How I’ve Been Learning Dutch, and How You Can Too
Learning a new language isn’t easy — it takes a lot of time and commitment to be able to master a new tongue.
Coming to The Netherlands for an exchange semester this spring, I knew I wanted to learn some Dutch. Perhaps surprising to many, the Dutch are actually very well known for speaking good English, with approximately 93% of the population speaking it.
Since English is so widely spoken in The Netherlands, many exchange students from non-English speaking countries come here to practice their English. It seems to be the most convenient language for communication in the student towns, filled with people from all over the world.
However, I still knew that I wanted to learn some conversational Dutch while here. Why learn Dutch you ask, isn’t it a fairly useless language outside of The Netherlands? Well, obviously English is not present absolutely everywhere here, and at least a basic knowledge of common Dutch words and phrases is extremely helpful out and about in the grocery store, restaurants, or elsewhere. Read on to find out how I’ve been learning Dutch and what’s been helpful for me along the way.
1. Free Apps
I started at home with Duolingo a few months before I was due to leave, spending anywhere between 5-15 minutes a day completing reading, writing, and speaking exercises.
I also used the free apps “Drops” and “Dutch Essentials” to add to what I was learning.
I found that using a couple different apps at the same time really helped solidify and increase the depth of what I was learning.
Of course, there are also many apps and programs online where you can pay, but I preferred to use some free options to start.
In many cities in The Netherlands there is a free program at local libraries called “Taalhuis” (“language house” in English).
These are small groups that meet once a week for 1-2 hours with a native Dutch speaker to learn and practice Dutch. Unfortunately I am still on the waiting list for the one in my town, but I have heard that these are great options for learning Dutch.
3. Spending time around locals
This is perhaps the most useful and efficient way to learn. Making Dutch friends in my classes and asking them to help me learn words and phrases has been really helpful so far.
I also joined dance lessons on Friday nights where all the other dancers are Dutch, and it has really improved my knowledge because everyone is always speaking Dutch and the instruction is mostly in Dutch too.
A great, cheap option is to switch the language of your favourite show to the language you’re trying to learn, and then turning on English subtitles.
This is a great way to hear native people talking at a regular speed, although I have to be careful that I don’t get lazy and just read the subtitles, ignoring what’s being spoken.
Similar to Netflix, podcasts that either teach you a language (or are completely in another language if you’re at that level) can be really useful.
I tend to try and listen to a Dutch podcast while I’m biking through town or on the bus or train.
I recommend the Dutch podcast from LinguaBoost, or for other languages Duolingo also has some helpful podcasts!