Why is speaking Dutch so difficult?

Why is speaking Dutch so difficult?

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Have you ever wondered why learning a new language and speaking a new language are two different things? Albert Both from Talencoach explains why speaking Dutch is difficult and how you can make it easier for yourself.

Speaking Dutch isn’t easy

You may have attended some language courses already, you may have memorised long vocabulary lists and studied hours and hours of harsh grammar. But, even though you’d really like to speak Dutch for real, somehow you just aren’t getting the results you’d like.

One thing is absolutely certain, speaking Dutch can be a huge challenge. For around 20 years, I have been working with almost a thousand people as a Dutch language coach and here are some of the complaints that I have heard most often:

  1. “I know some Dutch, but I don’t feel confident”
  2. “Dutch people immediately switch to English”
  3. “Dutch people speak too fast”
  4. “Dutch people don’t understand me when I talk”
  5. “I don’t understand Dutch people when they talk”
  6. “I can say some simple things, but I cannot truly express myself”
  7. “I speak reasonable Dutch but, for some reason, I don’t like it”

When you see this list, it would be very easy to give up right? While all these points are very legitimate one by one, you can definitely still find a way to learn Dutch and live the life that you want.

Speak with confidence

Something we need to acknowledge beforehand, although it seems a bit like a paradox, is that most language courses are not really designed to help you with speaking. In most cases, you’ll just be overwhelmed with loads and loads of information. However, something that I have always believed is that you cannot learn something that you do not truly understand. So once again, if you are not happy with your Dutch fluency skills yet, don’t worry. Once you understand and apply certain principles and ideas, many things will quickly change for the better.

Let’s start with confidence (1). Many people believe that you need to build confidence before you can start to speak a language but how can you get confidence? Confidence is not something that you can buy at Albert Heijn with your bonuskaart. It is something that you can only gain while speaking Dutch.

By the way, did the idea occur to you that not feeling confident could also be a positive signal? It simply tells you that there are certain things that you need to learn and understand first. Nothing wrong with that right? As you try to speak, you’ll be learning new things and, step by step, you’ll find it easier to feel confident.

It is always a good idea to speak Dutch as soon as you can. Just start with simple things, like ordering koffie. In the beginning, it will feel very strange when Dutch words come out of your mouth, but when you do it again and again, it will start to feel normal. Once you feel relaxed while saying things in Dutch, you can start moving forward.

Slow down!

Yes, Dutch people automatically switch to English (2) the second that they think that you don’t understand certain things. This fact alone can make speaking Dutch a big challenge. For example, Spanish is not necessarily easier than Dutch, but Spanish is a lot easier to practice when people don’t speak English. It is important that you remain firm here, make sure that you keep talking in Dutch and, believe me, once your Dutch gets better, Dutch people will notice it and will keep speaking Dutch to you.

Whenever you speak a new language, you will always notice the same thing: people speak really fast (3)! Therefore, it is easy to believe that you could follow a conversation if people spoke slower. Unfortunately, in most cases, this simply isn’t true. Even if Dutch people spoke at a snail’s pace, chances are you still wouldn’t understand it. In most cases, it is more important that you know how Dutch really works.

Making Dutch people understand you (and understanding them)

One thing that can be very frustrating is when you say something and Dutch people don’t understand you. Somehow many people keep thinking in English and they pronounce Dutch words the English way. For example, boek has the same pronunciation as "book" in English, and also has the same meaning. But how would you say dood (dead)? In Dutch, it would sound like “dode”. If you pronounce it the English way, then Dutch people aren’t going to understand you.

Dutch spelling is very logical and consistent. It clearly shows you how to pronounce words. The only thing is that if you keep thinking in English, you’ll still do it wrong. The same thing is true for the order of words in a sentence: if you keep doing it the English way, it will quickly lead to misunderstanding!

Contrary to what you might think, if you’d like to really understand Dutch people (5), then just listening to some dialogues from a study book will not do the trick. You really need to understand how people put sentences together and how they create words. Too many people believe that understanding a language is all about memorising but, luckily, this is not the case.

Start thinking in Dutch

Another skill that you really need when speaking a new language is learning how to create sentences all by yourself (6) and you need to be able to do it fast!

Contrary to what you might expect, most language courses do not clearly explain this. And, on top of this, when most people want to say something in Dutch they think in English or in their own language first. Unfortunately doing so will quickly lead to frustration and failure. What you need to do is to start thinking in Dutch immediately, which is why it’s absolutely essential that you understand how Dutch really works.

Love Dutch!

Last but not least, speaking Dutch but not really liking it (7) may seem like a luxeprobleem, but it’s actually not. When you don’t really like Dutch, it can be quite hard to become fluent in it. Although there could be many different reasons, what I have noticed is that it often happens when people take learning too seriously.

By the way, if you cannot truly express yourself, then chances are high that you won’t like speaking Dutch. It is extremely important that you can freely talk about everything that fascinates you and about anything that is important to you. And yes, that includes feelings and emotions as well.

Time to speak Dutch like a Dutchie

Yes, speaking Dutch can be a huge challenge but also an exciting adventure as well. The most important thing to realise is that speaking a language is a skill in itself that you cannot learn by just memorising some words and phrases.

To really speak Dutch, you need a certain way of thinking, structured thinking, and you’ll also need some playfulness. One important thing is that you learn how to really enjoy it and that you are open to doing new and different things. If you do, it can be very refreshing and rewarding! And speaking Dutch will help facilitate further learning. So, make sure that you don’t just learn Dutch, make sure that you speak it and have some fun with it!

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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