A lot of people that I have met over the years show a lot of interest in learning Dutch at first but soon become very unmotivated because no matter how hard they try it seems that everyone always answers them in English… even if they try their very best in Dutch. It’s not easy but it is possible to get past this, as long as you meet these three “requirements.”
- Learn enough Dutch to actually have a conversation
- Make sure you are able to be understood and are able to understand others
- Have confidence!
These may sound like simple steps but each one can take quite some time to achieve and yes no matter how much you want to learn Dutch you must practice, practice, practice, contrary to popular belief it does not just happen by living in the Netherlands.
Building a Dutch Base
There are really a lot of resources out there to help you learn languages and maybe the best place to start out is right here in your own city. The library has lots of language learning material and for a nominal yearly fee (around €30) you can become a member and sign out as loads of material to get you started. There is actually a whole section on the ground floor dedicated to learning Dutch! The library is not your thing? Okay, there are also websites that help you get started as well. One of my favorites was Livemocha. Here you can do small lessons to learn some Dutch and then you are able to submit typed and spoken exercises to real Dutch people who give you feedback all for free. The catch? You help people learn your native language by giving them feedback on their submitted exercises. After you have a base, learn as a native. Although it will certainly feel strange, go back to the library and sign out children’s books. They are easy to read and have a lot of pictures to help if you do not understand everything. As you become better here you can progress to more challenging books. Children’s dictionaries (kinderwoordenboeken) are an amazing resource. These books have pictures of almost everything and are labeled in Dutch, English, and sometimes even French. Not only are the things themselves labeled but also the parts of things. Imagine for example all the different parts of your bike you may need to talk about when telling a story about getting a flat tire.
What did you say?
Okay so now you know a bit of Dutch but can you understand others and be understood? Probably not right away. You will not be able to speak and understand Dutch if all you ever do is study without practice. Find someone who will speak in Dutch with you so that you can become familiar with spoken Dutch and not just proper written Dutch. Even better, find a language group where you can practice with others. For me, the Amsterdam Dutch Language Meetup Group was amazing. Here you are able to practice what you’ve learned with both foreigners that have much more experience than you but also native Dutch speakers. I am now an organizer in this group and plan on having more events in Haarlem. Why not join us for our first joint expatsHaarlem/meetup.com event. For more information, check out the event here.
Confidence is a must! For me this was the hardest one. I wanted to be perfect but was too embarrassed to let people hear me make mistakes. You have to get over that. Talk as much as you can in Dutch and make mistakes! Don’t get discouraged if it is wrong, just make sure to learn from that mistake and you probably will not forget it again. There is no way you are going to get better without talking in Dutch all the time and making mistakes.
Finally, you should not look at this as a checklist that you do in order. Start right away with immersing yourself in the language. So you only know how to say things like hi, my name is, and how are you? Use it. Then who knows, maybe the person you are talking to will teach you one more thing and then all of a sudden you learned something new without even trying.
In the end, if you put in the effort it will come. I never thought it would for me and now I use Dutch every day at work, in social situations and really everywhere. Am I perfect, no, but that’s okay because I have a strong base, am able to understand others, be understood myself and I have confidence while doing it. Even today I still take every opportunity I can to learn more.
Good luck in your endeavor at learning Dutch. It is a challenging one but trust me, it’s well worth it in the end. Hope to see you at our event in June!