Practice makes perfect: Three easy ways to keep up your Dutch

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Babel Talen is the official language partner of Utrecht University, offering individual and group Dutch courses, from introductory to advanced levels.

As an expat, sooner or later you realise how important it is to understand and speak the language of your host country.

It doesn’t really matter when you start this process; the key is to take the plunge and give it a try, as learning the local language is one of the best ways to really understand the new culture around you.

Turn language learning into a habit

Once you’ve started your learning journey it is essential that you try to turn it into a habit. As the Dutchies say "oefening baart kunst", which simply means that "practice makes perfect".

Of course, we only become good at something if we do it often enough, and that same principle counts for language learning.

3 ways to keep learning Dutch

In a previous article I mentioned that there are many strategies to start learning Dutch, such as studying cognates, false friends, characteristic sounds and vocabulary.

If you’ve already got these things "under the knee" it is time for you to add some more strategies and habits to your repertoire to keep improving your Dutch.

1. Explore Dutch idioms and expressions

Why not start by learning some idioms and expressions that Dutchies are so fond of? You might have recognised the ones at the beginning of this article.

If not, keep your eyes and ears peeled so that you start spotting them in your daily interactions with Dutch locals. These pieces of language are important as they are deeply rooted in Dutch traditions, history and idiosyncrasies.

Also, since idioms cannot be understood word for word, learning them can save you from some oh-so-embarrassing blunders and misunderstandings.

A great source for leaning Dutch expressions is the card game "Het Spreekwoordenspel" where you get a card for each idiom plus a corresponding picture, description, example sentence and origin. Who knew learning idioms could be so much fun!

2. Use a monolingual Dutch dictionary

Sure, you may have several dictionaries to help you learn Dutch vocabulary. But some people make the mistake of constantly using a bilingual dictionary to help them learn new words.

If you instead use a monolingual dictionary to check the meaning of words, you will benefit tremendously from learning synonyms. You will also learn how to explain the meaning of a word in Dutch, rather than reverting back to your mother tongue.

At the same time, your brain starts making more associations and connections, which will be even stronger if you pair them with the situations that relate to that new word.

My recommendation is to use a dictionary that’s small enough to fit in a pocket or bag so that you can carry it with you. Your dictionary will hopefully become well-worn, a sign that it has been loved and frequently used.

3. Take advantage of online learning

Nowadays we can be as independent as we like when we acquire new knowledge, as it is always available online.

There are many online resources to help you improve your Dutch, so it’s wise to curate your selection to get the best sources possible. Here are some good places to start:

Dutch language newsletters

In my journey of learning Dutch, I have learned that being exposed to a new word every day proves immensely helpful. That’s why I always get new phrases and words delivered daily to my inbox via email newsletters.

There are many sites that will do this; I use "Learn with Oliver", which is a lesser-known language-learning website whose newsletter keeps me coming back everyday.

You can choose your preferred learning level and, once you have studied some of the vocabulary and phrases, you can head to the website and get more practice by taking short tests or playing games.

Online classes

Following a class online is a great opportunity to not only learn some new Dutch concepts but also to get real feedback on your progress.

With an online class you can build strong foundations that will allow you to keep learning Dutch confidently and avoid mistakes that might become fossilised and difficult to overcome if not corrected in time.

At Babel Talen we offer a Dutch for Beginners course which can help you prepare for the Basisexamen in het Buitenland if you are abroad.

It’s also a great start for learning Dutch if you are already in the Netherlands but cannot make it to a real classroom. As I mentioned earlier, you receive real feedback from the trainers who lead your online classes.

Tailored personal feedback is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to make your language-learning journey a supportive and friendly experience, as online learning can sometimes feel lonely.

Find your own path for learning

At the end of the day, you are the one who decides how you can best learn a language.

Most importantly, no matter how you do it, you must never let your learning process be stopped or interrupted. If you can stick to your path then you will feel proud and happy about the progress you make.

Who knows, you might inspire someone else to keep learning Dutch too!

With more than 30 years of language teaching experience, Babel Talen is a top choice for many people who wish to learn Dutch in Utrecht or via distance learning.

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Pamela Zak


Pamela Zak

Born and raised in Quito, Ecuador, Pamela has had the pleasure of studying and living in the USA for 5 years and has been living in the Netherlands since 2014....

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