Learning to unlearn: Change your Dutch for the better!

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They say that if you want to achieve something, you have to work hard. Therefore, if you want to speak Dutch, then you should study hard, right?

It sounds logical, but what if it’s not true? What if you could increase your results, not by studying harder, but by changing the way you learn?

Don’t study harder, change the way you learn

In Dutch there is the word leren. It means both to learn and to teach. In a way, it is a great example of yin and yang philosophy. Once you teach, you’ll always learn and therefore in Dutch learning and teaching belong together.

You may have the greatest teacher in the world, but in the end it’s your attitude that makes the difference.

Unlearning language habits

In Dutch there is another great word: afleren. Some people in English call it "unlearning". It simply means to stop doing what you automatically do.

Just like avoiding biting your nails or smoking cigarettes if you’re stressed, afleren is the process of stopping an automatic response that you often do, even without being aware of it.

Afleren or unlearning is also essential for quick Dutch language success.

The principle is simple: Dutch and English have many things in common, so Dutch often works in the same ways as English. But unfortunately using English-language habits can also block you from learning Dutch.

Unlearning pronunciation

Take pronunciation for example. Dutch spelling is quite consistent. How you write it is how you pronounce it. But you must follow Dutch rules. If you’re not careful and pronounce words the English way then Dutch people will find it difficult to understand you.

Here's an example: "week". The Dutch pronunciation sounds like "wake". But if you pronounce it the English way, then Dutch people hear you say wiek, which is the spade of a mill.

So if you see a new word like beek (stream) then remember that in Dutch it sounds like "bake", and deel (part) sounds like "dale".

Once you understand that Dutch spelling is consistent then you can pronounce almost all words correctly, even if you don’t know what they mean! All you have to do is to let go of your English-speaking habits.

Get used to different pronunciation rules

For an English-speaking person, it is a strange idea that certain Dutch letter combinations all sound the same.

In English pronunciation is always a surprise. Take "road" and "broad" for example, or "blood" and "wood". The spelling is the same but the pronunciation is completely different!

The fastest way to speaking Dutch correctly is to just accept the idea that spelling is logical and consistent!

Unlearning word order

Another important thing is that in Dutch the verb comes always second. You can say "Ik drink nu bier", or more correct: "Nu drink ik bier".

Sure, people will still understand you if you say, "Nu ik drink bier". But if you can follow the simple rule that the verb comes second then you’ll suddenly sound more intelligent.

Here are some other nasty things that you might be doing without realising: If you say, "Ik ben in Nederland voor twee jaar", it means that after two years you’ll leave.

You can simply say, "Ik ben twee jaar in Nederland" and then you have the perfect sentence that you have been in the Netherlands for two years already.

Unlearning spelling

Also, if you want to improve your writing skills in Dutch, then unlearning is massively important.

Have you ever wondered why "pill" is written in English with a double "l"? Sure, it looks logical to you, and probably you’ll argue that it’s perfectly normal, but if you look closely then you might admit the double "l" at the end doesn’t really make sense.

You don’t write "stopp" or "bedd" right? So why double the "ll" at the end of "pill"? It doesn’t even help pronunciation! No wonder that in Dutch one "l" in pil is enough.

Many things in Dutch are not that difficult, but they are definitely different from English. If you apply all the English rules to your Dutch then you’ll ruin your Dutch.

Shaking old habits takes discipline

Luckily unlearning doesn’t require a lot of study, but it does take discipline. First of all it’s important to realise what you do automatically, just admit that you throw in English all the time!

So make sure that you are really willing to do things the Dutch way. It might feel strange and uneasy at first, and chances are that it doesn’t feel or sound right. But if you do it consistently for a while then soon enough you’ll sound much more intelligent while speaking Dutch.

Lay a foundation for fast progress

Once you know how to pronounce Dutch correctly, or how to put the words in the right order, it has an almost immediate positive impact on your Dutch.

You could say that you are laying a rock-solid foundation. Once you eliminate English interference then the rest is much easier!

Aim for intense practice

The fastest way to eradicate old habits that have been deeply engrained in you is to practice the new habits many times within a short period. A couple of days in a row works much better than one hour per week.

You’ll need great energy and determination, but once you stop doing things that don’t help you and that stop you from speaking great Dutch, you’ll notice the huge impact.

What’s more, you can unlearn things in so many different playful ways!

Half of your success

I dare to say that afleren, or unlearning, is almost 50 percent of your learning success.

If you want to learn fast, then afleren should be an important focus. It has little to do with study, and if you do it again and again, then you’ll grasp it quickly.

Unlearning is that secret element that will make all the difference for your Dutch!

Albert Both is a specialist in learning Dutch fast while having fun. Sign up for his free workshop "Finding Dutch Flow: Opening The Floodgate to Dutch Fluency" on Sunday, November 6, 2016, in Amsterdam.

› 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
› Check out his Facebook page
› Watch videos on his YouTube channel
All free of charge!

Talencoach Don't worry, speak Dutch

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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