11 hacks to learn Dutch at turbo speed

The Netherlands has crazy-impressive standards of English — but still, there are times when you wish you’d speak, or at least understand, Dutch. What if we told you that you could? And quickly. 

We’ve all been there: a co-worker just cracked a hilarious Dutch joke, you’re ordering dinner at a Dutch restaurant with a hot date, or you’re wondering (for the 100th time) what the letter from the belastingdienst actually says… 

READ MORE | The 11 crucial moments you wish you could speak fluent Dutch

However hard it might be to face it: Dutch can be very useful. Here are our top tips for learning Nederlands

1. Dutch has many things in common with English

The first lesson you should learn, is that many Dutch words are almost identical to English, making for convenient cheat codes when you first start out. 

Some are simple: werk = work, slaap = sleep, drink = drink, and so on. But often, you can also use your excellent logical sense, and think your way to the correct Dutch word.

For example: the Dutch word for “mountain”; berg. First, think of the word berg, then of the word iceberg. What is an iceberg? It’s a mountain of ice. Now, you’ll never forget that berg = mountain, in Dutch. 

See, Dutch is easy-peasy. 😉

2. If your sentence is too much like an English sentence, try again

Okay, “easy-peasy” might be a bit of an exaggeration — you shouldn’t stay too confidently in your English corner when trying to learn Dutch. In fact, you should try to move more in the direction of German, when constructing your Dutch sentences!

Oh, if only all languages had the same syntax… Image: Depositphotos

For example, if you don’t have much Dutch knowledge under your belt, the sentence ik wil eten stroopwafels might look perfectly normal to you. 

But alas, if you want to properly impress upon your Dutch friends that you want to eat syrup waffles, you should instead construct your sentence like this: ik wil stroopwafels eten. 

READ MORE | 7 ways to learn Dutch fast and easy: our best tips to learn ‘Nederlands’ in life

The latter is more similar to the German way of structuring sentences, and less like the English way — a useful rule of thumb when you’re first starting out.  

If you want an idea of how headache-inducing the wrong word order can sound, consider if someone said this in English: “I want stroopwafels to eat”. Now feel for your poor Dutch friends and think about word order!

If you spend a few hours learning the basics, you’ll likely see that your Dutch quickly reaches slightly more advanced levels. 

3. Don’t study too hard

We get it, the awkward situations where you’re the only non-Dutch speaker in the room have pushed you to become a hyper-enthusiastic Dutch student. 

Dutch is all around you! Image: Depositphotos

But still, you shouldn’t only bury yourself in the books — most of the information you need to become a confident Dutch speaker is in the world around you. 

READ MORE | 11 Dutch songs to learn the language (and culture!) 

Read the ingredients on your groceries, listen to the travel advice over the speakers at the train station, and learn the basic phrases the lady at the kassa throws at you when you’re shopping. Bonnetje? Nee, bedankt. 

4. Keep it simple, it’s alright 

If you’ve moved to the Netherlands, chances are you have good taste. And naturally, people with good taste like to sound intelligent, well-educated, and interesting. But at the beginning of your Dutch journey, we promise you, it’s better to just… not. 

READ MORE | How to speak Dutch in seven words or less

Dutch quickly gets overwhelming and complicated, so if you want to make conversational progress fast, you’re better off taking the easy route at first.

For an English example, you could choose to say: “the pen that I write with does not write well”, but it’s way simpler to simply go: “My pen doesn’t work”.

5. Speak as much Dutch as you can, as often as you can. 

The trick to learning a language is to immerse yourself in it. Physically, mentally, spiritually, you name it. No matter how non-Dutch you feel, throw yourself in at the deep end, and start with short, simple, exchanges wherever you go. 

At the grocery store? Ik heb een bonuskaart. At the shoe store? Ik heb schoenen nodig. 

Don’t worry if/when you make mistakes — that’s what learning a new language is for. The most important thing is that you form a habit of speaking Dutch, so it stops being scary.

6. Pretend you don’t understand English

This is a bit of a tricky one, but trust us, it’s the best way to learn Dutch quickly! Native or not, simply pretend you do not understand a word of English, and order your conversation partner to address you in Dutch, and Dutch only. 

