things that you can do and use to elevate your Dutch to give you the freedom of expression you are used to in your own language. Albert Both from Talencoach explains how you can use the S word to enrich your Dutch speaking skills and communicate freely. 

There is a word beginning with S that will help you elevate your experience whilst speaking Dutch. It’s not something that they normally teach in generic language courses. It can lead to immense satisfaction but can also cause offence. However, if you know how to use it, it can be a joy forever.

So, do you have any idea what this magic word could be? If you hadn’t guessed it yet...the magic word is sarcasm!

If there is one thing that allows you to operate with your Dutch on a higher level, it is without a doubt sarcasm. Because believe it or not, in order to recognise it and apply it yourself, you need a higher form of intelligence.

Expressing yourself

Here's the weird thing, you can probably recognise when someone is being sarcastic, however, for Google Translate it’s an impossible task. How would you program software so that it would be able to detect sarcasm? For a computer, everything is black and white, everything is positive or negative or binary, but this is not the case for the human mind.

That is why recognising and using sarcasm is such an important element if you would like to have outrageous fun with your Dutch. It shows that you are not a machine and that you have real feelings and emotions. Have you ever noticed that when robots or computers in science fiction movies make sarcastic remarks, it makes them seem more human and helps strengthen relationships with other people?

So, here is a question: what have you noticed while looking at all your training materials for learning Dutch? You might have noticed that it is, what I love to call, mono-dimensional. Every word that you read has mainly one reason and cannot be interpreted in any other way. For example, if you learn: het weer is goed, it means that the weather is good. Makes sense, right?

The only problem is that this is not how people really talk. If you don’t use sarcasm, you might find it quite difficult to accurately express yourself in Dutch, especially when you talk about personal things.

What is lekker? A deep question of life

Here is a great first example. You may have learned that the word lekker means tasty. You can say: de stroopwafel is lekker and that you’d like to eat it. If you are a bit more “advanced”, you may also have discovered that lekker weer also makes perfect sense. It is nice weather. Lekker, therefore, can be translated as nice, smooth and generally good, and yes, just for your information, it could also mean hot and erotically irresistible.

Although you can clearly see that lekker is always positive here, we are still only on a beginners’ level. With sarcasm, we can give it a little twist, a 180-degree turnaround if you will, and give it the exact opposite meaning. Imagine that you say to a Dutch friend: ik heb corona. A reply could be: lekker! Hopefully, you're smart enough to understand that your Dutch friend does not mean to say that you should enjoy having the coronavirus. Lekker here means horrendous, awful, not good at all! So, pay attention: Dutch people can also use the word lekker for things that aren’t so great.

Here is another example, you may ask a Dutch person: geef je me €10.000? An appropriate reply could be: jij bent lekker! Obviously, this does not mean that you're hot, it means that you are absolutely insane!

Recognising sarcasm

Recognising sarcasm should not be that difficult. You just have to know that it exists and, if you pay attention to yourself, you’ll probably notice that you also use it when you speak your own language. The thing is that whenever you learn something new, you tend to have a kind of “tunnel vision.” It’s easy to latch on to one specific meaning, especially when you are finding your way in a new language.

So how do you know whether lekker is good or bad? First of all, there is intonation and also facial expression. On top of that, you need to be able to judge which lekker fits better with your specific situation. I have to admit that it is not always easy to interpret correctly and some Dutch people are very good at hiding their sarcasm. So, here is a clue for you: if people are displaying little emotion whilst talking, chances are high that their sarcasm mode is on.

Once again, you have probably already been doing this while speaking your own language. So, in a way, applying sarcasm to your Dutch should not be that difficult.

Please and thank you

Here is another example. You may already know that alsjeblieft means please. Just like in English, the real meaning depends on your intonation because it could also mean F*** no! For example, you might ask a friend: wil je al mijn frustraties horen? (do you want to hear all my frustrations?) If they say alsjeblieft, it probably doesn’t mean that they’d like to listen to your stories. In fact, it might be a good idea to switch the subject there and then!

Another great example is bedankt! Yes, it means thank you. However, depending on the intonation, it could also mean thanks a lot, you jerk! Imagine you’re playing on your Dutch friends’ iPhone, you accidentally drop it and it breaks on the floor. Bedankt would be by no means be an expression of gratitude here.

Oops! It can be risky!

Hopefully, you have now realised that recognising sarcasm is a very important skill. It can be really fun to use actively while speaking Dutch, and why not? It’s something that can make conversations richer, more entertaining and engaging. However, I must say that I also need to warn you to be careful when using sarcasm, especially in the beginning!

The problem with sarcasm is that it is an advanced skill. You need to know how to use it properly, it’s not just about saying a word, it’s about a combination of other factors such as facial expression, body language, intonation and timing.

There is a chance, certainly in the beginning, that Dutch people may not understand your first attempts at sarcasm. They may not understand it or appreciate it and the reason for that is quite simple: they may not expect sarcasm to come from your mouth. It’s always a good idea to experiment with a couple of Dutch friends first. This might seem like a strange idea but sometimes people need to get used to it when you start speaking Dutch blended with richer and deeper emotional levels!

Here is another important tip: with sarcasm, it’s important to use the “right dosage”. It’s not a good idea to be sarcastic all the time. People need to know and feel that you’d actually really like to thank them when you say bedankt, for example. Another thing that I personally find important is that you use sarcasm with positive energy; the message should not be that you only dwell in negativity. Some people are sarcastic all the time and I am not sure if it would be a good idea to be one of them.

Time to get sarcastic

As you can see, there is a lot to discover with sarcasm. For this article, I wanted to keep it simple and just highlight some first essential points, but you may like the idea of exploring sarcasm a bit more for yourself. If so, simply observe how people embed sarcasm into their language. For example, is great really great? Start noticing the effects of it; why would you say great when it isn’t great?

Last but not least, sarcasm is a great thing to explore and it makes your communication a lot richer. And this last sentence is a sincere and heartfelt statement!

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 Dutch course in the centre of Amsterdam.

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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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