How long does it take to learn Dutch?

It’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves before embarking on the journey to learn a new language — how long will it take to be able to converse, make jokes, or achieve ultimate fluency? 

Of course, everyone’s individual situation is different, but there are some things we can all do to help speed up the process of learning Dutch.

We teamed up with the gang of top-notch language teachers at NedLes language school to examine how long it takes to learn Dutch and the method they think works best to learn speaking Dutch effectively and fast: the Delft Method.

How long it takes to learn Dutch

Dutch is a tricky language, there’s no denying it. How long it takes to acquire an understanding of the language and its various “ghhhuuhhs,” “aaauuus” and dreaded “ui” sounds all depends on you. For example, what was your first language? And how’s your patience? Are you willing to mess up? 

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Practice Dutch and allow yourself to fail a few times! Image: Mimi Thian/Unsplash.

You can spend years learning a language and still find words that you haven’t come across before. But as a general guide, the Foreign Service Insitute in the US estimates it takes about 600 hours of class lessons (or 24 weeks) for a native English speaker to become fluent in Dutch. 

Of course, very few of us have the opportunity to study Dutch for 25 hours every week. So to put those numbers into perspective, that would equal: 

  • 11.5 hours of class lessons every week for one year.
  • 5.5 hours of class lessons every week for two years.

But remember, fluency is just one goal. In Dutch, using the CEFR, you can hold a basic conversation at an A2 level. At a B1 level, you can voice your own opinion and describe experiences, events, dreams and expectations. By C1, you have an advanced level of Dutch that is generally considered good enough for the workplace!

Good to know: it generally takes between 100 and 200 hours to progress through CEFR levels for Dutch.

The key to gaining understanding is to be patient with yourself, pick up word after word, and gradually you’ll have enough to string a few sentences together. Then take those sentences and fit them together as clumsily as you can and ta-da! You’re on your way to speaking some imperfect Dutch — which is far better than none at all. 

Moral of the story, take the blow to your ego and talk like a three-year-old for a bit. Are you willing to make that sacrifice? Then great! You’re already ahead of some. 

Learning Dutch on your own

Let’s say you decide to learn Dutch on your own without the help of a teacher. What can you do to challenge yourself and practice? There are a number of answers to this question. 

Learning Dutch with books 

Firstly, you can go old school — meaning textbooks. Many book shops in the Netherlands now have language sections where you can find some books on learning Dutch as a beginner. Tip: Look out for the section labeled “Talen.

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Find yourself some Dutch language books! Image: Tamarcus Brown/Unsplash.

If money is tight, you can also head to your local public library and in the unlikely event that they don’t have any Dutch language books, you can always head over to the children’s section and find yourself some light Dutch reading!

Learn Dutch through apps and social media

It also helps if you implement any tool that you can get your hands on. If you find yourself waiting for the train and have 15 minutes to stare into the distance, why not stare at your phone like everyone else and learn some Dutch vocab with apps such as Duolingo.

You can also dedicate some of the time you spend on social media to bettering your Dutch. Look out for Facebook groups in your area that organise local language exchanges and meetups — it’s a great way to learn Dutch slowly without lessons and you may even make some friends. 

Take professional Dutch lessons

Naturally, you may find that you want to dedicate a bit more time to your Dutch and take advantage of some professional guidance. Lucky for you, that’s easy! 

Take a part-time Dutch language course 

One sure way to help develop Dutch slowly over time, however, is to take part-time Dutch lessons. Check out your local libraries and see what they are offering. Many libraries in the Netherlands organise part-time Dutch classes aimed specifically for those who can’t make normal hours. 

Part-time classes are usually once a week and take place either early in the morning or late in the evening. Classes like these are a great option for those who want to gradually nourish their Dutch language skills whilst working or studying full-time. 

Take intensive Dutch lessons

However, every once in a while, the opportunity to focus more intensely on your language skills presents itself. Perhaps you may find yourself in an “in between” period in your life — you’ve finished your degree and are now looking for work, or you’ve just moved to the Netherlands and are getting settled in. 

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Take intensive language courses and study intensively. Image: Jeswin Thomas/Unsplash

While it’s tempting to spend this time on some much-needed rest and relaxation, this is actually the perfect time to gain a new language skill by embarking on an intensive Dutch language course! (If not now, when?)

Language schools such as NedLes offer intensive courses for those who are looking to learn Dutch quickly and effectively. The school offers 6-10 week courses for each level of Dutch. For example, they offer six-week courses to get to level A1, six-week courses to reach A2 and 10-week courses from A2 to B1. 

