Things people ask when you say you’re learning Dutch

So you’ve decided to start learning Dutch — good on you! Learning a new language is hard enough as it is, but people’s responses to your learning can be even more challenging.

I could quite comfortably write reams and reams on this topic, therefore, I thought limiting myself wasn’t such a bad idea. In this post, I am going to talk about five typical English responses and five Dutch responses you can expect when you tell someone you’re learning Dutch. 🤓

dr-evil-austin-powers-meme-i-cant-read-your-freeky-deeky-dutch
Dutch can be difficult.

These are genuine responses I have received from people when they’ve found out that I’m attempting to learn, and I quote, “Freaky Deeky Dutch.”

Typical English responses

Hopefully, most English speakers are respectful and supportive when someone decides that they want to learn Dutch. But sometimes they aren’t, and these are the possible things you might hear when you tell them about your language-learning adventure:

1. “Why?”

The standard English response to anything that is out of the ordinary: “Why do you want to do that?” “What’s the point?” Well, the point is that personal development is a choice and my choice is to do it via languages! And the language I happened to choose is Dutch. 🤷🏼‍♀️

one-does-not-simply-learn-dutch-grammar-meme
Wait until you hear about scheidbare werkwoorden (separable verbs).

2. “That’s interesting.”

This is the response from any other multilingual person. I’ve noticed myself doing it when someone says they are learning Spanish or Hindi or some other exotic-sounding language. I think there’s a mutual understanding of the struggles of learning a language that makes for a “That’s really interesting” response. Maybe you can share tips or experiences on your language learning journey.

3. “What for?”

Similar to #1, the “What for?” people always assume there is some grand end goal. They are never happy with a response along the lines of “just because” The standard expected answers are work or love. Most people think you are either learning Dutch for work or to impress a loved one. I have still not developed a good enough comeback to this kind of question. 😢

READ MORE | An expats’ guide to learning the Dutch language

4. “Is that the same as German?”

This frustrates me. Dutch is a Germanic language, BUT it isn’t German. To be honest, I was a little naive at first about Dutch as there is some cross over. However, when you hear the two together you’ll almost instantly notice that Dutch is much more soft and bouncy whereas I always feel that German is a harsh-sounding language.

5. “Say something in Dutch then.”

The response of people that don’t believe you. It’s almost as if these people want to catch you out. What should your response be? I end up going along the super predictable lines of “Hallo! Goedenmorgen, ik ben Maria. Hoe gaat het met jou?”

(Yes, that is my standard, on the spot, Dutch sentence. I have used it that many times, so people think that that is all I can say. 😕)


Dutch Responses

Dutch speakers can be even more intense when they hear that you’re learning their language. Normally you’d expect them to be impressed or flattered that you’re trying to learn a language that not many people speak — but that’s not always the case. Some Dutchies are just plain mean about it. 😤

1.”Why? Everyone here speaks English.”

This is a cop-out. Often I get this response because some Dutchies like the fact that not many people speak their language, so they can talk about you almost to your face, and you’d be none the wiser.

This is sneaky, but I must admit I like it. I can’t wait to go on a package holiday and overhear a Dutch family and their secrets. It will feel like they are talking in a code only we know, and I can give them the node! (Or not, am I getting too carried away here?).

2. “Really? It is a super hard language to learn.”

That’s no reason not to bother though, surely. Similar to the “Everyone speaks English” response, just because I don’t need it doesn’t mean it’s acceptable not to know the basic polite gestures.

READ MORE | How long does it take to learn Dutch?

In my experience, shop assistants like to have a small exchange of words at the till, and I like to leave the store knowing I’ve said my bit.

3. “That’s really good!”

This is from the nice, supportive Dutchies. They acknowledge the difficulty of learning the language, similar to the previous response, but they appreciate the commitment to learning something that sometimes feels unnatural.

learning-dutch-meme-nederlands

4. “Say something in Dutch then”

Similar to the reasons I gave for the English response, the Dutch do the same, only this time they really do want to catch you out and correct your poor pronunciation.

