Why speaking Dutch can be hard, even if you study a lot

Why speaking Dutch can be hard, even if you study a lot

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Have you ever noticed that learning a new language and actually speaking it seems to be two different things? Initially, you might believe that if you want to speak Dutch fluently, you would have to study a lot. But… is this necessarily true? Albert Both from Talencoach has the answer. 

To study, study and study it again?

Whenever I ask people why they think that their Dutch is not at a satisfactory level yet, I often get the same answer: I have not studied enough. This explanation seems to make a lot of sense. If you want to practice something new, you need to study first before you can master it, at least that is what most people think.

So, here is something that you need to do, according to popular belief. First study, then study and study it again, then bring it into practice, study, study and study and then you’ll master it. Here is another interesting question: what do you need to do when you study? The answer is quite simple: memorise, everything and every little detail.

Let’s continue with a thought-provoking question. Why do you want to study Dutch? When you are in the Netherlands, it makes very little sense. All the information you need is already around you - so why would you want to memorise things that you can see all around you, each and every day?

The catch

The problem is of course that even when you are surrounded with all the information you need, it does not make any sense to you. But… would you agree that if you understand what you see, it is quite easy to learn it? Let’s use a ridiculous example. You see the word supermarkt. How long would it take you to understand that supermarkt means supermarket? Probably less than a second, right?

Here is the catch though. If you like to say supermarket in Dutch, would you remember that the Dutch word is slightly different? The biggest challenge for many people would be to say supermarkt instead of supermarket. So, the first thing that you need to be able to do is to notice things. Although it is easy to come to the conclusion that supermarkt is supermarket, it is also important that you can see that there is a difference and that you can now say supermarkt, which does take some form of discipline.

In a way, it is like adopting a new habit, and the sooner you practice it again and again, the better it is. But, be honest now… Do you really think that you should study for hours and hours? I do hope that your answer is no!


Here is the great news. Learning and speaking a new language simply starts with observation. You see certain things and then you come to certain conclusions. This is the first step. It is the second step that determines your success and that is that you apply your new knowledge fast, in real practice. When you really apply this new knowledge, again and again, you’ll notice, there is no need to study it again.

Find the hidden patterns

By the way, have you often noticed that studying can really work like quicksand? Sometimes, it seems that the more you study, the fewer things that you can actually say. If you think about it again, it makes perfect sense. For example, let’s assume that you want to study the days of the week in Dutch. When you try to remember it, do you notice that your focus is really limited right now? All that you can see is seven words of a language that has thousands and thousands of words. Not a great strategy, don’t you think?

So, here is what you need to do. Instead of focusing on very small and boring pieces of information, you start to work with bigger chunks of information. You just look at it and play with it and then you ask yourself if you see some hidden patterns. If you know how to play with a new language, you’ll notice that it is easy to come to new insights.


Here are a couple of examples. Ver means far in Dutch. Would you agree that if you replace V with F, it is easier to guess the right meaning? Can you see that ver means far? Good! Could you guess these three words now: vier, vlag and vuist? Once again, just replace V with F and you might come to the conclusion that they mean four, flag and fist. You can do a similar trick with zelf. Could you guess that zelf means self? Then simply replace Z by S and see with happens with these three words: zee, zon and zeef. It is probably easy to guess sea and sun. It might be a bit more difficult to guess zeef, so here is a hint. Een zeef is a filter. Can you now see that zeef means sieve?

Sure, you could simply remember all these new words just by studying alone. But without these important insights, chances are high that it will not help you build more confidence and self-esteem. Imagine that you studied a lot and that then you saw the words veld and zeester. If you have zero mental flexibility, you would only do one thing. You would ask yourself if this is a word that you memorised in a (distant) past and if the answer is no, you probably do not know what to do. But if you use your insights and creative thinking, you can still go ahead. It would be easy for you to come to the conclusion that veld is field and that zeester is seastar.

So, now it is time for the next step. You know that zeester is a star in a sea. Certainly, if you think visually, you could discover that zeester is starfish in English. By the way, it would help if you speak other languages, because in many other languages the concept of starfish is zeester as well, like in Spanish (Estrella de mar).

I hope that you can now sense the enormous difference between harsh study and playful discovery based on experiential observation. Although for some people it might be kind of a stretch to operate in this way, certainly in the beginning, it is a path that leads to far more confidence and resourcefulness.

Applying your new knowledge

Last but not least, the real secret is that you can apply new knowledge fast as well. If you see new words and when you know what they mean and how to pronounce them, there is virtually no one that could stop you from expanding your Dutch fluency fast. In the end, it is really that simple. The more you recognise in the Dutch world around you and the faster you start to use what you just discovered, the faster you’ll move forward. It is guaranteed. It is exactly what I mean when I say to my students that speaking Dutch can be easy if you open your mind…

Do you want to learn Dutch quickly and comprehensively? Get in touch with Albert at [email protected], or sign up for Talencoach’s Dutch Brainwash programme – an intensive 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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