Why does no one correct me when I speak Dutch?

Why does no one correct me when I speak Dutch?

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Speaking Dutch can be a great challenge. If you do speak some Dutch already, then you may have noticed that some things seem weird and crazy. Albert Both from Talencoach explains how you can make a few changes to your Dutch to make yourself better understood.

One thing that makes speaking Dutch more difficult is that Dutch people switch to English before you know it and, to make things worse, this is often not helpful at all. For instance, will Dutch people tend to correct you if say something wrong? For many people, this answer seems to be nee (no).

Say what?

Imagine, one day you hear about a new restaurant in Amsterdam, close to Central Station, that looks beautiful from the outside: de Schreierstoren. There’s only one problem, you don’t know where it is. So, you decide to ask for its location in Dutch.

First, you start with the easy part: waar is (where is). Now it gets far more difficult. How do you pronounce Schreierstoren? You try a couple of times, but everyone looks at you as if you are talking about an exotic animal somewhere in the jungle of Brazil. You try a couple of times and quickly decide to just show the word on paper. Aha! Now they say, “Ah you mean Schreierstoren (now with the right pronunciation, slightly different)” and point you in the right direction.

Although you feel relieved that you can now find this new restaurant, you might say to yourself: “Why didn’t they understand me when I said it?” When this happens more than once, it can get quite frustrating.

Dutch pronunciation

The first obstacle that most people encounter when trying to speak Dutch is pronunciation. You may have noticed that, in Dutch, there are some sounds that do not exist in English and if you follow an English logic system for pronouncing Dutch words, you'll find that Dutch people can't understand you.

So, the first thing to learn is how to say Dutch words the Dutch way. Chances are, if you don’t give up, you’ll start to understand a certain system. If you say something wrong, Dutch people will look at you in a strange way; clear feedback that what you said was probably wrong. Keep practising, things will get much better.

When you mispronounce words, Dutch people are usually eager to correct you, especially if it is essential information. For example, if you go to buy something like a vegetable, the vendor will want to be sure that you have what you asked for. However, when you try to communicate in whole sentences, the situations can change quickly.

You have to speak in Dutch sentences

When you try to formulate your own sentences in Dutch, there's a high chance they won’t make sense, especially if your only language is English. For example, if you say: nu ik wil hebben kaas (now I want to have cheese), the sentence may sound perfect to your ears. And, if you are given cheese, you might start to believe that your Dutch is perfect. Unfortunately, this is not true.

Yes, the sentence nu ik wil hebben kaas may sound perfect to English ears, but not to Dutch ears. So why do Dutch people not correct you then? Well, there are a few reasons.

But the most important thing to understand is that your self-fabricated Dutch sentence might sound correct to your ears but that does not mean that what you said is correct, even if no one corrects you. There is a risk, therefore, that you will keep repeating this mistake and ingrain it into your system. After a while, this will become more and more difficult to fix.

Now, there are two ways of looking at it. You could say, “I got my cheese,” and not worry about it. However, if, later on, you want to speak Dutch for real, you’ll quickly find that there are a lot of things you don’t understand, and you cannot communicate properly.

Expecting other people to correct you is not a great strategy

If you’d like to thrive in Dutch in the short term, you have to understand a few things. First of all, how often do you correct other people when they make a mistake? Chances are you don’t do it often. If you’re like most people, you just want to be polite and friendly.

Often, it is difficult for people to correct you, as most people cannot explain the mistake properly. If you make a mistake and ask “Waarom?” (Why?) it can be hard to explain why you’re wrong. Check it out for yourself: which sentence is better? Here the rain comes again or here comes the rain again. Like most people, you probably prefer “here comes the rain again." Would you be able to explain why? By the way, the fact that it is the title of a famous song is not a valid answer!

Here is an important question, and please answer it honestly: how often would you correct a person if they keep making the same mistake again and again? Two times? Three times? 10 times? Anyhow, there would be a limit to your patience, right? This is why expecting other people to correct you is not a great strategy.

To speak in Dutch you have to think in Dutch

When it comes to speaking a new language, it's important to realise that you really need a new way of thinking. Changing your way of thinking can bring your Dutch to a whole new level. If you keep your “old” way of thinking, you will keep making the same mistakes again and again. Whereas, if you know how a new language works, you can figure a lot of things out all by yourself. Soon, you’ll be able to improve your Dutch with every interaction that you have.

It is more important to learn how to think in a new, systematic way, rather than just studying and memorising long word lists. Yes, changing your way of thinking, even about simple things, can be a challenge that requires effort, but, once you do, you will quickly discover that Dutch is not that hard at all, and is actually quite logical, consistent and even funny.

Although changing your thinking takes self-reflection and discipline, it is far easier than just harsh study. When you truly ignite your natural ability to learn a new language, it is easy to discover that even when your knowledge is limited, you can achieve far more in the short term than you ever imagined!

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.

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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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