Is it really that difficult to learn Dutch?
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.
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…
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:
- Download his e-book "3 Steps to Dutch flow"
- Download his e-book "Why You Hate Learning Dutch and 7 Secrets to Change It"
- Visit his website Talencoach.nl
- Check out his Facebook page
- Watch videos on his YouTube channel
All free of charge!