How a different approach can improve your Dutch, fast!

How a different approach can improve your Dutch, fast!

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Are you struggling to learn Dutch? Do you feel intimidated by all those long Dutch words? Fret not! Albert Both from Talencoach has some handy tips on how just a simple change in approach can make learning a new language so much easier. 

Have you been trying to improve your Dutch for quite some time but are still – somehow – not entirely happy with your results? Chances are, you just focused on things that will not really make a huge difference to your language ability. But, here is the good news: with a simple shift of your focus, things can change - and fast!

Speaking in your native language

Let’s start with a simple question. What do you do when you speak English or your native language? Most likely, you have no idea. You just open your mouth and words flow out, right? Now that we're mentioning it, it's probably something that you've always taken for granted.

So here is the weird thing: you must be doing certain things, but you are unaware of what you are doing. However, the fact that you cannot explain what you are doing doesn't mean that you're not doing something specific to communicate.

Luckily, this isn't necessarily a problem. If you just want to talk, then why should you feel the need to explain what you do to create a sentence in your own language? Why would you care about knowing or not knowing this secret code? As long as you don’t have to teach other people, no one would be bothered by it anyway.

But, here comes the catch: what would you do if you would like to speak a new language like Dutch?

Changing your attitude towards new Dutch words

If you are like many other people, you might be quite optimistic about it. You may believe that if you hear and see Dutch often enough, you’ll pick it up just like that, the same way you picked up any other languages you speak.

Well, you may already have noticed that, although you will always pick up some things, chances are very low that you’ll pick them up automatically. Sure, you’ll learn what a stroopwafel or bitterbal is, but that's probably it. The reason for this is very simple. You can only pick up what you can understand and recognise, and if you try to do it with an unprepared mind, the Dutch language will be too overwhelming.

Here's the weird thing: although as a baby you were able to pick up the secret code of your language in a natural way, it is a talent that somehow disappears when you grow older. Strange, isn’t it?

There are many things that stand in your way if you'd like to pick up Dutch, just like that. First of all, if your native language is not German, the word order in the sentence will not make sense to you. Also, the amount of words that you need to learn is frightening. There are thousands and thousands of new words, and Dutch words can be very long. Chances are high that not much will make sense to you. So if you want to change that, what should you do?

1. Don't fall into the memory trap

Many people believe that an official language course will solve the problem, but unfortunately, quite often this is not true. The problem is that with most language courses you’ll focus on the wrong things. Maybe you already did a couple of language courses yourself. What did you notice? Were you made to memorise a lot of things? It seems logical, and this is exactly why so many people fall into this trap.

But really it is very simple. If you live in the Netherlands, then why would you waste so much time memorising things? The patterns are all around for you to absorb, if you just learn to look for them. 

2. Notice the things around you

Here is the thing: imagine that you live in a country and that you would like to learn French. If you don’t hear French in the place where you live, then just memorising words seems to be a good way to get started. That is why at schools, people have to study a lot!

But once you live in Holland, why use a method that takes so much time? All the information is already around you, right? Why would you memorise so many things by heart, if you don’t need to? If you walk around in the Netherlands, all you need to do is recognise certain things. For example, you could spend one hour practising all the days of the week, or you could simply walk around and look at the calendar now and then. Let’s imagine that you see the word Maandag on a Dutch calendar. How long would it take for you to understand that Maandag is Monday?

And, it could even get better! If you understand that maan is moon, then you’ll realise that maandag literally means moonday. So now, there is a change that you even recognise the word moon in Monday.

So here is the brilliant thing: instead of trying to memorise things like crazy, the first thing you do is start to scan many different parts of the language in larger quantities. Soon enough, you will discover that Dutch has a lot in common with English and that it is also a phonetic language. This means that the way it's written clearly shows how to pronounce it. So once you see it written, you can use it straight away!

3. Don't be afraid of new words

Here is another important secret: many people believe that you must have memorised it before you can use it, but the exact opposite is true. The only thing you must do is make sure you explore, with a playful mind, how the Dutch language works. Then, if you immediately use what you discover, you can pick things up really fast!

The question is not whether you can memorise things by heart, but whether you can discover specific things about words, structure, and many other things.

Here is another challenge: how would you interpret maandagmorgengevoel? When most people see a word like that, they first check whether they have already memorised it or not. When they cannot remember it, the reaction is always "I don’t know what it is." On top of that, the fact that maandagmorgengevoel has 19 letters causes a kind of panic. 

But what if you take a deep breath, relax, and focus on the things that you already know? Maandag is a word that you already know, and maybe you can also see that this long word contains the words morgen and gevoel. Chances are high that you have already heard goede morgen more than once. It means "good morning", right? So now, you only need to discover what gevoel means…

Try it this way: how would you translate this Dutch sentence? Ik voel enthousiasme. All right, I’ll tell you that ik means "I" in Dutch. Can you guess what it is now? Can you see that the sentence means: I feel enthusiasm? So, it's not too big a stretch to suppose that gevoel could mean "feeling"?

Now it is not that difficult any more, right? What would you say now? Do you like the maandagmorgengevoel? And yes, if you like, you can also be creative. You can also say weekendgevoel, if you like that one better.

Think fast, and have fun!

If you would like to learn a new language fast, then the most important thing you need to develop is that you can come to new conclusions fast and put the things you discover into action quickly. If you know how to have outrageous fun while doing it, then your success is virtually guaranteed!

Just one question: how does it feel when you simply start discovering things all by yourself, without having to memorise everything by heart? It feels much better, right? So here is the thing, if somehow you know how to combine learning with outrageous fun, you could become unstoppable within a very short time!

One last thing: if you want to save a lot of time, it is always great to find someone that can guide you on this journey. Why would you waste a lot of time figuring out things when you can speed the whole process up? With the right guidance, great things can happen, really fast!

And always remember: don’t focus on memorisation. Start to explore and immediately practice what you have just discovered. It is the fastest and most fun way to master a new language.

Would you like some more tips or guidance on how to learn Dutch fast? Get in touch with Albert at, or sign up for Talencoach's Dutch Brainwash programme  - an intensive Dutch course in the centre of Amsterdam. 

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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MaxG2 07:54 | 14 August 2020

A reeeeally good article. I agree that for me learning starts to get enjoyable when you discover and try, instead of read and memorise.