I had the Dutch test of saying the word “Scheveningen” which is how Dutch people figured out someone was actually Dutch or German in World War II.

This has happened to me on more than one occasion. Or the best is when they say “Say this then…” and then judge you on your delivery of an insult to someone. The best thing on those occasions for me is that 80% of the time I know I’m saying something rude, so the joke is just as much on them as it is on me!

Also, something to watch out for is the comeback of “That sounds so funny in your accent.” Well, SORRY for my Birmingham accent leaking into my Dutch. 😪

5. They carry on in a lightning round of Dutch ⚡

They start speaking Dutch quickly and expecting you to fully understand everything that is being said by everyone like a native. 🙄

There is either that response or indeed a pop quiz on all the hard words, similar to the previous response. The quiz is partly malicious in the fact that they expect you to get it wrong and embarrass you (that’s normally my response. I feel the colour rising in my cheeks, and all of a sudden EVERYBODY is looking at me).

Here’s a little Austin Powers video about a “Dutch” character to leave you with:

What responses have you received when you say you’re learning Dutch? Tell us in the comments below!

Feature Image: ArturVerkhovetskiy/Depositphotos

Maria Smith
Born and raised in England Maria is a Dutch obsessive. Not just in love with the windmills and tulips her passion for all things Orange has spanned over 10 years. Proud feminist and campaigner, Maria works in UK politics whilst dreaming about eventually moving to the Netherlands.

Liked it? Try these on for size:

What do you think?

10 COMMENTS

  1. I totally understand it…. and when I say something, the new joke is to say I sound like Maxima. Not even sure if it is a compliment or a offense.

  2. I lived in the Netherlands for about 11 months and of course also learned the language. I really like your article since I recognize a lot of your stories 😀 (like dutchies asking me why I’d learn dutch when everybody around there speaks english. Or once when I said Scheveningen in the right way they were so happy) even though I am german. Your last point on the dutch response is pretty much the best 😀

    • I think you really need to learn Dutch to be part of the community. For example it gets really boring going out with an entire group where everyone is Dutch except for you and they are all laughing and telling jokes on the top of their voices in Dutch while you sit in the corner.

  3. I think you assume a bit too much with Dutch number 4. Yeah, some people will have malicious intent, but most people are probably just curious what you can say or just want to encourage you to say something so they can compliment you (‘that sounds really good, keep going!’).

  4. Ah, Scheveningen! The story behind that one is probably that German people have some trouble saying that without immediately giving themselves away as German. There is a famous scene in the movie ‘Soldaat van Oranje’ where the main characters have to say Scheveningen to prove they are Dutch and not German spies.

  5. Soo Yeah Ofcourse we keep on talking in dutch.
    You told us you Can sprak our language Its easier for us then English (altough most of us speak English). Wouldn’t you do the Same if iT was the other way around?

    I Also know a few people who havent masterd speaking dutch But do understand everything we say. Thats really anoing i automaticly start speaking in german Or English to andere them?

  6. Yeah indeed, as Sylvia said, the Scheveningen-test was done in the war, to check whether they were impersonating the Dutch.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

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

Related posts

Latest posts

Dutch Quirk #15: Cram oliebollen into their mouths as soon as it gets cold

Well, it's officially oliebollen season in the Netherlands, so it's only appropriate to address this quirk now while it's fresh, and happening en masse...

Adolf Hitler has a valid QR code: Ministry of Health is trying to find out why

The past year and a half have been weird, but clearly, we haven’t seen it all yet — the Ministry of Health, Welfare and...

Dutch Quirk #1: Swearing with diseases (even cancer)

So, you’re sitting there on the train or walking on the street when you see some tall Dutch teenagers in their Adidas shoes and...

It's happening

The latest Dutch news.
In your inbox.

 
 
X