How to fake your way into speaking Dutch (in 5 steps)

Fake it 'til you make it 🇳🇱 😉

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For most Dutch learners, speaking Dutch in the Netherlands — especially in the Randstad area of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, the Hague and Utrecht — can be a rather difficult endeavour. 

If your Dutch isn’t perfect, chances are you will get a response in English — we’ve all experienced it, including myself.

As a consequence, most Dutch learners get demotivated at best, scared off at worst, and consequently settle for finishing the conversation in English.

However, as a non-native Dutch teacher, I know how it can be, and I know how to overcome it.

We got some help from the experts to bring you this article. TaalBoost is a Dutch language school based in Amsterdam — so they know how tricky it can be to get the Dutch flowing. Thankfully, they’ve also got some tips on how to keep the Nederlands going! Let’s start gargling those g’s, baby!

1. Gargle the g’s (and shorten the a’s)

The best way to make people think you mastered their language is to get a grasp of not just the words — but the sounds

When it comes to the Dutch language, the instantly recognisable sound is the rolling or the gargling ‘G. So, how can you master it? 

The first thing you need to do in order to fake your way into speaking Dutch is to gargle those g’s. Image: Freepik

To begin, you place your tongue at the same place as when you pronounce the G sound in the English word “goal” — against the roof of your mouth. 

The only difference is that in order to roll the Dutch ‘G’, the air needs to flow between the tongue and the roof of your mouth. Can you try it now? If you still don’t have it, this Wikihow has even more detail. 

READ MORE | Like a native: 21 ways to elevate your everyday Dutch phrases

While you are exercising the Dutch ‘G’, it’s also worth practising your pronunciation of the Dutch ‘H’ as this tends to be a bit more throaty.

The Dutch ‘H’ is not formed in the mouth but in the throat, just like the ‘H’ in the laughing sound of ‘haha’. 

Listen to the examples hoor/goor (listen/disgusting), heel/geel (very/yellow), haan/gaan (rooster/to go) below and repeat to master the pronunciation:

When you substitute one sound in a word for a different sound, and it leads to a difference in the meaning between the two words — like in the g/h examples above —  this is called a minimal pair

That’s why  — aside from the ‘G’s’ and the ‘H’s’ — the correct pronunciation of the 16 (!!) Dutch vowels is fundamental to making yourself fully understandable.

TIP: If you stand in front of a mirror and say hoor, heel or haan, the mirror should steam up. If there’s no steam, then your pronunciation was probably closer to goor, geel or gaan.

Short and long sounds 

Out of the 16 vowels, five have their short and long version, like:

  • man/maan (man/moon),
  • zon/zoon (sun/son),
  • ben/been (am/leg),
  • wil/wiel (want/wheel),
  • and zus/zuur (sister/sour). 

TIP: The long vowels in the latter examples (maan, zoon, been, wiel, zuur) are pronounced as what could be considered a normal length, and the short vowels are pronounced extra short (man, zon, ben, wil, zus). 

One of the first giveaways that your Dutch wil get a reply in English is that you’re pronouncing the short vowels too long. 

Listen to the audio below and repeat:

2. Glue the words together (but remain understandable)

If you faked your way into speaking, let’s say Italian, odds are high that you’d make every sound overly clear and understandable with that final ‘a’ like Super Mario does. 

That’s because the Italian language follows a staccato consonant-vowel rhythm, often described as melodic.

However, when it comes to the Dutch language, the opposite is true. 

The key is to talk Dutch with confidence and speed! Image: Freepik

Instead of adding vowels to make the language more musical, the Dutch compress multiple sounds, words, and even whole sentences into one word in spoken Dutch. 

We call this constricted speech, and it works in a similar fashion as the English “you’ve” (you have), “don’t” (do not) and “gonna” (going to).

For example: Kweenie (pronounced as quay-nee). Although you actually say one word, it is a contraction of four words: ik weet het niet (I don’t know, or dunno!)

How do you know what words to glue to the neighbouring word? 

Pronouns are most commonly ‘incorporated’ into other words.

In written Dutch, we already do this with je for jij/jou/jouw (informal you/your), ze for zij (she or they), and we for wij (we).

Exclusive to spoken Dutch, ik would commonly be shortened to ‘k (I), hij to ie (he), and het to ‘t (it/the). Hem would be pronounced as ‘m (him), and haar as d’r (her). Finally, mijn often becomes m’n (my) and zijn becomes z’n (his) in the spoken language.

Interested in hearing how this sounds in real life and up for an exercise in Dutch constricted speech? 

3. Use many meaningless words (in a meaningful way)

The Dutch are notorious for their directness. For a non-Dutchie, it’s commonly a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” when trying to hit that sweet spot of directness.

In fact, chances are you’ll either come across as not direct enough, too direct or even impolite. 

Dutch directness is something you have to overcome and master when learning to speak Dutch. Image: Freepik

Example: One might think that a short answer, such as ja or nee, conforms to the Dutch standards of directness since the message is clear and short. 

