Top 5 things that will help you learn Dutch
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When I look back at the time when I just started to learn Dutch and compare to how I am learning Dutch now - or any other language for that matter - there are some things I wish I knew then that would’ve made my learning experience either much faster or more enjoyable or both. Therefore, I would like to share my top 5 things with you that will hopefully help you at the beginning of your Dutch learning journey.
1. Make your own flashcards
You might’ve already heard about flashcards and how important they are when learning new vocabulary or consolidating words that we might easily forget. A flashcard usually looks like this: there is a Dutch word on one side of the card, and the translation or the image of the word on the other side. You look at the translation / image first and try to guess the Dutch word, or vice versa - you look at the Dutch word and try to guess what it means.
There are plenty of ready-made decks for almost any language out there, as well as some amazing apps or websites for making or finding flash cards. As good as flashcards made by others might look or be, none of them are as good as your own deck. Why? Firstly, language learning is a lot about input and repetition, which you do better when you do it yourself.
But what is even more important, is that words are best learned when they are associated with personal experiences, personal visualisations, or other associations that are personal. Why is that? Well, your brain learns new words better when they are associated with the things you already know or have experienced. It does that by creating actual physical synapses that embed the word and make its retrieval (when you need to remember a word) quicker.
2. Use internationally recognisable words
The second most important thing to words in any language is the language structure. Just like words are specific to a language, so is the grammar.
So, try not using Dutch terminology that you’ve never heard of before or will never use again. Instead, use the international terms that could be used in the Dutch language, like subject instead of onderwerp, or verbum instead of werkwoord. This way, you reinforce language structures that are specific to the Dutch language, but still use the vocabulary that’s understandable if you speak English. You can do the same when you practice your Dutch - use the more international words like pantalon, euro, appartement when the words broek, geld, woning don’t pop up on their own.
Another great thing about this game: it’s a great exercise for your brain and it broadens your vocabulary at the same time. The Dutch language is extremely useful when it comes to this strategy, as it has taken many words from Latin, Italian, French, English and German throughout the centuries. People often say that Dutch sounds like a mix of all those languages; use that to your advantage.
At some point, you will get the vocabulary right. As a beginner, it is important to exercise the Dutch language structures this way. Just don’t immediately switch (back) to English!
3. Say what you already know
The previous point is only applicable if you are missing one or two words that you can’t remember in an otherwise understandable sentence. As a teacher, I’ve seen many times before that beginners think of amazing and beautiful sentences in their head in their mother tongue.
When they try to translate a sentence in Dutch, it turns out that they are still far from having the necessary vocabulary to do so. The final result is that you either draw a blank, switch to English, or ask your speaking partner to translate every other word for you. Not the best way to communicate in Dutch.
It’s fine to form a sentence in your mother tongue in your head as a starting point because that way you know what you want to communicate. Now, make that sentence more simple in your mother tongue. Is the sentence still not simple enough? Again, make it even more simple in your first language. Managed to do that? Try to make it even more simple. No can do? Ok, now translate it in Dutch, by using the words that you know.
Consider this example: Starting sentence: I never had a similar experience before, but I am interested to try it. Simplification nr. 1: I never did that before, but want to do it. Simplification nr. 2: That’s new for me, and (very) interesting! Which one of the 3 above sentences would be the easiest one to translate in Dutch? You guessed that right. However, it should not be left unsaid that simplicity takes time and practice to master.
4. Practise as many scenarios as possible
A good and useful language course or a language learning strategy would account for the situations that you are most likely to encounter and the vocabulary that you will need for those situations: either when doing groceries, scheduling a visit to the cinema with friends, reserving a seat or ordering food at a restaurant.
You get familiar with those situations and practise the routines by incorporating the vocabulary - often as whole sentences - in dialogue form: an answer after a question after an answer, and so on. What virtually no language course can account for is the variability of the answers or the questions that you might get as a response to your own utterance.
In other words, you can exercise a dialogue but when you end up in such a situation, you might not always get the answer you expected and prepared for - and that’s when most of us draw a blank. What can you do about it?
Try posing a question to yourself in Dutch and think of the various possible answers you might get. Start with something as simple as ja and nee, and then try to reply to that. Dig deeper. Imagine that your speaking partner didn’t understand you and they ask you to repeat the question. Would there be only one way for them to say that? In what ways could they ask you to repeat what you just said? Would it be one word, a whole sentence, or a question?
Or, imagine a different scenario: you are at the checkout at a store and you want to pay by card. In Dutch, you are most likely to say something in the lines of: (Ik wil graag) pinnen. Now, imagine that the cashier says: De pinautomaat doet het niet meer. What do you say?
When you practice a foreign language either in your mind or by talking to yourself, your brain interprets it as actual practise, as if you are talking to another person. So, in case you can not find a speaking partner at the moment, be your own best friend or your own best stranger and start a dialogue with yourself. You will be doing your brain and your Dutch language proficiency an immense favour this way.
5. Engage in the language whenever and wherever possible
Surely, you’ve heard this one before. However, purely surrounding yourself with the language will not suffice. I know some people who live in the countries where a different language than their first language is spoken and - even though they are surrounded by the language at all times - they haven’t learned a word.
Why? They are just not interested. They don’t engage. They are getting exposed to the language and can pick up some words, but they are not learning the language. Hearing a language doesn’t necessarily mean that you are listening. Seeing a language (words and sentences) doesn’t always mean that you are reading.
The language skills of listening, and especially that of reading, are essential for the input, for learning new words. And they take effort. Start with these two skills - even before engaging in the remaining two language skills of speaking and writing - and while at it, try to take this into account:
- Take baby steps. Example: Following a cooking recipe in Dutch has a lower threshold than reading a novel in Dutch.
- Know the context. Example: Watching a Dutch series with the English subtitles. As long as the subtitles are on, you are not learning much. The learning happens when you turn off the subtitles. So, watch a couple of episodes to get familiar with the characters and the storyline. Then turn the subtitles off and watch further.
At TaalBoost, they have laid out the Dutch language courses - either virtually or in-class - in a way that will make your language learning journey at all levels as enjoyable and engaging as it comes. Interested to sign up for a course? You can do that by clicking here.