Is it really that difficult to learn Dutch?

Is it really that difficult to learn Dutch?

Paid partnership

Is learning Dutch really that difficult? Most Dutch people would say yes, and it even seems that, in secret, they love this idea. Many people who try to learn Dutch as a foreign language complain about it. But is it true? Albert Both from Talencoach has the answer!

The answer? Yes, learning Dutch can almost seem impossible. That is, if you don’t know how to do it. The good news is that if you learn to think in a new way, then, all of a sudden, speaking Dutch can be relatively easy. Here are some tips to put you on the right track:

Good news for multilinguals

You may have heard many times from many different people that speaking Dutch is extremely difficult. Even linguistically talented people who speak three or four other languages somehow encounter some real challenges when they try to speak Dutch. Therefore, it is easy to believe that something about the language must be extremely tough.

However, if you look at the Dutch language, you will soon discover that it is actually one of the closest languages to English. And, although Dutch people don’t always like to admit this, you could actually see it as a kind of German-light.

Many Dutch words look like English words. If you know other languages such as French, Spanish, Italian or Portuguese, you’ll discover that many more words will look familiar to you. For example, words like “triest” (sad) or “duren” (to take time) make perfect sense if you speak one of these languages.

Also, some words that do not look similar to English words don’t have to look strange. If you start making your own associations, it is easy to learn many more words.

For example, the word “wet” means law in Dutch. Just imagine that if it rains, it is a natural “wet” that everything gets wet.

Understanding the rules (yes, there are rules)

So, what makes speaking Dutch so difficult then? First of all, if you believe that it is difficult, this will be the logical outcome. You will find it difficult, and you’ll struggle forever. If you’re not familiar with German, this assumption is easy to believe.

One of the first things that you may find difficult is the specific order of a sentence. If the order of a sentence does not make sense to you, then, of course, you will not get anywhere.

Dutch people love saying that the Dutch language does not have any rules. But, this is simply not true, as Dutch is actually kind of a light-German. And German has plenty of rules.

The order of a sentence is more or less the same as in German; however, the Dutch system is a lot easier. Also, Dutch only has two genders instead of three and there is no case system, which makes everything a lot easier!

If you want to figure out the structure of a Dutch sentence, try doing it in English first. Learning grammar rules in Dutch will only make things more difficult. Make sure that you separate these two things: understanding the structure (for this, it is perfectly ok to speak English) and speaking Dutch.

Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end

A great way to get started is to focus on all the logical aspects of Dutch. For example, Dutch spelling clearly dictates how to pronounce a word. Even if you see a Dutch word for the very first time and don’t know what the meaning is, you’ll still be able to pronounce it, as long as you follow some rules.

If you are a native English speaker, this may be a whole new experience! So, make sure that you get used to this revolutionary idea.

Let’s take a look at the Dutch word “knie”, for example. It rhymes with “knee” in English! But unlike in English, you do pronounce the “k” and the “ie” is always pronounced the same. Just compare the words “babies” and “cries”. Can you see that the spelling has nothing to do with the pronunciation? At least in Dutch, the pronunciation is logical and consistent.

Decoding Dutch

Next, you’ll need to learn how to think in more structured and creative ways. Dutch vocabulary is very logical and intuitive, once you know how it works. Let’s take the word “nederig”, you have probably never heard of it. So, now the fun can begin, we can do something that I like to call decoding. You can learn how to guess the right meaning of a word, even if you see it for the very first time.

If you look at the word “nederig”, you may look at the first part, “neder”, and think “Nederland”. Would you agree that "Nederland" could mean low country? Good, because now you can reason that “nederig” is like “low-ish”. Of course, this word does not exist in English, but it gives you a sense of the meaning. “Low-ish” means that a person puts him or herself in a lower position. It means that you don’t boast or brag. It actually means humble. Can you see the logic of it?