Sure thing, but it’s also too short, too direct, and, therefore — impolite. You want to go for at least two or three words in your reply: nee, dank je wel or ja hoor/lekker.

The word hoor in the above example does not have any particular meaning as a word — its function is purely pragmatic, to keep the speaking partner at ease. 

@dutchreview It’s so refreshing! #fypシ゚viral #fyp #dutchreview #nederland #netherlands #expat #expatlife #CapCut ♬ original sound – DutchReview

Other ‘meaningless’ words with a similar function as hoor are maar, eens, even, and toch. The Dutch language is teeming with these pragmatic fillers.

For example: if you are requesting something in a more imperative way, a command such as kom hier (come here) or ga zitten (have a seat) should be used without fillers only when you’re directing it to a dog or a child that just won’t listen. 

In other social situations, you must throw in one or more of the meaningless words for it to become socially acceptable: kom maar/eens (even) hier, or if you’re feeling extra: ga toch maar eens even zitten!

In Dutch — as is with many languages— polite questions are always longer than direct questions. Compare the following examples:

Impolite directnessKom hier! 
Socially-acceptable directnessKom maar/eens even hier!
Polite directnessZou je hier willen komen, alsjeblieft?

4. Express yourself (the Dutch way)

In case actual words or sentences fail, you can resort to exclamations

To use them, you don’t really need any knowledge of the Dutch language, making them a very useful strategy when you need to fake your way into speaking Dutch.

It’s not just words you should be learning — exclamations are equally important! Image: Freepik.

The exclamations commonly consist of two sounds that are repeated and can be used in various situations.

They can be categorised as:

  • Words of exhalationpoeh poeh, hè hè
  • Words of evaluation nou nou, zo zo, ja ja
  • And words that precede lifting or moving a heavy object — hopla, huppeke, hupsakee, huppakee.

Exclamations are riddled throughout the Dutch language. Just think of how we say ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ in Dutch — hoi hoi and doei doei.

Faking your way into anything can be exhilarating — but also quite exhausting after a while. So why not take the next step and learn Dutch properly? TaalBoost offers both in-class lessons at their Amsterdam location as well as online lessons.

Whether you’re a budding beginner or a seasoned Scheveningen-sayer, their courses will help you dumbfound the Dutch with your language skills.

5. Throw in a couple of phrases (but do this with caution)

Using expressions when learning a new language should, in all honesty, be the last thing to resort to. 

Using Dutch phrases is a great way to up your Dutch skills — but do so with caution! Image: Freepik

Expressions and idioms

Expressions or idioms are culture-specific, used only in certain contexts, and follow a specific word order. Use them with caution if you want to fake your way into speaking Dutch! 

If not, you may ‘fall through the basket’ as a non-native (In Dutch, door de mand vallen means ‘to become exposed’). 

Needless to say, a big no-no when using idioms is to literally translate them from another language. 

Still, the literal translations of the expressions are often funny or, at times, even weird. 

Ik hou je in de gatenLiteral: I hold you in the holes (I’m watching you)
Helaas, PindakaasLiteral: Unfortunately, peanut butter (That’s too bad)
Meedoen voor spek en bonenLiteral: Participate for bacon and beans (Participating for the show)
Het loopt in de soepLiteral: It goes in the soup (It’s failing)
Over koetjes en kalfjes pratenLiteral: Talk about cows and calves (Small talk)
Ik zal ze een poepie laten ruikenLiteral: I’ll let them smell a poop (I’ll show them)

Linguistic commonplaces

Even more useful than the expressions for the purpose of faking our way into Dutch are the linguistic commonplaces. 

These ready-made sentences are used in certain situations — but they’re not exactly metaphors. 

The linguistic commonplaces are used to create a familiar surrounding for the conversation and your speaking partner(s), either by putting them at ease (similar to Step 3) or teasing them.

Of course, there are enough linguistic commonplaces to warrant a book (in fact, there is one) so let’s focus on just one for now: how to find comfort in the fact that it’s raining. 

De meeste druppels vallen ernaast.Most droplets are falling next to us.
Wat nu valt, valt straks niet meer.What is now falling is soon not falling anymore
Tussen de buien door is het droog.It’s dry between the showers.
Het is goed voor de plantjes.It’s good for the plants.
De boeren zijn er blij mee. It pleases the farmers.
Het koelt wel lekker af zo.It cools off nicely like this.

Do you have any tactics for tricking the Dutch? Tell us about them in the comments below! 

Feature Image:Freepik
Mirko Cvetković
Mirko Cvetković
Mirko Cvetković has an MA in Dutch language and literature from the University of Amsterdam, with a specialisation in second language acquisition. He has been teaching Dutch language to students and expats for over a decade. In 2017, Mirko founded TaalBoost — a Dutch language school for expats in Amsterdam

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