How simple words can help you speak better Dutch
What is one of the things that often stands in the way when you want to speak a new language? Frustration number one? If you are like most people, you would say: “words! I need more words!” Albert Both from Talencoach shows us how to expand our Dutch vocabulary in a simple way - all you need is some playfulness and imagination and that will go a long way!
Similarities to English
Let’s assume that you have been learning Dutch for some time. What have you noticed? Maybe you find that speaking Dutch is quite hard and that many things do not make sense. But fortunately, you also discovered that there is at least one good thing about Dutch... It is very similar to English! Let’s have a look at the next sentences:
- Ik slaap in mijn bed
- De man eet een bitterbal
- Ik werk de hele week, en ik ben vrij op zaterdag en zondag
It’s not rocket science, right? Translating these sentences should be ridiculously simple. Just in case that you didn’t get it, here are the translations:
- “I sleep in my bed”
- “The man eats a bitterball”
- “I work the whole week, and I am free on Saturday and Sunday”
It is obvious that many Dutch words are quite similar to English words, right? So, at first sight, Dutch should be pretty easy. But, there is also bad news.. there are many Dutch words that look like English words, but they have another meaning.
For example, how would you translate the next sentence: ik heb even een probleem? It doesn’t mean: “I even have a problem." Although the spelling of even is exactly like the English “even”, the pronunciation and meaning are different. Even means for a short while, for a short moment. You might have heard: even kijken - literally, it means looking for a short moment or let’s have a look for a short moment. It seems that Dutch people like to see pictures and images when they think ;)
There is something great about Dutch words! There are many words like even in Dutch. Words that look like English words, but sometimes they have a different pronunciation - you must be sure to follow the Dutch rules - and a different meaning. For some people, this could be really overwhelming, and they may immediately feel discouraged. However, others immediately recognise a great opportunity…
So, here are some Dutch words. What do you think that they mean? Let’s see if you can guess the meaning and then we will deal with them one by one: “Glad”, “Nut”, “Wet”, and “Red”.
How would you translate: De man is glad? It does not mean that the man is glad. Here is another sentence that could help: Er is sneeuw op straat. De straat is glad. Hopefully, it is easier to guess the word now. There is snow on the street and the street is slippery. You have to be careful now, because it is very easy to slip and fall!
The great thing is that now you can also use glad in other contexts. You could say: Boris Johnson is glad. Could you guess what that means? Here, it is a bit negative; it means that you are a smooth operator. At the same time, glad can also be positive; De presentatie is glad can simply mean "the presentation is going smoothly." If you say: Alles loopt glad then everything is going glad - it means that something is going smoothly, without any flaws or problems.
So, here is the great thing, glad is not that hard to remember. All you need to do is just change your pronunciation a little bit and give it a whole new meaning. At the same time, remembering the foreign word is the most difficult part, most of the time, right? Well, not anymore!
So, let’s play with the word nut. It does not mean "nut" in English though. However, could you imagine that a nut has many good nutrients? Nut simply means: of useful benefit or practical use. In Dutch, people use this word a lot. Wat is het nut” What is the benefit, purpose? You can say: ik zie het nut niet, and then it simply means: I don’t see the use or benefit!
The great thing is that in Dutch you can easily combine words with other words. For example, niets means nothing, so now you can create a new word: nietsnut. Let’s use that in a sentence: De man is een complete nietsnut! It is not that difficult to guess, right? It simply means that the man is useless, he does not have value at all. What you see here is that it is important to be very flexible. While nietsnut is one word, in English you would probably say a useless person, or maybe a loser. Although there is a subtle nuance and difference between the words nietsnut and loser, in both cases it means someone that does not do anything.
Wet is another great example. In Dutch, it means law. All that you have to do now is to imagine that if it rains, everything will be wet. Dat is een natuurwet - if it rains, everything gets wet, so that is a law of nature, right? So, now that you know what wet means, can you guess what grondwet is? Grond literally means ground. But, contrary to what you may think, it has little to do with owning private land or property. It is, however, the firm ground of all laws. Constitutie is another word for this that sounds more official.
Ouderwets is also a handy word. Literally, it means of the older law, and it is used to mean old fashioned. Now, you can say: ik vind x ouderwets, I find x oldfashioned. You can use any words that you'd like. You could say, for example: ik vind een Nokia ouderwets. It is up to you!
Red is also a great word. Simply think of the Red Cross. Rood is red in English, but… what does the Red Cross do? They often save and rescue people, right? So, red in Dutch means save or rescue. You can use it in sentences, such as Red de planeet ("save the planet") or Red me! ("save me!", "rescue me!")
Dutch people use red often in a sentence like this: ik red het niet, ik kom later. Then it means: I cannot make it, I’ll come later. If you say: ik red het, it means that you can save your plan, so it means that you will manage to do something; you can come on time, you have enough money or you will stay alive…
If you say: ik red het niet, then it often means that you have a problem. What it means depends heavily on the context. It could mean: I am broke, I am late or I do not have enough oxygen! Another great sentence to use is: ik red me wel ("I’ll save / rescue myself"). It means: I will be ok, I can make it. It can be a great and powerful sentence to use!
The great news is that there are many more words like these four examples… Words that have the same spelling as in English. Hundreds and hundreds of words like these are waiting for you to be discovered!
Learn in a smart way
The good thing about Dutch is that many words are not too far away from English words. If you are learning another language like Greek, Turkish, Japanese or Arabic, you’ll notice that words often sound completely different from English. Once you know how to learn in a smarter way, you’ll discover that expanding your Dutch vocabulary and your fluency could be easier than you first thought. Just remember: never study too much, don’t be too serious… just play and discover!
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 [email protected] or sign up for Talencoach’s Dutch Brainwash programme - an intensive seven-day Dutch course in the centre of Amsterdam.
You can also:
Download his e-book "3 Steps to Dutch flow"
Download his e-book "Why You Hate Learning Dutch and 7 Secrets to Change It"
Visit his website Talencoach.nl
Check out his Facebook page
Watch videos on his YouTube channel
All free of charge!