Have you ever wondered how it seems that learning and speaking a new language are two different things? Chances are high that it has already happened to you! You took a course, did a lot of homework, and then when someone asked you something really simple in de supermarkt you did not know what to say. If this difficult with conversation in Dutch looks familiar, then please keep on reading.
In Dutch there is a special expression: ik sta met mijn mond vol tanden, which literally means: I stand with my mouth full of teeth. It simply means that words were not coming out of your mouth anymore. Often this gets accompanied by some nasty feelings of inadequacy.
Oops. It Does Not Work Like That
So here is the strange thing. You might expect that if you learn a language and if you memorize some simple conversations, you should be able to do certain things all by yourself in that new language. At least, that is what many language courses will promise you. Just listen to some podcasts and before you know it, you’ll speak like a native.
But is it true? Will you be able to have all these conversations all by yourself? The true and disappointing answer is: no, of course not, but luckily there is also some good news! All you need to do is to change some ideas that you might have so that you can have a whole new perspective.
Yes, it looks logical that if you learn some sample conversations in Dutch, you should be able to handle many so-called simple conversations. In case you have not figured it out by yourself, most sample conversations in traditional textbooks are pure fiction. Often it is not how people talk in real life!
Read More: 7 Useful Yet Unusual Ways to Learn Dutch
Why Memorizing Dialogues Does Not Work
There are many reasons why daily conversations in Dutch, even about the simplest things, may not make sense to you. First of all, people can say anything they want. They can use any grammar construction that they like, even if you have not studied it yet. On top of that, there are many ways of saying things. For example, in how many ways could you say yes in English? Here are some first options: sure, go ahead, absolutely, why not, yeah, please, take it, certainly, but of course, without question….Can you see how many alternatives there are for such a simple word?
Can you see? Even if you talk about simple things, you might use loads of different words. So, what you should do now? If you are like most people, the first option that comes to your mind is now you need to study a lot harder!
However, before you start to study like crazy, here is another idea. What if learning and speaking are really two different things? You can check it for yourself. There are many people that study a foreign language, and yet they may still find it difficult to order a meal or taxi. This is really absurd if you think about it, right? And yet this is something that happens many times. Even people that graduate from university, find it hard to talk about simple things in another language in real life.
One thing is certain. Learning and Studying do not automatically lead to speaking, so what should you do if you like to speak? The solution may look absurd and, in a way, it is ridiculously simple. For example, if you like to speak Dutch, then basically there is one thing that you need to do. speak Dutch and see how far you get.
If You Like to Speak, the Solution is Obvious and Simple
Sure, chances are high that after saying hallo goedemorgen, you do not know what to say next. But contrary to what you may think, you have achieved more than you might realize. The secret is really simple. If you only learn and if you do not practice, there is nothing that you can say. But even if a simple goedemorgen comes out of your mouth, now you something that you actually said in real Dutch and now you can expand on it.
Here is the thing: when people try to speak Dutch, they try to remember everything they have learned before, and the second that they hear something new or something that they do not realize, their minds go blank. The chance that this will happen is 100%, so this strategy is a perfect recipe for failure!
So instead of trying to practice what you learned, here is another way to do it. First of all, make sure that you start saying simple things to many people, such as hallo, hoe gaat het (how are you) and tot ziens. The first goal is not that you have perfect conversations in Dutch, on the contrary. It works a lot better if your initial goal is to use some simple words and make sure that you start feeling comfortable when you say them. Let words go out of your mouth and see what happens!
The next step is that you go out and start doing some simple things. For example, you can order things in Dutch and see if you can get familiar with simple things like prices and names.
Now, instead of trying to have a perfect conversation, the only thing you do is start to say some simple things in Dutch. Make sure that you focus on all the new things that you learn in each conversation. While you notice that you learn new things all the time, it will automatically add to your confidence.
Here are some simple things that can help you to go ‘smoothly’ through this initial phase. First of all, never doubt your own abilities if nothing seems to make sense. Remember that Dutch is different from English because otherwise, you would speak it already.
Make your sentences really short. Three or four words is already great! Once again, Dutch is different from English, so if you try to translate your English word for word it will not work. Just focus on using some simple words such as dank je wel (thank you), tot ziens (see you). Make sure that you can use these simple words with absolute confidence.
See each conversation as an adventure where you can play and experiment. See if you can guess the meaning of Dutch words if they come up in conversation. Chances are high you’ll discover that Dutch and English have loads of things in common.
Here is another great tip. Unlike English, Dutch spelling is what we call phonological. It means that if you see a written word in Dutch, the spelling clearly shows you how to pronounce it. Make sure that you understand this system, it is something that you can learn within a couple of days. Remember that English spelling often does not make sense and that often it says nothing about the pronunciation. In Dutch, spelling, and pronunciation are clearly linked with one another.
If you manage to understand Dutch spelling and its pronunciation, a whole new world will open up for you. You can use words that you see written somewhere and use them in your conversation. Often you’ll find it easy to guess the right meaning because Dutch often looks more like English than you could ever imagine!
Another great thing is that politeness is not that important in Dutch. If you say graag when you order things, you’ll be polite enough and you can ask for many things that you want. Graag in Dutch means with love or pleasure, so if you say: ik wil graag it means: I would like. Just keep things simple and you’ll be able to make progress soon!
Here is another tip: make sure that you realize that words can have more meanings in Dutch. For example, alsjeblieft can both mean here you are and please.
By the way, make sure that you are flexible and creative when you see or hear new words for the first time. For example, what would your answer be if someone asked you: wil je het los? Wil je means do you want; this is not too difficult, right? Wil is want in Dutch. Just think of willpower. Los has a relation with loose. It means that something is not fixed or attached. Wil je het los? Would mean: do you want it separately?
The beauty is that once you start to talk Dutch in real life, amazing things can happen. Every time you’ll be able to learn something new and make a bit more progress. It will be easy to find that your confidence is growing. Now imagine that something happens and you do not know how to respond. Don’t panic, just let it happen. And then simply imagine what you could say if it happens next time. Bit by bit you’ll prepare yourself for many more situations and gain something that we call experience!
Don’t Worry About Remembering Things. Start Playing and Exploring
Last but not least, here is the most important secret. Once you become genuinely curious and if you are eager to know to expand your abilities, you’ll be much more open to learning in a language course. Once you have experienced things in real life, all of a sudden everything you learn will look and feel more relevant. Now that more words sound and look familiar it will be so much easier to expand your new vocabulary.
As you may imagine, it would be very difficult to really learn Dutch by learning only. But if you start speaking, combine it with learning and then continue speaking on levels that get higher and higher, you’ll find that both speaking and learning Dutch can expand naturally. And who knows? You might even discover another truth: in the end, there is no difference between learning and speaking. If you speak you can learn, and while you learn you can speak. Once you really start practicing both you’ll have a golden combination in your hands.