Stop doing this one thing and get your Dutch to the next level, fast

Stop doing this one thing and get your Dutch to the next level, fast

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As per usual, Albert Both from Talencoach gives us a unique way of looking at language learning. This time, he tells us we really need to stop doing this one thing, if we want to improve our Dutch... What thing, you ask? Well, read on and find out!

Have you ever wondered what you’d really need to do if you want your Dutch to get to a whole new level, fast? You might think that you just need to study more and harder, but this is not the case, necessarily. What is needed, however, is that you change your thoughts about learning and speaking Dutch.

Let’s start with a simple question: how do you think that speaking and learning Dutch really works? You may have picked up some first words already, such as bier, koffie and stroopwafel.

If new words look similar to words you already know, learning these words is not that difficult. However, soon enough, you’ll face a whole new challenge. You’ll need to put the words that you’ve learned into a sentence and constructing a correct Dutch sentence is a whole different ball game!

One of the first Dutch words you’ll learn is goedemorgen. If you are smart enough, you can probably figure out that it means “good morning” and guess what, you are absolutely right!

Maybe you’ve also figured out another sentence, such as “hoe oud ben je?” This (obviously) means "how old are you?" And then, before you know it, you might jump to the conclusion that all you need to do is think in English and simply replace the English words with Dutch words. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

The fact that “hoe oud ben je?” is similar to the English translation is actually a coincidence. If you translate this into other languages, the construction would be different. In Spanish, “cuántos años tienes?” literally means “how many years do you have?”, “Quel âge as tu?” in French means “which age do you have” and in Turkish “kaç yaşındasın” literally means “in which year are you?”

Dutch can be very judgmental, just like English

Have you ever noticed that only in Dutch and English you sound judgmental when you ask someone’s age? When you ask how old someone is, the assumption is that someone is already old! This is not the case in Spanish, French or Turkish.

Here is another funny thing. If you ask in Dutch what time it is, you would not ask “welke tijd is het?” Dutch people would react rather confused. To their ears, it sounds more like “in what era or period are you?” Instead, they say: “hoe laat is het?”, which literally means “how late is it?” You can clearly see that in the Dutch mind, it is already late! No wonder that so many Dutch people feel so stressed all the time. ?

Just be more creative and imaginative 

One of the most important things that you need to realise is that if you want to speak a new language, you need to do much more than just simply translate. If you translate word by word, it may work at times, but often will not make sense. What you really need to understand is how people in another language look at the world.

Let’s play with another example. If people ask “how are you?” You know what to say right? Good, fine, bad or crap are all great answers. If you translate it in Turkish (nasılsın​​​​​​​?), it would also work. But… if you ask in Dutch “hoe ben je?”, Dutch people may be very confused again. To them, it could mean “how did you get here?”

In Greek, when you say “ti kaneis?”, it literally means “what do you do?” It could literally mean “what do you do for a living”, far more often it means “how are you? And how do you do?”

Wat doe je?” in Dutch could only mean “what are you doing” and the phrase “hoe doe je het?” would mean “how do you do it” or “how do you proceed?” So, if you want to ask “how are you?” in Dutch, you simply need to ask “hoe gaat het?” (How goes it?) This also makes perfect sense to the French mind, when they say “comment ça va?”

So, if you thought that speaking a new language just means that you think in English first and you replace the English words, you are in for a shock. But if you are fascinated by how other people and cultures look at the world with different eyes, you’ll probably feel far more excited.

It doesn't make sense

One of the things that can help you is to take a critical look at your own language and have a certain sense of humour about it. Even in English, when you take a closer look, you may discover that many expressions do not always make a lot of sense. Let’s play with a couple of examples, you’ll see what I mean…

Take “here you are” when you offer something to someone. What could be wrong with “here you are?” But then, imagine giving a donkey to someone. Would it make sense to say: “here you are?” Not to the Dutch mind, they would simply say: “alsjeblieft!” There is no suggestion whatsoever that you could look like a donkey!

What happens if you say “have fun?” You would understand it, right? But then, once again, you could also interpret this in a different way. First of all, it sounds like an order… Why are you telling me that I must have fun? And why should I have it? I could also feel it or enjoy it, right? Sure, “veel plezier” (much pleasure) may sound incomplete to your ears, but don’t you think that “much pleasure” is the most important thing here?

Also, a simple “you are welcome” if a person thanks you, does not make sense if you say: “je bent welkom”. In Dutch, we would rather say “graag gedaan” (with pleasure done). Who are you to decide whether I am welcome or not? Once again, nothing is wrong with the idea that you are welcome and at the same time “with pleasure done” sounds positive, don’t you think?

Playing with different languages

I hope that when you read these examples, there will be a smile on your face. I personally love to see which constructions and expressions people use to communicate. Once you understand that there are many different ways to say different things, you start to discover funny and interesting things in everyday life, also in your own language!

One thing is certain. If you’d like to get to know another culture better, there is no faster way to do it than by learning the language of that culture. You’ll be surprised how many things Dutch has in common with your language. At the same time, you’ll find so many things that are funny, entertaining and quite hilarious.

For this simple reason, I love to play with different languages. I love to see how different languages have their own view of the world and the more I play with them, the more flexible my brain gets, and I feel that somehow it helps me to understand life on a deeper level… I am curious as to what your experiences are. Has it helped you to look at things from more than one perspective?

One last tip that I like to give is this: if you want to speak great Dutch, really open your mind! Don’t reject things if they are different, just embrace them. Chances are high that once you appreciate Dutch as a language – even when it does not always make sense to you immediately - you’ll end up appreciating your own language even more!

Albert Both is a specialist in learning Dutch fast whilst having fun. Sign up for his free workshop "Finding Dutch Flow: Opening The Floodgate to Dutch Fluency" on Sunday, April 5, 2020, in Amsterdam.

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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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