The dark side of learning Dutch

The dark side of learning Dutch

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If learning and speaking Dutch is so great, why do only a few people really go for it? The answer is very simple. There is a dark side... Albert Both from Talencoach explains.

Have you ever wondered what your life would be like in the Netherlands if you spoke better Dutch? It is easy to fantasise about all the great benefits and advantages that you would enjoy. Speaking Dutch would make things so much easier, right?

But if learning and speaking Dutch is so great, why do only a few people really go for it? The answer is very simple. There are many disadvantages as well, certainly in the (very) short term. So, this time, let’s forget about the positive stuff! Let’s focus on the dark side of learning Dutch!

There is a price to pay

Let’s start with a Dutch proverb: “voor niets gaat de zon op”, which literally means “for nothing goes the sun up”. It means that only the sun will shine for free and that for all the rest, you will have to pay.

Everything in life has a price. Learning a language is no exception. You could call it the law of sacrifice. What are you willing to give up in order to get something else that you really, really, want? Most people seem to understand the law of sacrifice but putting it in practice is a lot harder. Paying money is one thing - this one already hurts - but you will also need to put in a lot of time.

One of the first things that can get in the way is your work. Sure, you could use your holiday for learning Dutch, but many people won’t like that. If you could choose between a cruise or a Dutch course, which one would you choose?

Taking it for granted

The pain really begins when you start the course. Especially, if the only language that you speak is English!

If you only speak English, chances are high that you take for granted that many people speak your language to you. Everyone seems to appreciate your language and culture and even if you are unaware of it, it might give you a sense of superiority. Of course, you’ll notice that many people don’t speak English perfectly, but this inconvenience is easy to overcome because it makes life really easy.

It’s easy to underestimate the effort that it takes to learn a new language

It must be easy, right?

Here is another tricky thing that can happen. If so many people speak English to you all the time, you may erroneously come to the conclusion that speaking another language must not be a difficult thing. If all these people can do it, you should be able to do it too, right? Well… To your disgust, the answer might be a full resounding no….

Yes, it may seem that other people speak your language with relative ease. But what you often don’t see is all the effort that they have already put into it.

It’s easy to underestimate the effort that it takes to learn a new language, especially if you have never done it before. You may believe that all you need to do is to sit like a parrot and copy some words and phrases. But contrary to what you may believe, nothing is further from the truth! If you want to speak a new language with ease, you’ll need to go much deeper than that. You’ll need a whole new way of thinking!

Taking control of your thoughts

So, here is a strange paradox. In a way, talking seems to be very easy. You just open your mouth and words fall out. However, chances are high that you don’t even know what you are actually doing. Could you explain to a foreign person what you need to do if you want to construct a sentence in your own language? If the answer is no, a huge challenge is waiting for you!

If you want to speak a new language, you have to take control of your thoughts. This is easier said than done, however.

The one thing that most people overlook

Then, there is still your mind. It is very good at spouting negativity at you and it starts to act up when it feels like it’s no longer in control. When you are learning a new language, even simple situations can start to look difficult! Take counting, for example. Making a simple transaction in a shop can turn into highly advanced rocket science.

Also, even if you speak a new language at quite a high level, you’ll most likely be plagued with the constant thought that somehow you can’t say everything that you'd like, simply because you’ll always miss some words and ways of expressing yourself.

Sometimes, it may feel that you are a child again. You have to learn how to count again and even reading can be a challenge, because many of the letters that you learned years ago, all of a sudden sound different! It feels like learning everything that you thought you knew, over and over again!

Once again, one of your biggest adversaries may simply be your own mind. Minds hate it when they don’t understand things and when they feel like they are not in control. So-called simple situations can be extremely triggering because your mind's first reaction when you don't fully understand is to suggest that you are stupid! And you don’t want to feel stupid, right?

Even if you believe yourself to be an open-minded and adventurous person, your mind might be more closed than you think. Most minds tend to resist new information and thinking in new ways that do not always make sense at first can be a huge mental challenge.

A hierarchy

Here is another trap that may be waiting for you. In all of our relationships with other people – family and friends – there seems to be a hierarchy. Often, there seems to be a “higher” and “lower” status. This might be an abstract concept that you have never thought about, but if you start to observe more closely, you’ll see that it is always present, even if people want to believe that they are equal.

Many people love to be in control in social situations. This means that you understand everything and that you can say anything that you want. So, here is the thing… if a foreigner speaks your language, who is more in control? In general, it will be easier for you to communicate, while the other person has to do all the work (which somehow also lowers the status).