Forget it! From today on, you’re no longer an English speaker! Image: Depositphotos

It might be easiest to practice this technique with complete strangers. Why? Because if you mess up, you mess up and you never have to see that person again. 

But who knows, perhaps ordering “een koffie” from that hip barista may lead to a blossoming long-lasting affair full of foutjes and friendship. 

7. Learn words strategically 

If you only have a limited amount of time, you’ll be pleased to hear that many Dutch words allow you to kill two birds with one stone. 

Yepp, tons of Dutch words can mean more than one thing, making for both confusion and convenience for new Dutch learners. 

Sometimes the lazy way is the smart way. Image: Depositphotos

Our favourite examples include alsjeblieft, meaning both please and here you go, and dag, meaning both hello and goodbye. Why make it complicated, when you can just reuse words? Other languages should take notes!

8. Embrace humour

Being funny in a different language is a challenge known to most students of talen. You can be an absolute pro at business jargon and textbook grammar, but without humour, you’ll likely continue to feel isolated and estranged in Dutch settings. 

READ MORE | 21 YouTubers that’ll help you learn Dutch super fast

That’s why our best tip on the topic is this: do not underestimate the importance of learning to crack (and understand) jokes in Dutch. 

And although the genre is silliness, you should make no mistake: being funny in Dutch, and understanding Dutch humour, requires you to understand the structure of the language, be flexible in your interpretation skills, and be submerged in Dutch culture. 

9. A dirty mind learns fast

This might be counter-intuitive to anyone who grew up with strict French teachers who’d kick you out of class if you as much as thought of a bad word. 

That being said, whether you like it or not, Dutch people use profanities all the time — and it’s an integral part of the language. 

Believe us, some of those swear words are creative… Image: ArturVerkhovetskiy/Depositphotos

If your goal is to understand everyday conversations, workplace gossip, or cool-kid street slang, you should not underestimate the power of filthy words. 

Plus, it’s a useful way of learning the (sometimes creative and alternative) names of body parts and diseases in Dutch!

10. Start with nonsense 

Some people focus on memorising the most necessary sentences and phrases when first learning a new language, but a far faster route to fluency is far more creative. 

Don’t wait for a situation to occur when you really need to speak Dutch before you embark on your Dutch sentences. 

Rather, play around with the words you know at any time of the day, even if the sentences they form make little to no sense.

For example: when you’re cooking dinner, try explaining to yourself what you’re doing, in Dutch. Or, when you’re walking the dog, why not point at everything you pass that you know the name of in Dutch, and tell your four-legged friend exactly how to pronounce them?

11. Make it fun!

People learn in different ways, but a common misconception is that learning a language has to start with old-fashioned textbooks. Sure, these will obviously help, but what’s more important is to find a method that makes learning fun for you

Chatting, studying, playing games online, practising at the grocery store: it’s up to you. Image: Freepik

The more you laugh, the faster you’ll learn — and the more you’re going to want to learn, too. 

READ MORE | 5 top-tier books by Dutch authors to read when discovering the Netherlands

So, if you’re wondering why your two-hours-a-week on Tuesday evening Dutch classes aren’t paying off, it might be because you’re not enjoying it, and you’re not getting long-lasting motivation from it. 

Once you’re having fun, and practicing Dutch a couple of days in a row, you’ll find that you make progress much faster. Immerse yourself in Dutch on a daily basis, and you’ll see results quicker than you can say helaas pindakaas!

Learning a new language can be a struggle, but thankfully, the journey of learning Dutch has been travelled by many an international in the Netherlands. In other words, it’s easy to find peers to practice with, or experienced Dutch speakers who can teach you all the best Dutch life hacks.

Focus on the fun, and enjoy the thrill of opening up a whole new world of knowledge and experiences — through learning this strange and funny language!

What’s your best tip for learning Dutch fast? Tell us in the comments below!

Feature Image:Depositphotos
Juni Moltubak
Juni Moltubak
Juni moved to the Netherlands after realizing how expensive tuition fees in the UK are, and never regretted her choice of studying in The Hague. After three years of Political Science, she is ready for a new adventure — an internship at DutchReview! When you don’t see her typing on her laptop she can be found strolling around Haagse Bos or sitting in her lovely garden scrolling through interior design TikToks.

Liked it? Try these on for size:

What do you think?


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

The latest Dutch news.
In your inbox.