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How to learn Dutch in 5 steps (explained by an international)

Date:16 December 2018
If you want to learn Dutch, be Dutch!
If you want to learn Dutch, be Dutch!

Are you an international student in Groningen looking to learn Dutch? Then you’ve probably noticed that this can be quite a difficult mission at times, and I definitely don’t blame you. Words like ‘Handschoenen’, ‘Uien’ or ‘Hagelslag’ can be a true nightmare to pronounce correctly, and may even cause some inexperienced speakers a sore throat. Trust me, being an international student myself who has struggled with the Dutch language on numerous occasions, I know exactly what you mean. This is why, in this blog post I want to share some of my personal tips on how to learn Dutch with you, so that you know where to start. Succes!   

1. Start with reading children's books

This is not as childish as it sounds! Reading children's books really helped me in the early stages of learning Dutch, due to the simple vocabulary and grammar used in them. To start off, I would recommend you to have a look at Jip en Janneke, which is about two neighboring kids and the youthful shenanigans they come up with. The language used here is quite simple, so you will most likely be able to move on to slightly more difficult stuff after reading one or two stories. Once you get the hang of it, I’d recommend you to check out “De Brief voor de Koning” ('The letter for the King'). This novel has been named one of the best Dutch children's books of all times, and deals with the adventures of a young squire in the middle ages trying to deliver a letter to the king. The best part about reading children's books though, is that you also get to know some basic cultural knowledge about the Netherlands as a bonus! However, if you consider children's books to be a bit too dull you can also have a look at some adult novels in simple Dutch. These novels have been written for people with reading difficulties and tend to have a slightly more interesting storyline. Pro tip: If reading books still seems a bit too difficult, you can get started by checking out an online Dutch MOOC or attend free language classes at the University!

2. Listen to Dutch music

Too tired to read all those books after a long day of uni? In that case, maybe you should try listening to some Dutch music! Listening to Dutch music is one of the things that really helped me, more or less subconsciously, to develop a better understanding of Dutch vocabulary. Usually, I find Dutch songs that I like through Spotify or by Shazaming them whenever I come across good ones (at parties, for instance). Then, I just add them to one of my playlists and after some time of listening I'll gradually be able to understand more and more of the lyrics. Another benefit is, that in many songs colloquial terms are used which you would hardly come across by looking at your standard language book. A big bonus of listening to music is that it also gives you a lot of repetition, which is always needed when learning vocabulary!  Some of the artists whose songs I’ve listened to, to practice my Dutch are, for example, Typhoon and Nielson. While we’re at it, also make sure to check out my blog post on Dutch songs about Groningen!

3. Watch Dutch TV

Another great way to include learning Dutch into your day-to-day activities is watching Dutch television! There are plenty of channels with English programs displaying Dutch subtitles, which makes for an easy start when you begin watching TV. Once you get the hang of it, you can also switch it around and watch Dutch programs with English subtitles (for instance Dutch movies on Netflix). Once you start feeling really secure you can try your luck with Dutch tv shows. The daily news at NOS is a good start, and personally, I love watching the weekly show “Zondag met Lubach” which is essentially a Dutch version of John Oliver’s LastWeekTonight. You can also find a number of other successful reality tv-shows in their Dutch versions (like First Dates!), as well as some special shows that would never be allowed to air in any other country than the Netherlands. No TV? No problem! Most programs are also available on youtube or on the websites of the TV channels.  

4. Find someone to speak with

Now that you have built up your vocabulary and perfected your grammar it is time to put your skills into practice. Try to find someone who you can speak Dutch with, as this is essential to truly master the language. Obviously, it’s kind of weird to just start speaking Dutch to random people and you definitely shouldn’t make the Albert Heijn cashier your language training buddy. However, there are some other options you could consider. If you are into sports, try joining a sports club where most members speak Dutch. You can also become active in one of the many student and study associations the UG has to offer and which mostly have Dutch-speaking members. Also, make sure to check out the events offered by the Language Cafe Groningen, where you can practice all kinds of different languages, including Dutch, with native speakers! Speaking from my own experience it is also true what they say: nothing makes you learn a foreign language like love, so you may want to brush up that Tinder profile a bit and find yourself a cute Dutchie to practice with ;)

5. Don’t give up

Although this is my last tip, this is probably the most crucial and difficult one: Don’t give up. I know it can be difficult to stay persistent, especially when you just placed that order in nearly perfect Dutch and all you get as a reply is a half-hearted “anything else?’ in English. The key to success is to not take these things personally. I have learned from my Dutch friends that such responses are usually due to the fact that a lot of Dutchies also love to practice their English when they get the chance to do so. In situations like these, I have tried to make it a habit to just continue speaking in my best Dutch regardless. Most of the time, people will react to this in a very positive way and actually switch back into Dutch quite quickly while appreciating the effort I am making. Learning a new language is never easy, and takes a lot of courage and persistence. But once you get the hang of it, it’s even more rewarding!  

So these are some of the tips I would give to anyone looking to learn/improve their Dutch. Even if you may never learn how to pronounce 'Hagelslag' like a Dutchie, your efforts will definitely be appreciated. Have you ever tried to learn Dutch or another foreign language? Feel free to share your experiences or tips in the comment section below! Tot ziens!  

About the author

Hey there! My name is Asmo and I’m a Finnish/German student exploring life in the Netherlands. Besides being into photography and politics, I am currently completing my double master's degree in European law and international law. Oh, and I write blogs as well.


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