If you put your head down and live, breathe and dream the Dutch language, courses such as NedLes offer a fast-tracked way to improve your Dutch in a short period of time. Of course, if you think that 6-10 weeks is simply not enough time for you, don’t worry! You will always have the option to extend your learning if need be. 

Learn Dutch with the Delft Method

Experts and students at NedLes also recommend the Delft Method as a great way to learn Dutch quickly. The Delft Method involves a mimicking of the natural process through which you would learn your first language — namely, immersion. 

Intensive courses such as those offered by NedLes allow students to immerse themselves in the language through practices such as conversation classes.  As a result, the speaking skills of students who use the Delft Method improve very quickly. 

The teachers at NedLes explain the advantages of the Delft Method. “This method has a very clear structure, the student knows exactly how to prepare a lesson and does not have to think about how he should study. By listening extensively to the texts you very quickly get hold of the main building blocks of the language and can easily use them within a surprisingly short time. Another obvious pro is that you speak Dutch from day one.” 

👉 Check out real students’ experiences learning Dutch with the Delft Method!

How can I learn Dutch faster?

Alongside intensive language courses and the use of proper learning methods, there are many things you can do to speed up the process of learning Dutch — and much of these involve integrating the language into your free time. 

Use Dutch in conversation

While this is in fact the end goal when learning a language, many of us are scared to actually use Dutch in conversation outside of the classroom when we are going through the process of acquiring it. Start small — order your coffee in Dutch, or ask for the receipt in the supermarket. 

Yes, you may make a fool of yourself a few times — but chances are, your fumbling words will come across as endearing as opposed to annoying. You are making the effort after all, and that’s got to count for something. 

Surround yourself with Dutch

As an international in the Netherlands, it can be very easy to find yourself in the international bubble. Perhaps all your lessons are in English, or you and your friends speak English together. But if you want to learn the language, it’s time to find a metaphorical pin and burst that comforting outer layer.

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Encourage your friends and colleagues to speak Dutch with you. Image: Kaleidico/Unsplash

Listen to the Dutch radio, watch Dutch news, turn off Google Translate and insist that your Dutch friends “praat nederlands met me.” If you want the language to really stick — and fast, you need to immerse yourself in the world of “de”, “het” and “maar.”

Students share their thoughts on the Delft Method

Many students find immersion, such as that offered by the Delft Method, to be key. Marta, a student at NedLes, says the method works well because you focus on speaking, instead of grammar rules.

“The teacher constantly encourages us to speak Dutch, and even when she needs to explain something she does this clearly in Dutch with the words we have learnt, so you feel fully immersed in the language!” she explains. 

Her classmate, Enda, agrees. He was originally scared of having to study hours of grammar in a classroom. “Of course there is grammar but the conversational way comes about, repeating, repeating, repeating and the teachers cleverly weave in conversation from everyday life so it doesn’t remind me at all of the formal heavy method that I disliked from school.” 

“Diving straight into speaking without worrying about grammar mistakes is what works best for me” fellow classmate, Katrina says. “In the first two levels of the Delft Method you are really covering a wide range of topics that are useful for your daily life — from doing groceries to the history and culture of the Netherlands and with these topics you can practice your Dutch, either in the shops or with friends.”

The end result of such a teaching method is that students learn new grammar and vocab — but through the actual use of conversational Dutch. By immersing students in the Dutch language in this way, schools such as NedLes teach not only the elements that construct the language, but also how to use it in everyday life. 

The prospect of learning Dutch may be scary, and many of us don’t like the idea of spending years and years hopping in and out of language schools — but the road to speaking Dutch doesn’t need to be as long and boring as you imagine.

Consider intensive courses and alternative learning methods and who knows — maybe you’ll be chewing some poor Dutchies ear off in less than a year’s time!

Have you tried the Delft Method before? What has your experience been with learning Dutch? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

Feature Image: Christina Morillo/Pexels

Sarah O'Leary
Sarah O'Leary
Sarah originally arrived in the Netherlands due to an inability to make her own decisions — she was simply told by her mother to choose the Netherlands for Erasmus. Life here has been challenging (have you heard the language) but brilliant for Sarah, and she loves to write about it. When Sarah is not acting as a safety threat to herself and others (cycling), you can find her sitting in a corner of Leiden with a coffee, trying to sound witty.

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