Living in the Netherlands can be a great adventure. You might have noticed that you ride a bike, eat stroopwafels and bitterballen and you even see a beautiful and colourful tulpenveld (tulip field) now and then. But, surprise surprise … one thing did not happen. You don’t speak Dutch! Albert Both from Talencoach explains why this is and what you can do to improve your language skills.
For many people that come to the Netherlands, speaking Dutch is not really on the top of their priority list, initially. It is easy to explain of course … There are so many other things that need your attention first. For instance, you have to find a new house and then you have to (find) work. Then, when you have some free time, you want to relax and have some fun, right? Then, if you think about it, it does not really make sense to learn the Dutch language at that point.
Why you haven’t learned Dutch yet
You’re probably thinking that you will only be in the Netherlands for a short time, so why put in so much effort? On top of that, Dutch is a language that you can only use in the Netherlands or in Belgium and everyone can speak English anyway …
To make things even worse, everyone tells you that Dutch is one of the hardest languages on the planet to learn. If you are a critical thinker, you may have your doubts about it; many Dutch words look quite similar to English words, right?
Actually, hundreds if not thousands of Dutch words are quite close to English, like: man (man), kat (cat), huis (house), straat (street), werk (work) and many others. But once you try to share your Dutch address – imagine that you live on Kloveniersburgwal or Scheldedwarsgracht – you struggle so much with your pronunciation that now you are convinced. You do not even need scientific evidence anymore. Dutch is hard and impossible! Period!
After a few years of living in the Netherlands
Time goes by … sometimes it even flies. And then, three, four and five years later, you notice that somehow you are still walking or biking around in the Netherlands. A year goes by again and then all of a sudden you might discover – sometimes even with a shock – that you have started to get rooted here. All of a sudden, the thought comes up that the chances are high that even more years will go by and you discover that you will not leave this country.
And then, the question comes up: what should I do with my Dutch? Now that it has turned out that your stay in the Netherlands is longer or even more permanent than you suspected, certain things slowly start to shift.
One shocking discovery often goes like this: I have been in the Netherlands for ages now and … I don’t speak any Dutch. Or maybe you do speak Dutch but somehow it still feels like an alien language that doesn’t allow you to express yourself freely in the way that you want. So, now there are a couple of things that you could do.
What to do if that feeling comes back again and again?
A popular approach is that when you think of speaking Dutch, you simply suppress it. Why should you speak Dutch? After all, you have survived so many years while speaking English and you probably discovered that if you don’t speak Dutch, you will not die. On the contrary, you can still be very successful and live a happy life without it.
But for many people, the perspective on life starts to shift somehow after a couple of years. Maybe there was an important change in your life: you bought a new house, you married a Dutch person or now you have kids that speak a language that you don’t understand. Another thing that naturally happens is that after a long time, you want to be much more a part of the world that surrounds you and you realise, more and more, that if you like to socialise and have more fun, then speaking Dutch seems to be quite important!
So, what to do if you feel that desire that you would like to be a natural part of everything that surrounds you? Once again, the easiest solution would be to suppress or deny it, but it does not feel good. And yes … hopefully if you are brave and honest enough, you may start to embrace the idea that you would like to speak Dutch for real.
There is good news … loads of it!
Now here is the thing: contrary to what you may think, your position is really good! It is important, however, that you really understand certain things. First of all – you have probably already discovered it – living in a country and speaking the language are two different things. You can live in a country for two decades and not speak the language, this is completely natural!
The tricky thing is that, perhaps in secret, you believe the myth that if you live in a country, you should pick up that language automatically and if not, it simply means that you are stupid! Luckily, nothing could be further from the truth.
Another thing is that you may believe that you should speak Dutch already, because you did a language course. Are you ready for another shocking truth? Most language courses are not really designed to help you to speak a new language.
But let’s look at the sunny side for a moment, just in case you would like to speak Dutch. If you do certain things, then it will dramatically increase the chance that you’ll speak Dutch for real. It actually starts with some simple thoughts.
First of all, you will always learn faster when you feel positive. Negative feelings don’t really help, and these include guilt and shame and certainly feelings of inadequacy. You don’t need these feelings, so it is a good idea to “throw them away” or at least you can let these negative feelings go.
Also, you can simply accept that you don’t speak Dutch on the level that you would like to and admit that you used to have some other priorities. This makes perfect sense, so you can really feel great about it when thoughts come up like: I should know this already, I should have learned this already. You can listen to these thoughts, while you still go ahead with your learning. But, if needed, you can say to yourself: Yes, but now I am ready and now I can take care of it! Feel some excitement if you can, after all it is a new adventure!
The change that really makes the change
Here is the truth: the beautiful thing is that you must have picked up loads and loads of stuff and that many things already sound familiar to you! You are in a very favourable position as long as you don’t give attention to thoughts that suggest that you should already know it. Once again, now that everything looks and sounds familiar to you, things will be a lot easier!
And here is another important thing. You need to decide that, right now, you will focus on it for real … Don’t try to learn Dutch after work, don’t try to master it with one lesson per week. If you choose this path, you will always fail.
Timing is key
If you would like to speak Dutch for real, you need to focus on it, for a couple of days in a row. And here is another important thing … contrary to what you may think, it is not about memorising. Your biggest priority should be that you start to understand how Dutch really works.
This also means that you have to choose your method very carefully. Most language courses are mainly based on memorising and tedious repetition. On top of it, they only tell you when something is correct or wrong, without explaining why and how the language really works …
Another important thing that is essential to understand on a deep level is that most language courses assume that you walk around like a tourist and that you only like to say basic things. This is the biggest trap that is waiting for you. You might think that if you do a course on an A1 level, that this should be easy, right? Unfortunately the total opposite is true …
A Dutch course on A1 often means loads of stuff like grammar structures that don’t make sense. And after a lot of “suffering” you can just say where you live and the food that you like … My tip is: do not walk into this trap!
If learning Dutch is hard, you are doing it wrong!
Once you have lived for a longer period in the Netherlands, you probably want to talk about things that really matter to you. You don’t want to talk like a parrot right? And … you are not a tourist! If so, then you want to be able to put your own sentences together and have meaningful conversations. You also need that skill that lets you know which words to use and, once again, how to put them in the right order, even if they would not make any sense if you translate them directly to English.
Last but not least, here is the greatest insight that could change everything … If you think that Dutch is hard, then you are doing it wrong. It is that simple. The truth is that once you have lived in the Netherlands for a longer period, you know more than you think! All you need to know is how to transform it into real Dutch fast.
Once again, it could be easier and a lot more fun than you think. Just be willing to play with some new thoughts and ideas and do some different things. If you can do this for a couple of days in a row, it will make a great difference!