How some new ideas about learning can transform your Dutch

How some new ideas about learning can transform your Dutch

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Let’s imagine that for whatever reason, you’d like to get better at speaking Dutch. Would you know what you need to do? If the answer is no, don’t worry! Albert Both from Talencoach explains how you can use different learning techniques to help master the Dutch language.

If you are like most people, you might simply assume that to get better at speaking Dutch, you have to learn more. That seems like a reasonable thought, right? But have you also noticed that the more you learn, the more difficult it becomes to speak a new language? If so, then congratulations! You are ready and able to make a massive change. You just need to review some ideas that you may have about learning.

The difference between learning and studying

Let’s start with a very simple question. What is the first thing that comes up when you think of learning? For many people, learning is a very serious matter. It often seems to be another word for studying as, when you study, you learn new things.

However, here's the thing, when you study you may learn new things, but do you always need to study to learn something new? For example, how did you discover the taste of stroopwafels? Did you follow a special course, or did you simply just put some stroopwafel in your mouth?

So, here is the first revolutionary truth: every day you can learn new things. In many cases, you might call it an experience where you quickly draw some conclusions for yourself. You try a stroopwafel and then you decide whether you like it or not. This way, you gain certain insights and it doesn’t take a lot of work!

In Dutch, we have two different words: leren and studeren. Leren is to learn and studeren is to study. Studeren quite often suggests that you study at a university and, because of this fact, many people see it as a very noble activity that will take you further in life. However, studeren is only focused on the time-consuming aspect of leren. You can learn thousands of things in a million different ways and still have loads of fun doing it!

Learning through perception

Once again, leren often simply means that you’ve had certain experiences and that you’ve obtained new insights or come to new conclusions, or even learned a new skill.

Let’s assume that you buy something in Dutch and that you hear: "tien euro, alsjeblieft". Would it be difficult for you to figure out that it means “ten euros, please”? Tien is not too far away from ten and alsjeblieft means please, a word you’ve certainly heard before if you’ve stayed in the Netherlands.

But, you can learn even more from this exchange. First of all, did you notice that in Dutch you say tien euro and not tien euros? If you observed all by yourself that, in Dutch, euro stays singular, then congratulations! Chances are high that you're able to pick up Dutch quickly.

Dutch has some great words about learning!

How much would you have to study in order to remember that you say tien euro and not tien euros? Hopefully, you would not have to study at all. Anytime that you buy something you would hear things like drie euro (3 euros), vijf euro (five euros), or honderd euro (hundred euros). Once you observe certain things, you will hear them again and again and you’ll find yourself picking them up.

Let’s go to a bigger challenge. You understand that "tien euro, alsjeblieft" means “ten euros, please” but, if you pay with a twenty euro bill and you hear: "alsjeblieft, tien euro", how would you interpret it? If that someone gives you 10 euros back, then it probably doesn’t mean please, right? Many people believe that Dutch words can only mean one thing but that isn’t the case. In this situation, it simply means: here you are or here you go! If you have a sharp mind, then you’ve just discovered that alsjeblieft can have two meanings!

It's not what you study, it's about what you see and hear!

Here is an important secret. If you can observe and jump to logical conclusions and apply this new information, you’ll learn Dutch very fast! The problem is that most people don’t listen to how Dutch really is, and instead they keep thinking in English. All you need to do is to sharpen your observation skills.

When most people think of learning, they always think of learning loads of new skills. But, there is one very important way of learning that most people overlook. In Dutch, we call it afleren, which is literally to “offlearn”, but it really means “unlearn” in English. It describes a situation where you stop doing certain things that you are very familiar with, or get rid of old automatic habits.

Let’s do a little test. Can you guess the meaning of this sentence: "ik wil een stroopwafel". Did you answer “I want a stroopwafel”? If so, then congratulations. Now, for a bigger challenge: afleren. It means that now you have to stop doing certain things. First of all, stop writing wil with double "L" like in English, you write wil with one L. Now, how would you translate: "ik wil drinken"? If you answered: “I will drink”, then one thing is certain: Afleren is a big theme for you now! Wil means "want" in Dutch. Just think of willpower in English, or someone's last will. Willpower and inheritance from someone’s will are also things that you want!

Is wil difficult to learn? Is there a lot that you need to study? Hopefully not, but even with some of the little things, it can still be tricky. Chances are high that you will still make some mistakes with wil for some time.

The good thing is that Dutch and English have many things in common with each other, many of which you can pick up easily. You just need to improve your observation skills, so that you can see and hear more and then come to new insights that you apply fast!

Learn through practice

Apart from afleren, there is another important way of learning in Dutch: aanleren. Aan has a relation with “on” in English, in the sense of continuation - that something goes on and on. So, aanleren is literally "onlearning", it means learning something bit by bit, but you’ll probably need to take multiple tries or more time to really master it. Once again, aanleren is about putting things into practice the right way, not theoretically studying it!

Also, if you spot some typical errors when Dutch people speak English with you, you can come to many new insights.

When most people like to learn a new language, they tend to focus on what they need to learn, rather than on how to learn. You can learn in many different ways. Also, make sure that you use afleren for things that are not that effective and aanleren for more fun and useful ways of speaking Dutch. It would be great if somehow you could also see leren as a great adventure - something that makes life far more interesting!

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 7-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
Check out his Facebook page
Watch videos on his YouTube channel
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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