Have you been learning Dutch for a while, and have you noticed that somehow having real Dutch conversations is not that easy? Albert Both – also known as Meneer Dutch Brainwash – has 15 crazy tips that can help, and chances are high that many of them you would not expect.
Turn it around
Would you sometimes tell yourself that you don’t speak Dutch because the language is quite difficult? This thought sounds quite reasonable, right? But what if the opposite is true? What if Dutch is difficult because you don’t speak it enough? Speaking a language is the fastest way to learn it. Here is a funny thing, if your native language is English, then Dutch should be easier to learn than Spanish, but somehow, most people believe that somehow Spanish is a lot simpler. The reason is simple. Spanish people are very good at ‘gently forcing’ you to speak their language. Because of this fact alone, it often seems that Spanish is easier. Of course, it is not necessarily true when you look at Spanish grammar (certainly verbs), but if you speak a language repeatedly, suddenly, it seems to be a lot easier!
Start as soon as you can
Even if you only started your first Dutch lesson today, make sure that you immediately start using it. For example, it could be simple questions such as hoeveel kost dit? (how much does this cost?). If you do this repeatedly, you will quickly learn numbers and prices in Dutch, and you will no longer have to memorize them. So here is the good thing, if you start using Dutch immediately, it will save you a lot of time. Why would you lock yourself up in a small room with boring books if you can learn loads of Dutch in real life?
Forget about performance for a while
Sure, you may have memorized some dialogues already, but did you realize they are all staged and faked? The conversations you will hear in real life differ from those ‘dialogues’ in your textbook. Therefore it would be a stupid idea to go for that perfect performance. Sure, your textbook may guarantee that now you should be able to handle ‘certain situations’, but unfortunately, this is often not the case.
Now instead of going for a ‘perfect performance’, make it a goal to learn things. Then, when you notice that you can pick up new things every time you say something in Dutch, it will be far easier to feel confident! Confidence does not come from perfect memory. However, once you discover that you can figure things out on the spot, you’ll suddenly feel a lot better!
Have you noticed that memory is often linked to places? For example, if you visit your country again, certain memories will turn up. Or maybe you see some former colleagues of a job that you used to have, and suddenly you think of certain things. When most people learn a new language, they go to school and read one book. But here is the thing. If you do this, everything you will learn will be tied to that school and that book. So now what you need to do is to make sure that you bring everything that you learned too many different places. In the supermarket, a café, your yoga class. I love to call it expanding your memory field. Your memory field is all the places where you speak Dutch, and size truly matters! The bigger it is, the more fun you’ll have!
Here is an important secret. If you speak Dutch in many different places, it will somehow get a lot easier. It is the same if you know a person. Suppose you know a person from only one context. In that case, it will somehow be different from when you interact with someone in many different places. If you speak a language in many different places, you somehow feel that you know this language much better! And then, if you go to a new place, it will also be easier to speak Dutch! This is the great secret of expanding your memory field!
Be willing to ‘fail’ many times
Your first conversations will probably be very short, certainly in the beginning. Sometimes you will only say 3 words and then ‘crash’ immediately. Here is a simple fact, most people that try to speak Dutch stop too soon. They try to have a Dutch conversation and immediately feel overwhelmed and frustrated. But this is how it all starts. Even when you think what you said is absolute crap, you still go on, and you will do it again and again. See yourself as an iris scan. In order to function properly, an iris scan needs to scan hundreds and hundreds of eyes first. The same thing applies to you. You also need to get used to so many different voices, accents, people, and usages of language.
Make sure that you give yourself enough time. And once again, even if you believe everything you did was nonsense, the opposite is true. What you just did is more important than you could ever imagine!
Appreciate it if other people speak your language
If other people speak your language, really appreciate it, certainly when they make mistakes! Why? The secret is very simple. If you can see other people as competent and intelligent when they say something incorrect in your language, it will somehow be very powerful. The reason is simple. You will do to yourself what you do to others. If you can appreciate other people, even when they make mistakes, you will very likely be far more at ease when you make certain mistakes as well!
Use your fingers
You have 1 mouth and 10 fingers, and this has a reason. If you do not know certain words, you can use your fingers and point at it. In most cases, Dutch people will tell you what the word is that you are looking for.
Let’s say that you need the word exhaustion pipe. You can worry that you don’t know the right word, but… you can bring your car to the garage, point at the exhaust pipe, and then say het werkt niet (it does not work). The Dutch person may say de uitlaatpijp werkt niet? So here is the trick: if you are smart enough, you’ll quickly learn that it is like outletpipe, and you learned something new. Do this again and again, and you’ll naturally get more competence and confidence.
Keep it short and sweet
If you are like most people, you try to make sentences that are too loooong and cram too much information in one sentence. Here is an example: I notice that my exhaustion pipe makes strange sounds while driving. Just change it in: I am in my car, and I hear my exhaustion pipe and then imitate the sound… Ik ben / zit in mijn auto en ik hoor mijn uitlaatpijp… PRRRRRTTTTTT (and then you imitate the sound). You get the idea, right? So keep it short, and be creative!
