How formal education can ruin your Dutch

How formal education can ruin your Dutch

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Have you been following some Dutch courses already and have you noticed that somehow you cannot say much? Then chances are high that something stands in the way. Perhaps it could be the way that you learn Dutch! In this article, Albert Both from Talencoach explains how although language courses can help a lot, they also often stand in the way. Somehow, they may slow down your Dutch and if you don’t like this idea, make sure you know what to do about it!

If you have been walking around in the Netherlands for some time, you must have noticed one thing … people do not speak the same language as in your own country. Although it could give a sense of adventure, after a while, chances are high that things start to get a little annoying - certainly if you don’t know what is going on.

You could be a better learner than you think!

Let’s imagine that you go to a shop and you see that it is “Open”. Open is exactly the same as in English, right? Until now, life has been really easy! But imagine that now you see the word gesloten … Have you already discovered what gesloten means? Gesloten is closed!

So, here is the thing. While you hear and read different things in Dutch, you will actually start to pick up something of the language, just for practical reasons. For example: have you already discovered what ja and nee means? If so, then congratulations! You are a great learner!

Learning Dutch becomes harder

One thing is certain … when you live your life in the Netherlands, you will start to pick up some things and you will probably also be able to say a couple of things. But unfortunately, at some point, this “natural” learning will stop all of a sudden.

You may believe that if you are in the Netherlands, you’ll start to learn the language automatically. Unfortunately, this is not true. Soon enough, you’ll discover that there are too many things that you don’t understand and you could even come to the conclusion that Dutch must be very difficult.

Most courses will not bring fluency

One thing is certain … if you'd like to speak Dutch for real, then obviously you’ll need a course. No wonder that many people sign up for it, but… sooner than later, most people have used up their enthusiasm and optimism within a couple of hours of starting.

Although a course could be a good idea, there are many disadvantages. You may have noticed a couple of things already. Quite often, they are quite overwhelming, certainly when your teacher only speaks Dutch to you and uses a lot of grammatical jargon that even Dutch people don’t understand.

Have you noticed that in many courses, they hammer a lot on the idea of studying for long hours and doing loads of homework? Many people - including teachers - believe that if you hear and read things often enough, you’ll pick it up automatically, but unfortunately this is not true at all. Sure, you’ll always learn something, but often the amount of what you learn is quite depressing …

So, here is the first problem. Most courses focus a lot on memorising like crazy and repeating things over and over again. Quite often, there seems to be a mechanical approach and it is quite often also extremely boring. You can only talk about one subject and the structures are often very rigid. That is why you could come to the conclusion that Dutch is too difficult for you and that, somehow, you are not intelligent enough to grasp it.

When you are bored, your learning is always slow!

The only question is: is it true that Dutch is very difficult and that somehow you are not gifted enough? In the context of most traditional language courses, it may seem true, but … what if the opposite could also be true? Imagine the idea that you are smarter than you think and that Dutch is not that hard, but actually quite logical and consistent?

Of course, you would never come to this conclusion when you follow traditional courses, but … the reason is very simple. There are always a couple of things that you will not find in traditional language courses.

First of all, you do have a natural learning ability and you probably are curious enough to know what is going on in your environment. If you picked up that gesloten means closed, then you already have proof of that!

What to do instead of taking traditional language courses

So, here is what you need to do. Instead of just studying and memorising, you need to expand and accelerate your ability to pick up Dutch so you can use it. It can be a very natural process. Imagine that you see the text: honden aan de lijn. Would you be able to figure out what it means?

Could you figure out that hond is dog? It looks like the word “hound” in English, although this one is far more specific than a dog. Could you then imagine that honden means “dogs”? If so, congratulations! You discovered an important rule about Dutch structure. While in English you add an -s for multiplying things, in Dutch you often add -en.

So, what does aan de lijn mean then? It looks like it's on the line, right? You might think that it means that the dogs are online, but this does not make a lot of sense. So, here is the thing, lijn in Dutch is “line”. You could say, “Een figuur heeft lijnen (a figure has lines)” and lijn in Dutch can also mean a cord or leash. So, the sentence means that your dog needs to be on a leash!

You know more Dutch than you think

Although it may be difficult for you to imagine, you know much more Dutch than you think. Dutch has many things in common with English, you just need to learn how to play with it and discover some simple principles. Instead of just focusing on boring dialogues, you can start to play with many sentences and words about all different kinds of subjects and once again, you can be surprised at how fast you can learn!

Anytime that you learn something new, it is important that you do it with intensity and enthusiasm. Make sure that you use it a couple of days in a row and that you’ll learn fast. Once you learn fast, it is easy to feel good about yourself and then you’ll probably also like it. Just combine this great progress with some outrageous fun and unleashing your Dutch could be much more rewarding and exciting than you could imagine.

Relevance is important to learning Dutch

Here is another thing that Albert noticed while working with over 1000 students. People always learn faster when they can create Dutch sentences about anything that matters in real life. The more relevant something is for your life, the easier it is to focus and to pick up things. If what you learn is really about you, you’ll learn like crazy!

Natural learning

Here is one more important thing … It all starts with freely exploring and experimenting with new things. You can simply test what works and what does not work. If it works, then congratulations. If it does not work, then find something else. Have fun with it, enjoy making mistakes and you’ll experience natural learning.

The great thing is that nothing beats natural learning. It is also that great combination between structured thinking and creativity. While traditional methods often suggest that there is only one right way to say something, once you learn it in a natural way, you’ll quickly discover that you’ll often have many different options to express your ideas in Dutch. You’ll discover many shortcuts and once you can think in flexible and new ways, all of a sudden you’ll understand and speak Dutch much more. Great things will happen, once you change some of your ideas about learning!

Want to start speaking Dutch fast? Take part in the intensive, seven-day Dutch Brainwash programme from Talencoach

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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