5 Ways To Boost Your Dutch
For any expat in the Netherlands, the following sentence should not come as a surprise: it is difficult to speak Dutch in the Netherlands.
The statement has little to do with the relative difficulty of the Dutch language. Although Dutch is not easy to master, chances are it is most probably less complicated than the language you already speak. When we say it’s difficult to speak Dutch, we mean that, unless your Dutch is impeccable, the reply you’ll receive from the locals will be in English.
As a learner, you might be wondering why the Dutch are gatekeeping their language from expats. The most straightforward reason is that the Dutch are pragmatic people. Being a nation of traders and travelers, this is reflected in the ways of communication: it needs to be swift and goal-oriented. Therefore, if your Dutch conversational partner estimates that the language exchange will be more efficient in English, then they will automatically switch.
The trick is:
- not to take this personally, as this is likely to be the case even when their English is worse than your Dutch, and
- to perfect your Dutch on your own and not leave them any space for the switch. For the latter, TaalBoost – Dutch language courses has prepared tips on 5 ways to boost your Dutch.
We’ll look at each language skill: reading, listening, speaking, and writing, in that order. Reading and listening belong to the easier skills of the four, as they are receptive. They demand less cognitive effort than the productive skills of speaking and writing and are easier to master. Since receptive skills always precede productive skills, we’ll build our list that way.
Boost Your Dutch Reading
You should always start with reading: it’s a great way to learn new words, and you have the luxury of time. You can always pause, look up the new words and reread at your leisure. It’s the language skill that keeps you in your comfort zone.
Now, let’s take the reading skill and spice it up (pun intended) with another, for example cooking. This combo will not only be beneficial for your Dutch vocabulary and cultural competence but will bring forth a warm meal at the same time.
Remember the Dutch being pragmatic? That’s reflected in the kitchen as well. The Dutch spend on average 18 minutes preparing a warm meal, which makes them world champions in the shortest amount of time spent in the kitchen. Pretty neat if you have a busy schedule.
What will you be cooking? It all boils down to a variation in 3 types of ingredients, all contained in the abbreviation AVG: aardappelen (potatoes), vlees/vis/vegan (meat/fish/vegan), and groente (vegetables). The options are limitless. You will get the most out of it if you keep it in season, for example by making a stamppot during the winter or white asparagus in the spring. You can browse the recipes easily online, or check out the recipes at a local supermarket. Eet smakelijk!
Boost Your Dutch Listening
Some languages are easier to understand because their speakers tend to pronounce all the word’s sounds. This is the case with, for example, Italian or Japanese. Other languages, like Dutch, compress multiple words into a single phrase and, for this reason, are harder to understand. The trick is to learn the compressed phrases as new words and to expose yourself as much as possible to the language. For the former, we created a series of videos on connected speech that you can view on TaalBoost’s Instagram page. For the latter, check out this playlist with the best songs in Dutch, and this podcast if you are a more advanced learner.
You could approach the listening skill the same as we approached the reading skill, by combining it with a different non-linguistic task. That way, your brain will reinforce the associations it makes with the new word or phrase, so it will be easier to remember – and harder to forget. As an experiment, try switching your Google Maps to Dutch. Then, type in your destination, get on the bike, and listen to the instructions. Make sure to only listen and not look at your phone (it’s forbidden and you might be fined). If you follow the instructions and do not reach your destination, you can always blame it on your bad orientation skills instead of your listening comprehension. It’s basically a win-win situation.
Boost Your Dutch Speaking
Out of the four language skills, most learners experience speaking as the most difficult. And rightly so, because speaking asks for a lot of cognitive effort. First, you need to think of what you want to say. Then, you need to pronounce the sounds in the right order for the message to be understood. As soon as your speaking partner replies, you need to be able to hear and recognize the sounds they are producing, and then decode their message. Finally, you are again back at square one. There’s a lot going on there, which could account for why your Dutch conversational partner chooses to switch to a language that’s (presumably) easier to understand for both parties.
But don’t get discouraged, as there are ways to bypass this. Let’s look for a speaking partner that does not switch to English as soon as we start talking. We can do that the easy or hard way. The easy way is just a long press of your iPhone’s side button away – Siri of course, or any other available virtual assistant for that matter.
Switch Siri to Dutch and ask away, without the fear of being switched back to English. You can ask Siri about the weather forecast or a location you’re interested in. It can check the news for you, or calculate the nutritional value of 100 grams of your favorite Dutch cheese. See this list for some of the questions you can ask in Dutch, or this list for some commands that you can give, such as to set the timer or to play some Dutch music. In the case you get bored, try some of these 50 hilarious commands, and have some fun with Siri. Gezellig!
In real life, questions have a higher success rate than commands. If you still need to use a command, insert that infamous eens, maar, or even, like in “Doe maar een biertje”. Those words don’t carry any meaning, but make the request more polite – and make you sound more Dutch at the same time.
The harder but definitely more enjoyable way is to find a human being who speaks Dutch but doesn’t switch to English so quickly, like a Dutch (grand)parent of your partner, or an older neighbor. By fetching the groceries, throwing out the trash, or cooking for your older neighbor who is happy to speak Dutch to you, you not only do a favor to your Dutch proficiency but also to the community. Just make sure to follow a cooking recipe in Dutch!
Boost Your Dutch Writing
If combining helpfulness and gratitude with your Dutch progress is your thing, then it’s certainly a good idea to connect with your neighborhood, either by joining a group on Facebook or downloading a neighborhood app on your phone. For example, you can loan and borrow useful tools with the Peerby app, get local tips, and buy and sell items with the Nextdoor app. The only thing left is to write a post in Dutch! Having said that, it is pretty common for the neighbors to have a WhatsApp group. Just ask a neighbor – preferably in Dutch – if such a group exists and whether they can add you.
If you are a beginner and practicing your Dutch proficiency by connecting to the neighborhood feels too anxiety-inducing at this learning stage, you can write the grocery list in Dutch, or find a quiet place in a park where you can observe the surroundings and jot down what you see on a rare sunny day in the Netherlands.
Boost Your Dutch Language
At TaalBoost Dutch language courses, we combine the latest theories in foreign language acquisition and teaching with the specificities of the Dutch language and culture. That way, we want to make the Dutch language learning journey for expats living in the Netherlands motivating, easy, and enjoyable. The TaalBoost approach is functional, so everything taught and learned serves a purpose. Next to that, TaalBoost courses are communicative. We’ll give you the tools and boost your confidence to speak Dutch not only during the lesson, but elsewhere as well.
TaalBoost in-class Dutch language courses are provided as traditional offline lessons at our location in Amsterdam city center, on the Marnixstraat 78-80.
TaalBoost online Dutch language courses take place online and can be attended from anywhere, as long as you have a laptop and a fair internet connection.
Whether you opt for the in-class or the online TaalBoost Dutch language learning experience, you can at all times count on TaalBoost quality of teaching that encompasses three essentials for successful language learning: engagement, interaction, and feedback.
Signing up for a TaalBoost course takes just a couple of minutes!
by Mirko Cvetković