Find your ideal target audience
For some mysterious reason, it is easier to speak Spanish with Spanish-speaking people than to speak Dutch with Dutch people. They easily switch to English, and somehow they also seem to be less patient. However, if you find the right people, you can still start many conversations. You may find it easier to speak with other dog owners if you have a dog. Also, shop owners can be great people that practice your Dutch with. If they own the shop, then in most cases, they will be happy to talk about it. It also helps if you see people more regularly. Go to these shops where you will see the same people again and again. Just know that these shops now offer something else: free Dutch mini-lessons.
Do not worry if you feel exhausted after 1 minute
Having a conversation in a new language can make you feel exhausted, even after 1 minute. But if you keep talking a new language again and again, then soon enough, it will feel much lighter. I love to call it: training your Dutch language stamina. You need to do it repeatedly, and you will not feel tired anymore. And it could even give you some new energy, certainly when you notice that things are getting better and better.
Pay attention to attention
If you like to speak with new people, then simply look where the attention is of the person you like to talk with. For example, if a person walks with a dog, you can say dat is een gezellige hond! (that is a nice dog!). Likewise, if a Dutch person waters a plant, you can simply say, hoe gaat het met de plant? (how is the plant doing?) You get the idea, right? If you share the same point of attention, it somehow makes conversations a lot easier. It seems that you share the same interest, and now that the focus is not placed on the other person anymore, it is easier for them to have a conversation with you.
The great thing about this technique is that it can help you use your improvisation skills. You will now be able to act in many different situations! You can use it both in positive and negative ways. You can complain about the same things, and it is always a great idea if you can talk about great things that are lighthearted.
Dutch words can have more than 1 meaning
Always remember that many Dutch words can have more than 1 meaning. Alsjeblieft can mean here you are & please. Morgen is (good) morning and tomorrow. And lekker can mean loads of things. It is everything that tastes good or feels nice. Therefore if you hear certain words, always be flexible with your interpretations and the great news is that with many Dutch words that you already know, you can use them in many different situations.
Do not think in English first
Most people think in English first when they want to say something in Dutch, but this is the fastest way to get stuck. Start to think in Dutch as soon as possible and simply use the Dutch words you hear in a Dutch conversation. Here is an important secret, in the end, it is all copy-paste and… although it might feel like cheating if you simply copy the words you hear from other people, the opposite is true. People actually feel quite thrilled if you use their words… For them, it feels as if finally, there is someone that finally understands them.
Everyone has their favorite words, and see if you can find them. You’ll quickly notice that somehow it creates a great ‘bond’ once you start using them.
Start playing with simple words
Probably you are smart enough, and you already figured out that hallo means hello, and dag means hello or goodbye. However, there is much more to discover. Have you discovered that these words go with many different intonations? Certainly, the informal word doei (only when you go away) can be used with many different melodies and when people like each other, they will say the word doei many times. You’ll notice that the tone goes up.
How you say simple words such as hallo & dag can significantly impact your conversation. If you say it in a very formal way, then you immediately create distance. However, if you play with different intonations, you’ll quickly notice that it can make conversations much lighter and nicer. It is as if you can give your conversation a certain energy. Just start listening to how Dutch people say hallo & dag to each other and also start to play with it. It can have a great impact! These little words can literally set the tone of a whole conversation!
Thou shalt entertain Dutch people…
If you say boring things to Dutch people such as, ik doe mijn best, maar Nederlands is moeilijk (I do my best, but Dutch is difficult), they will quickly fall asleep. If you are looking for pity or sympathy, then most likely Dutch people will not give it to you. The reason is simple, most people have spent at least 1000 hours to speak English with you, and the thought that now it is your turn to return the favor is quite reasonable. On top of that, Dutch people quickly switch to English, so somehow you need to catch their attention. One great trick is using words they do not expect from you. Somehow, they will be intrigued and like to know what else you might know.
It is always a good idea to have some weird and fun Dutch expressions ready, and once again, make sure that you bring in some entertainment. For some reason, I found that many Spanish-speaking people like to teach you some basic things such as counting etc. Still, as a Dutch person, it seems this does not really have our immediate interest. If you do too basic stuff, many Dutch people will see it as boring, and they will walk away or switch over to English. So once again, feel free to say some ‘silly things’ and keep your conversations light, and with some positive energy, you can bring Dutch people in a good mood.
Last but not least…
As a Dutch language coach, I have often heard from people that their Dutch is not so good because they have not studied enough. And although you need some knowledge and certain insights, speaking Dutch for real has little to do with doing your homework diligently and studying for looong hours. The thing that matters most at the end – and also from the beginning – is this: can you really dive into Dutch life and have outrageous fun with it?
When you are ready to go one step further, check out the Dutch Brainwash. This masterclass is a tried-and-true program that has the power to revolutionize your Dutch. Aside from tripling your vocabulary in minutes, the Dutch Brainwash has some unique claims to fame. This course is designed to be tailored to the individual desires of its students. Meaning, you won’t be learning tired phrases from your textbook written in 2003 about where to buy a CD-ROM. The seven-day intensive course allows you to create your own sentences about anything you please.
by Albert Both, talencoach