Here is another example. “Hand” is “hand” in English and “handig” is “handy”. Sometimes you need a bit more imagination. “Handigheid” literally means “handiness”, which in English you might call adroitness. If you have “handigheid”, it just means that you do things with ease. And “een handigheidje” is a little trick that makes things a lot easier…

Be flexible

Now, you may think that learning Dutch is only about learning the Dutch language, but nothing could be further from the truth. The secret is that you’ll have to train and expand all of your thinking in your own language first before you can learn a new language. People who are not mentally flexible are the ones that struggle the most when they need to learn another language.

This is why speaking a new language always has a positive effect on your communication skills. Somehow you become more aware and more resourceful. The secret is that when you are learning a new language, you learn how to think in a structured and creative way at the same time.

Dutch directness, the polite way

If you are a native English speaker, there is a good chance that you might find it difficult to be direct. The Dutch way of saying things may feel impolite or even blunt to you, but all you need to do is to get rid of your own inhibition.

For example, if you use the word “graag” (which means with pleasure), you can ask for anything that you want, whilst sounding respectful and polite: “Ik wil graag bier, ik wil graag koffie”. You’ll find that this little word makes all the difference. Sometimes, the only thing that really stops you from speaking Dutch is an uneasy feeling…

Let it go

Speaking Dutch is all about experimenting, having fun and making loads of mistakes. A part of you may be horrified at this idea, certainly if you are a perfectionist. If you somehow need to do things right and perfectly, it can stop you from enjoying Dutch language success.

But if you learn how to feel at ease, even if you say the wrong things now and then, it can be very liberating. You’ll develop a very important talent that could also be useful for public speaking or expressing your opinion in a meeting.

Impress with Dutch expressions

Here is one last tip. A lot of Dutch people don’t know anything about grammar and that is great news. It simply means that it’s relatively easy to impress them. Just use some expressions with typical Dutch words such as "fiets" (bike) and "klomp" (wooden shoe). Once you start using some expressions with typical Dutch words, Dutch people are sure to believe that you have integrated perfectly.

Some examples: “Oh, op die fiets!” (oh, on that bike) translates to: “Oh I see, that is what you mean”. And if you say: “Nu breekt mijn klomp” (now breaks my wooden shoe) it means: “What the f is going on?”

Be a believer

Sure, there may be some obstacles now and then, but if you believe in yourself and know that there must be a way to do it, somehow, you’ll notice that speaking Dutch is a lot easier than you may have initially thought.

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, March 18, 2018, in Amsterdam.

You can also:

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...

Read more



Leave a comment

Abhishek Ghosh 14:08 | 12 February 2018

Ummmm, nee ! Daar is een grote verschil tussen de uitspraak en spellen van een woord. English : There is one big difference between the spelling and the pronunciation. Words ending in en, and there are a lot in Dutch, the n is never pronounced. It is silent. Also, the Dutch G, or rather Ghhe, this is a very difficult sound. Graag is pronounced Ghhraaghh. Probeer maar :)

Noa Van Zoest 22:46 | 12 February 2018

Though I don't completely disagree with this, it's also not completely true. For example we don't say every word like we spell it, during the medieval times, and a bit after that Dutch people loved stuffing extra letter into words. Though you mostly see it in geographic names (think Drenthe, the h has no business being there) there are many words like this too. Not to start with our grammar, you make it sound really easy, but even most Dutch people struggle. A ton of immigrants struggle with die and dat. For example in English its that girl and that boy. In Dutch you say die jongen en dat meisje, this results in many non natives being very confused about this. Also fun fact, we say Dutch doesn't have any rules, because they're difficult, inconsistent, and have many exceptions. Still, in the basics you're not wrong! Just thought I'd throw in a few arguments as to why Dutch IS in fact very hard to learn. After all, it's no fun if you don't see both sides of a story!

