The hacker’s guide to the Dutch language

The hacker’s guide to the Dutch language

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Sarah Welling from UvA Talen, the independent language centre of the University of Amsterdam, shows you how to "hack" your way into the Dutch language. 

"Get the secret to learning a language in just seven days!" If you’ve ever googled anything about languages you’ve probably come across similar amazing claims.

Tips and tricks to speed up the learning process

The past few years there has been a growing interest in "hacking" languages: using tricks and technology to speed up learning.

Obviously, there’s no magic bullet: learning a language is never going to be effortless. But research into the way we learn has produced some useful insights that can make learning easier and more fun.

Combining some of these tricks and strategies with more traditional methods can help keep you motivated and reinforce what you learn in class.

Top "hacks" to learn Dutch 

Here are some of my favourite "hacks" for getting to grips with a language.

Repeat and learn

To learn new words, you need to be exposed to them a number of times. Traditional ways of doing this include using flashcards and vocabulary lists.

These days, you can find lots of apps online that make this much easier. These language learning apps use algorithms to work out the ideal frequency of and intervals between repetitions (a concept known as "spaced repetition").

They also make learning more fun by adding a game element. Scoring points and completing levels adds motivation and makes learning seem less like hard work.

Bite-sized learning

Language learning apps also present the material in manageable, bite-sized chunks. This makes it easy to work on improving your skills, even if you just have five minutes a day - you can do it while travelling on public transport, or waiting for an appointment.

Like New Year’s resolutions, setting yourself unrealistic goals (such as spending an hour a day studying, for example) is likely to backfire. Doing a little a day is more achievable and therefore more effective for most people.

Top words

Another tip that can help when you’re starting out in a language is to focus on the words that are used most often. This gives you a basis of key words you can use as you start to learn grammar and form sentences.

Language learning apps often include courses based on the 100 or 500 most frequently used words in languages (including Dutch). Start small though, especially if you don’t have much time.

It’s also interesting to see which words are used most often in a language. Although a large part will be the same across languages (think of verbs like "to be" and "to have"), some of them will be more specific to the language and culture. 

Curious about the most frequently used words in Dutch? Here are the top 10 nouns, verbs and adjectives, based on spoken Dutch (according to

Nouns: Beetje (a little), mensen (people), jaar (year), tijd (time), dag (day), dingen (things), man (man), moment (moment), kinderen (children).

Verbs: zijn (to be), hebben (to have), gaan (to go), kunnen (to be able to), moeten (to have to), zeggen (to say), doen (to do), zullen (will), worden (to become), weten (to know).

Adjectives: goed (good), heel (very), gewoon (ordinary), eigenlijk (true), ander (other), natuurlijk (of course), leuk (nice), groot (big), lang (tall).

Home immersion

To reinforce what you’re learning, you can also try to find ways of tying it in with your physical surroundings. Writing the Dutch words for things on bits of paper and sticking them on the corresponding objects in your home is a classic method that was already being used by language learners long before the digital age!

You can also think of other ways of integrating your new language into your daily routine. One simple way is switching the language settings on programmes you use on the computer, giving you instant added exposure.

Or try putting a Dutch radio channel on while you do the chores. Even if you don’t understand very much of what people are saying, just listening to the sounds of Dutch helps your brain familiarise itself with the language.

Use these methods. Wisely!

Again, none of these methods will make you fluent overnight. But you can use them as a springboard to start picking up the language around you. And they are a great way of reinforcing what you learn in a group course or one-on-one lessons.

So, if you haven’t yet, why not give them a try and see what works for you. Veel succes!

Sarah Welling works at UvA Talen, the independent language centre of the University of Amsterdam. Their fast-paced courses help students make rapid progress learning English, Dutch and nine other languages. Visit their website of follow UvA Talen on Facebook for more information.


Sarah Welling


Sarah Welling

I am half Dutch and half English and work as an editor and translator. I am fascinated by the subtle and less subtle ways in which my two languages and...

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