5 handy tips to learn Dutch when you’re not in the Netherlands

I live in Cape Town, South Africa, so you may be wondering why anyone would want to learn Dutch if they are not currently residing in the country.

There are reasons though — perhaps you want to visit the Netherlands at some point, you enjoy the gutteral g’s of the language, or you’re even thinking about moving one day.

Whatever the reason, there’s no harm in trying these. Learning Dutch, when you’re not living in the country is difficult, but not impossible. Even as a South African, knowing Afrikaans doesn’t help as much as you think.

Whether you are living in the country or not; these tips are failproof.

Find a good app

A very popular one is Duolingo. They send reminder emails that “guilt” you into practicing. It repeats what you got wrong and consolidates what you have learned. You decide what you wish to focus on and focus on spaced repetition to learn the words. Just a few minutes a day is all you need.

Read as much as possible

Go out and get books, pamphlets, newspapers or magazines and read as often as possible. Or, join some Dutch Facebook groups or read some Dutch webpages. It may be a good idea to have Google Translate on standby.

READ MORE: How to stay motivated while learning Dutch (and stop procrastinating)

Or, as in my case, text a Dutch friend. I’m currently reading Jij Bent van Mij by Mary Higgins Clark. I found it at a second-hand store in Amersfoort in June 2019. It was intended for my daughter, who collects second-hand books, but I found a purpose for it. Then I found the word omfloerst and had to call a friend — not even Google had my back on that one!

Learn during leisure time

Watch movies and series with subtitles. I’m currently watching Women of the Night on Netflix (Keizers Vrouwen) in Dutch. I occasionally put the subtitles off, but I’m not proficient enough to go totally without subtitles. Try installing the Google Chrome extension Language Learning With Netflix to get both Dutch and your native language subtitles at once!

Load some Dutch music onto your playlist. You will get used to the sound of the words and that will help with pronunciation. You will even find yourself singing along. My personal favorite is Gers Pardoel – Bagagedrager. I don’t know all the lyrics off by heart, but I know what it all means.

These last two tips are effective if you have contact with Dutch people via telephone, WhatsApp or other forms of social media.

Use the ‘pain method’

Do not allow your Dutch friends or partner to speak English to you. This one is the hardest to do. The Dutch all speak English perfectly and absolutely love to try their skills out on you.

READ MORE: 7 things to know before learning Dutch

I have yet to come across a Dutch person who actually speaks Dutch to me — I’m usually the one who ends up asking the speaker to switch to Dutch. It is, however, very easy to simply allow them to speak English. This will not help your cause though. So, be firm and insist on it.

Talk to the next generation

Finally, “out of the mouths of babes” is the best way yet. When I was an au pair, back in the stone ages, I found my best teacher was the eldest kid. Years ago, I looked after two Dutch children for one year. Well, my little girl (whose wedding I attended in June last year) took her job as my language teacher very seriously.

I would only have to point at things, and she would tell me the word. She also very gently corrected me when I made mistakes. The kids also taught me cute Dutch songs. So, if you have access to a kid, sign them up. Children are generally eager and happy to teach and are totally non-judgemental of any errors made.

Whether you use one tip or all, some useful words and phrases are bound to stick. Oh, don’t trust just anyone to teach you though; someone is bound to add some spice to your vocabulary. I still, for 27 years, carry klootzak around in my back pocket for emergencies.

What’s your top tip for learning Dutch outside of the Netherlands? Tell us in the comments below!

Feature Image: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

Nathalie Europa
Nathalie Europa
Born and raised in Cape Town South Africa on Sinterklaas 1970... I knew since I was 7 years old that I would become a teacher (or a dancer) and I qualified as a teacher in 1991. I currently teach at a skills school for learners with special academic needs. I have a daughter, who keeps me on my toes and informed. I lead an active lifestyle and enjoy the outdoors. I lived in Naarden - Bussum for a full year and worked as an au-pair from 1993 -1994. The country and the people have crept into my heart and I will always feel like I left a piece of it behind.


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