Learn Dutch: You may have probably already noticed it: Dutch is a really, utterly, immensely, ridiculously, hopelessly hard language to learn. It. Just. Makes. No. Sense. Don’t worry, Dutch people know this. It’s hard for them too! In their endless kindness they have learnt English, and they often make spelling mistakes or grammatical errors in their own native language. What follows are 8 proven tips – to learn the Nederlandse taal, and to have fun doing it. Ben je er klaar voor (“are you ready”)?
Tip 1 – Use the wonders of technology to get a good grasp on the basics.
When you are a total beginner to learn Dutch, knowing where to start can feel rather overwhelming. You do what you already do for everything else: you use your smartphone. Download a language learning application to teach yourself the Dutch basics. There are several language apps available out there, among which HelloTalk, Memrise or Babbel, but our favourite by far is the amazing Duolingo app and it is free. By the time you finish the course, you’ll have a good vocabulary knowledge in a wide variety of subjects (food, animals, holidays, nature, home, transports, etc.), and you will have developed a strong instinct on how to construct a sentence.
Tip 2 – Don’t be too cool for school.
Although Duolingo is indeed very intuitive and will give you a good overview to learn Dutch, nothing can help you navigate through the complex Dutch grammar like a qualified teacher.
- Your first option is to hire a private teacher for one-on-one lessons. Private Dutch teachers are easily findable on specialized tutoring websites such as Apprentusand on local expats social media pages. On the other hand, private language teachers in the Netherlands are often freelancers who pay their own taxes, which means that they charge rather high fees. Private lessons will cost you on average €35 – €40 per hour, with most teachers requiring a commitment of minimum 20 hours, paid in advance.
- The second option is of course to join group lessons in a language school. These work out usually a little cheaper than private lessons and offer extensive courses for all levels. Sharing the lessons with other learners can help you feel less alone in your language learning journey and make the learning more fun, which will definitely boost your motivation. Language schools are easily findable online; check out for example Talenmeesterin Hoofddorp, or the nationally recognized Dutch language school Taalthuis which has a branch in Haarlem.
Last but not least, if you are struggling to learn by yourself but cannot financially afford lessons, the gemeente (“municipality”) Haarlemmermeer and the central library of Hoofddorp are there to help! In the Bibliotheek (“library”) Hoofddorp-Centrale, a program called the Taalhuis was opened in 2016 for anyone who needs help with learning or practicing Dutch. Through the Taalhuis program, the library gives you advice on all Dutch courses and schools that exist in the region; they provide you with free study material and access to the library computers to practice the language; and they direct you to free courses taught by volunteers.
Tip 3 – Read, Forrest, Read!
A lot of reading is indubitably the best way to make sure words (and their correct spelling!) will stay in your head. In other words, you’ll have to start with the easiest reading there is: children’s books. Once you feel a little more confident, you can move on to the ultimate classics of Dutch children literature. Namely, pretty much every book ever written by the one and only, Annie M.G. Schmidt: ‘Jip en Janneke’, ‘Pluk van de Petteflet’, ‘Minoes’, etc.
Your level of Dutch should have significantly improved by now, which means you are probably ready for teenage literature. No Dutch kid has gone through childhood without at least hearing about ‘Kruistocht in spijkerbroek’ (Crusade in Jeans) by Thea Beckman. Finally, take a book where you know the story already, you’ll be surprised at how much you can understand!
Tip 4 – Accept pop culture as your best ally.
Books are great, but they won’t help you master the tricky Dutch pronunciation. Music, movies, TV and other Dutch-speaking entertainment will. Podcasts and radio shows are another great way to improve your Dutch listening and understanding skills. Try ‘Zeg het in het Nederlands’, 20-minute long podcasts in which Dutch is spoken a bit slower than normal to help listeners fully understand the stories, or ‘SBS Dutch’ which offers quick overviews of the latest Dutch news, in Dutch, during podcasts lasting from 5 to 15 minutes.
Tip 5 – Make Dutch friends to learn the street lingo.
To succeed in making Dutch friends, there are several steps you can take. Invade Dutch people’s natural habitats, such as Yoga and Zumba classes, festivals, snack bars or anywhere that has beer. Or use your native language as a trading currency: a lot of Dutch people will be happy to practice Dutch with you in exchange for some help with a language that they want to learn (there are many language exchange events organised all over the place in Haarlem or Amsterdam, join one!).
Tip 6 – Out of your comfort zone you go: work Dutch.
“I can’t find a job in Dutch unless I speak it perfectly”. Hum, wrong! It’s the other way around. You will only ever speak Dutch perfectly if you force yourself to use the language, even when your level is low. ESPECIALLY when your level is low. And forcing yourself also means finding a regular activity where you have no choice but to speak Dutch.
There are a lot of jobs you can do on a part-time basis (on the side of your main English-speaking expat job) where you can use Dutch in a non-stressful way. Jobs you can do with limited Dutch proficiency include service in cafés or restaurants, and retail. These sectors are in critical staff shortage in the Netherlands, so jobs are easy to come by.
Werk ze! (Bonus tip: this expression literally translates to “work them” and is used all the time as a nice, encouraging phrase for people who are on shift. The English equivalent would be more like “go get them”. You could say werk ze to your cashier at the supermarket when you leave, to which they would reply dank je wel, “thank you”. It doesn’t get much more Dutch than that.)
Tip 7 – Explore the country, move around and open your ears to accents.
Dutch sounds different, very different, whether you are in Friesland up there in the great north, or in Limburg near Belgium, or in Amsterdam. And just like in any other country, every region of the Netherlands claims to have the best accent.
Chances are, as a Haarlemmermeer resident, that you are learning the Amsterdam / Haarlem kind of Dutch right now – that’s the one they speak on TV. But, should you want to take your Dutch understanding ability to the next level, it is very good for you to get used to all the other accents too.
Tip 8 – Repetition is key. Practice every day and do not ever give up!
Dutch can escape you as fast as it came to you, if you forget about it for a while. Language is funny like that. The only way to make sure you maintain a steady progress is by using Dutch, every, single, day. It might take two decades for you to be bilingual. And that’s ok! Believe in yourself, don’t be self-conscious about your Dutch level, accept Dutch people’s corrections and criticism with a smile, learn from your mistakes and just keep going. All your hard work will pay off, eventually. We promise!
On that note, doei! (“bye bye”)