AlbertBoth 10:56 | 16 February 2018

Hi Noa! Sure... any time that you learn a new language you will be confused a couple of times. But... Dutch is not harder than any other language. Yes, you do say that boy and that girl in English, but you also say ese chico and esa chica in Spanish. You say die jongen, because jongen is de and het meisje, because meisje is het. Any time that you make a word smaller it changes into het... You say de meid (which has a relation with maid) and het meisje. It is a consistent rule and there are many other things that can easily be explained :) And yes... you are right... learning Dutch can be very difficult if you don't know how to do it!

sn 16:42 | 5 January 2019

Nice article but not as easy to try to speak the language (any language) when people snicker at your improper pronunciation.

drafts 00:52 | 12 January 2019

That is true! It can be quite annoying so make sure that you don't give up! One of the essential skills that you need is that you keep on doing the good work, even when you get negative feedback at times..

Mockingjay 12:48 | 3 March 2020

Let's make some things clear now, because I can see that a lot of misteries and myths are lingering around this nice little language called Dutch. First of all: Dutch is not a hard language, nor is hard to learn. Period. I live in the Netherlands (Noord-Brabant) for almost a year now and I can speak upper-intermediate Dutch and I can read and write advanced Dutch. And I have learned only for one year and...I have learned by myself only with the help of online sources. Okay, for me this challenge was easier than for others, because I am a language teacher. I am a native Finnish, and I can speak native-like English and advanced Italian. Here in the Netherlands I always hear from Dutch people that Dutch is a super hard language and almost impossible to learn. Yesterday the "kassamedewerker" in Jumbo told me that it is the second hardest language on Earth. I had to stop myself from laughing to her face. Okay so...first, it is ridiculous, because it is not true. Second, it gives me the feeling that Dutch people are not so well informed about the world and about other languages out the German language family. What is true: - Dutch is harder than English and easier than German - for native speakers from the Germanic language family it is super easy to learn Dutch - the "ghh" sound is not so particular, see Arabic and Spanish (yes, Spanish g is pronounced almost the same way), so most speakers on planet Earth are familiar with this sound - what makes Dutch language a bit hard (I also admit) is the huge variety of dialects - Dutch grammar is not hard...if you want to meet and observe extremely hard grammar have a look on Chinese, Hungarian or...Finnish grammar ;) - Dutch is not the most beautiful (to hear) language on Earth (languages from the Romance language family are) - it simply depends on the time and effort invested how fast and efficitent you can learn the Dutch language (6-12 months) - a native tutor can definitely make you reach advanced level in a year- 1,5 year - learning Dutch is rewarding and useful, and let's language ^_^ And some academiv side-knowledge: - actually it depends on what your native-language is how hard it is for you to learn a specific language - all in all, Germanic languages are one of the easiest languages on Earth followed by Romance languages - really hard languages begin with Slavic languages (though not that hard too) and then Finno-ugric, Arabic languages and then all the languages in the East (Korean, Vietnamese...Japanese [God Japanese hurts]) - fact: for native-speakers of the Germanic language family it is one of the hardest to learn a second language out of the Germanic language family - every language has a unique way-of-thinking >> Germanic languages have an overall simple, logic and clear way of thinking, that explains why they are so successful in cooperation - if a language is hard to learn it does not mean it is a superior language or something. A not academic, but fact: I am sorry to unfold the truth for you Dutch folks, but most of the expats who don't learn Dutch or don't like to speak Dutch use this "Dutch is super hard to learn" urban-legend as an excuse. They just don't want to learn it, because it is not a nice language and hey...they can get by with English either way. And you know, because you believe so deeply in this fake-news that Dutch is hard lot of expats simply turn it against you. In other words, your national vanity (because behind this idea is a huge bit of nationalist feelings eh?!) helps expats to skip learning your language. So my advice to all Dutch native-speakers. If someone comes to you saying that aah he/she cannot learn Dutch because it is hard just don't believe it and say: "Come on dude, Dutch is not easy yeah, but is far from super hard, so please take the time and effort and learn it." Peace and Flowers ^_^ -