Conquering the Dutch language before moving to the Low Countries

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Babel Talen is the official language partner of Utrecht University, offering individual and group Dutch courses, from introductory to advanced levels.

So, you are planning to come to the Netherlands, and here you are, thinking about how to tackle the challenges that will inherently come as you work your way towards the Low Countries.

Sure, you may already be familiar with typically Dutch things this country is very well-known for: cheese, windmills, soccer, the Delta Works, tulips, an open society and beautiful works of art, among others.

However, one thing that you will definitely want to become more familiar with is the Dutch language!

Discovering Dutch

If you happen to have Dutch friends, a Dutch significant other or you know a lover of all-things-Dutch, you may have already been introduced to some lovely words which Dutchies claim to be untranslatable to English or other languages.

Some words that come immediately to mind are gezellig or hoor.

Different paths to learning Dutch

If you are moving to the Netherlands you may be asked to take the Basic Civic Integration Examination Abroad.

If this is the case, you will need to have a basic command of the Dutch language and also know some fundamental aspects of Dutch culture and society.

Some useful things you can do to learn Dutch are:
Practice with your Dutch friends or partner.
Find a local Dutch teacher or enrol in a course.
Use internet-based language-learning tools such as the language resources of the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

What aspects of Dutch should I focus on?

First of all, you should approach this new learning adventure with a go-getter attitude! The Dutch language is full of surprises and unique ways to express yourself and your thoughts.

Moreover, Dutch nationals really love it when you try your Dutch on them, so that's another great motivation!

What’s more, if you are planning to move here, whether it be for some years or for good, wouldn’t it be nice to find your place in society and to understand its citizens and culture in a more global way by speaking their own language?

If you answered "yes" to these questions then read on to find out which aspects of Dutch are the best ones to start with:

1. Learning sounds and pronunciation

In order to grasp the basics of the Dutch language it’s useful to try and incorporate Dutch into your daily life in ways that you find interesting.

Start with pronunciation

A good place to start is to learn the alphabet and basic pronunciation of consonants and vowels. Do this by listening to children’s songs and watching series such as Nijntje (or Miffy, as she is known abroad), a lovely little Dutch bunny who is a national favourite.

This way, you can also find Dutch sounds that are comparable to sounds in your native language.

Practice listening

Watching movies and series - Dutch subtitles optional - and listening to Dutch songs are both excellent strategies to help you to develop not only your listening skills, but also your pronunciation.

Training your ear to the Dutch sounds at an early stage will prove immensely useful! There are many sources on the internet that discuss these issues.

2. Growing your vocabulary

Learning new words is key to developing your Dutch. We already talked briefly about two lovely, typically Dutch words:

gezellig - an adjective used to describe something cozy or nice, which gives you a warm feeling inside, such as sharing a great day with friends.

hoor - an interjection used to give emphasis to what you say.

But, of course your new Dutch vocabulary won’t stop there! In fact, there are many more ways to expand your vocabulary.

For example, you can buy a pocket travel guide book which contains explanations in both Dutch and your native language. These guides are usually very helpful as they walk you through basic grammar principles as well.

3. Beware of "false friends"

One thing that language learners know by heart is the existence of "false friends". These are words that sound the same or have the same spelling in two languages but actually mean something completely different.

Think of trap in English and trap in Dutch. In English, a trap could be understood as a trick but in Dutch it just means stairs or a kick. Many an expat has fallen victim to these vile false friends, to the point that they never want to give their Dutch a try! Don’t let this happen to you.

What you can do is to look for all the false friends that your native language shares with Dutch so you can avoid blunders!

4. Wonderful cognates

It's even more important that you learn about cognates. Cognates are the opposite of false friends as these words actually mean the same in two languages since they share the same origin.

Think of school; this word is used in both English and Dutch and it means the same in both languages.

Now that you know about cognates, you can go on a cognate hunt and even multiply your vocabulary in Dutch as you already know those words from your native language. I think life became just a tad easier for you, dear expat!

Start your Dutch adventure

So, all in all, learning the Dutch language is an adventure that starts with a resolution and will continue for as long as you sail the waters of this beautiful land, the Netherlands. Good luck!

With more than 30 years of language teaching experience, Babel Talen is a top choice for many people who wish to learn Dutch in Utrecht or via distance learning.

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Pamela Zak


Pamela Zak

Born and raised in Quito, Ecuador, Pamela has had the pleasure of studying and living in the USA for 5 years and has been living in the Netherlands since 2014....

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