Now, just imagine what might happen if, all of a sudden, you had to speak a new language. You may miss things, lack words and find yourself unable to really express the things that you want to say.

Many people who speak another language simply try to translate and somehow a lot gets lost in conversation. It is easy to feel confronted by all the things that you do not know and all the things that you cannot do.

There is a simple rule. When you communicate easily, you’ll feel smarter than when you communicate with strain and effort. That makes speaking your own language or English very addictive!

You will make mistakes

You are bound to make a few mistakes, don't let it get to you! 

Anytime that you speak a new language, you are guaranteed to make mistakes and misinterpret things. So, if you have the idea that you should be perfect, you will have a hard time!

Consciously or unconsciously, many people believe that making mistakes is bad and that it will have a negative impact on how other people perceive you. If you are insecure, these will be triggered, fast!

You may believe that the only challenge for when speaking Dutch will be grammar and vocabulary, but the challenge will be greater than you ever imagined. One of the hardest things you’ll have to deal with is your own mind. Can your mind really deal with new information and can it stop spouting so much negativity about you and the whole world around you?

Train your mind

So, what do you think about the dark side of learning and speaking Dutch? Should you abandon your wish of speaking Dutch now? I bet your mind will love this idea! It will save you a lot of trouble! But, before you decide to do this, consider this…

Dealing with our own minds can be a huge challenge in any area of our lives. Simply quitting your dream to speak Dutch does not solve this problem. What you can do is use your Dutch as a tool to deal with your mind. You can train it to do certain things, even if your mind does not like it. This will give you many new opportunities to develop and grow!

Acknowledge it, but don’t focus on it!

Last but not least, your mind is very smart and deceptive. It is enormously cunning when it tries to stop you from doing new things in life. It will reason in many ways with you, and it is very easy to believe whatever it suggests. And then to make things worse, even Dutch people are eager and happy to give you discouraging information about speaking their language.

The good news is that if you like, you can still learn to speak Dutch with relative ease, just know that there is a dark side waiting for you. Recognise it, acknowledge it and be smart enough not to focus on darkness and negativity. Although it sounds like a cliché, the solution is simple… always walk to the light!

Albert Both is a specialist in learning Dutch fast whilst having fun. Sign up for his free workshop "Finding Dutch Flow: Opening The Floodgate to Dutch Fluency" on Sunday, September 15, 2019 in Amsterdam.

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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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Leave a comment

Daniel A Wybo 17:36 | 2 July 2019

Any English speaking person who wants to learn Dutch should go to a Belgian Dutch speaker. The Belgians speak Dutch with the soft G . It sounds so much more pleasant than the harsh Amersterdamish version of Dutch. Also let the Netherlands speakers criticize your speech, its they that are incorrect as evedenced by the victory of so many Belgian Dutch speakers who have won contests on linguistic pronunciations and use of the Dutch language. I'm Canadian and I speak English, but I'm not English you dont have to come from England to speak English. So to the Belgians who speak Dutch, but they are not Dutch. For too long the arrogant Dutch haughty and caught up in their self importance thumbed their noses at the Belgians meanwhile the Belgians perfected ther language. So again I say, it will be much easier for an Englush speaking person to learn Dutch from a Belgian , where the dark side of Durch does not exist.

Daniel A Wybo 17:37 | 2 July 2019

their typo

Silla Kim 19:22 | 4 July 2019

Actually we have a province here called Limburg. We speak a different dialect with the soft G. And even in the province Brabant they have a soft G. So why go to a different country, if you can just go to South Netherlands to learn Dutch. ?

Wendy Taylor Barnes 22:41 | 6 July 2019

Actually no I struggle to understand the Belgians & those from Limburg. ?

Wendy Taylor Barnes 22:57 | 6 July 2019

Are you sure you are an native English speaker ?

Cynthia Marmolejo 18:49 | 2 July 2019

This is the dark side of learning any new language... I expected to find bullet points specifically for learning Dutch :/

Merijn van Esch 15:45 | 3 July 2019

How is this specifically for the Dutch language? All of these things apply to every language ever. Bad article.

Theresa Schmade... 08:23 | 12 July 2019

Of course its difficult and uncomfortable. Learning and trying to speak a new language is exhausting. It's like running a mind marathon. What a pessimistic article. You sound as if you don't want people to try. My favorite sentence, " Everyone seems to appreciate your language and culture and even if you are unaware of it, it might give you a sense of superiority".