Learning Dutch with Annie M.G. Schmidt

Learning Dutch with Annie M.G. Schmidt

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Direct Dutch Institute recommends speaking Dutch as often as possible -  even if you only know a few words of Dutch. Ruud Hisgen talks about the famous Annie M.G. Schmidt and three of her fun poems / songs which can help you learn Dutch.

Almost all Dutch natives grew up with Mrs Schmidt, i.e. her stories, her songs, her poems, her television series, her feature films, her plays and her musicals. Her full name, of course, is Anna Maria Geertruida Schmidt. She was born in Zeeland in 1911 and she died in Amsterdam in 1995.

Even though Annie M.G. Schmidt (as everybody knows her) is no longer among us, her texts are alive and kicking. They are available in bookshops and libraries, but they can also be bought for an “appel en een ei” (literally an “apple and an egg”), meaning “for a song” or “next to nothing” at “kringloopwinkels” (shops that specialise in recycled goods).

When you’re learning Dutch, you can always count on Annie M.G. Schmidt to help you out. There is more to her than just the “Jip en Janneke” stories. Ruud Hisgen suggests three songs that students of Dutch may find entertaining and instructive.

"Beertje Pippeloentje" for absolute Dutch beginners (A0-A1)

The first book a new learner of Dutch should purchase is “Ziezo”. It is a true treasure trove, containing 347 children’s rhymes and hundreds of marvellous illustrations.

The short but sweet title "Ziezo" means, “There you are”, and even after only a few Dutch lessons, you’ll be able to find words and phrases that you’ll recognise. Try to understand more words by looking them up in a dictionary. Read the poem aloud to yourself and enjoy the sounds. Google the title of the poem and you’re likely to find a video on Youtube. Listen and sing along. Involve your kids, if you have them!

A popular song cycle in “Ziezo” (p. 229-235) is “Het beertje Pippeloentje” (Little bear Pippeloen). As you know, the Dutch love diminutives, which they make by adding “je” or “tje” to the ending of a word. This has a cute and endearing effect.

Diminutives are also handy for you, as a student of Dutch, as the nouns are always ”het-words”. In the first poem “Pet” (cap), almost every word has been made into a diminutive. You’ll also see how “geen” (not a / no) and "heeft" (the third person singular of “hebben”: has) are used. Here are a few lines from the first stanza:

Kijk, het beertje Pippeloentje / heeft geen sok en heeft geen schoentje / heeft geen dasje en geen boordje / en geen tasje met een koordje…. / geen ponnetje voor in bed / maar / Pippeloentje heeft een pet!

[See, little bear Pippeloen / has no sock and has no shoe / has no scarf and no collar / and no bag with a cord… / no nightie for in bed / but / Pippeloen has a cap!]

"Dikkertje Dap" for Dutch learners at level A1+

In “Ziezo”, on page 28, you’ll find the Dutch song of songs, an icon of Dutch culture. Everybody knows it by heart. Bring up the title “Dikkertje Dap” in passing and your average Dutchie (male or female of any age) will spontaneously start singing or reciting the verse.

It is a poem about the daring little boy called “Dikkertje Dap” and his amazing adventure with a kind giraffe in Artis Zoo. The name “Dikkertje” suggests that he is far from skinny (“dik” means “thick” or “stout”) and “Dap” is the first syllable of “dapper” (meaning courageous or brave). In other words, it’s about a child whom the Dutch consider to be “the real deal”.

This poem can help you to practice the present tense, the past tense and the imperative mood. You’ll also learn how to tell the time and how to do your ABCs, as well as all kinds of handy phrases for daily use. Here are the first few lines of this famous poem / song:

Dikkertje Dap klom op de trap / ’s morgens vroeg om kwart over zeven / om de giraf een klontje te geven. / Dag Giraf, zei Dikkertje Dap, / weet je wat ik heb gekregen? / Rode laarsjes voor de regen! / ’t Is toch niet waar, zei de giraf, / Dikkertje, Dikkertje, ik sta paf.

[Dikkertje Dap climbed up the ladder / early one morning at a quarter past seven / to give the giraffe a sugar lump. / Hi Giraffe, said Dikkertje Dap, / have you heard what I got? / Red boots for in the rain! / You’re kidding, said the giraffe, / Dikkertje, I’m flabbergasted.]

I won’t spoil the story by giving away the surprise ending. I’ll just leave it at the fact that there is a friendly giraffe in Artis Zoo that will speak Dutch to you. If that’s not an incentive to continue your Dutch studies, I don’t know what is.

Want to know more about Dikkertje Dap? On October 4, 2017, a Dutch film with the same title premiered. It was obviously inspired by Schmidt’s poem. So if you have studied the poem, go and see the film (and bring your kids) in Dutch. IMDb has rated it 7.7 (out of 10) and it was given four stars (out of five) by many Dutch critics.

"Niet met de deuren slaan" for Dutch learners at level A2+

“Ziezo” concludes with a cycle of poems or songs called “Niet met de deuren slaan” (Don’t slam the doors). These texts were selected from the popular television series “Ja zuster, nee zuster” (Yes nurse! No nurse!), which was broadcasted in the late sixties and made into a popular film in 2002.

Both the television series and the film can be watched on DVD and many songs and sketches can be seen on Youtube. The title song “Ja zuster, nee zuster” can be found on page 282 of “Ziezo”. Take a look at the end of the film:

Again, there is a lot of Dutch grammar and vocabulary that can be learned from these poems. But most importantly, these songs are full of useful idioms and phrases for daily conversations.

Laten we allemaal doen wat we willen / zonder te schreeuwen en zonder te gillen. / Doe wat je ’t liefste doet. /Ja zuster nee zuster / Dan is het altijd goed.

[Let’s all do what we want / without shouting and without screaming. / Do what you prefer to do. / Yes nurse, no nurse / Then everything is always alright.]

Share your favourite Dutch poems / songs

If you have had a look at “Ziezo”, please share your favourite songs or poems below. And once you’re really hooked on Annie M.G. Schmidt, try one of her many novels and watch, for instance, the film Minoes (2001) with Carice van Houten (Game of Thrones).

If you’re curious about the capricious character behind all of these masterworks, you can read the biography “Anna, het leven van Annie M.G. Schmidt” or watch the successful musical “Was getekend, Annie M.G. Schmidt”, which is currently touring the country. All of this will improve your mastery of the Dutch language in no time, and moreover, it will be enjoyable.

Are you now a fan of Mrs Schmidt and want to learn the Dutch language whilst having fun? Sign up for one of the Direct Dutch courses! For more info, fill in the form below.

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Ruud Hisgen


Ruud Hisgen

Ruud is teacher and managing director at Direct Dutch, he is also an author.

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