Thoughts on Learning Dutch from a Newbie

Tips for learning Dutch
My go-to books when I first started learning Dutch

One of my favorite websites for learning Dutch is It has been such a wonderful tool in helping me learn the language. With blogs and videos with multiple subtitles (Dutch and your own language are displayed at the bottom of the video screen), this site gives you a great start to learning about Dutch language and culture.

Here’s a blurb from the website:

“2BDutch is an easy and funny way to learn more about Dutch language and culture. Our videos with multiple subtitles can be used to practice your listening comprehension skills and to learn new Dutch words. Or just get more information about the Netherlands. 2BDutch is a community. Everyone can participate. So, feel free to join!”

The article A Newbie’s Advice: Thoughts on Learning Dutch originally appeared on

Let’s see… where to begin? Well, I am a 26-year-old American who moved to the Netherlands for my Dutch husband. I’ve found that the whole “Dutch partner” thing is pretty typical here.

I met my husband in September 2007 and started learning Dutch from the silly words he taught me, like voetjevrijen (“footsies”) and schatje (“sweetie”). He eventually taught me how to count and introduced me to the “biggie” verbs: hebben (“to have”) and zijn (“to be”).

As Walt Disney said, it is a “small world after all.” Just to drive home that fact, there happened to be a Dutch exchange student at the high school where my mother was teaching at the time. It was this student, Naomi, who prepared me for the dreaded “Meeting of the Future In-laws” (which becomes just that much more terrifying when you don’t speak the same language). While all of this was fun and helpful, it certainly was not enough to get by once I was actually living in the Netherlands.

My mother is a stickler for being able to speak enough of the language to get by in whatever country you plan to visit. So it never crossed my mind to live in the Netherlands without learning Dutch.

I have also had this innate desire to be fluent in a second language and have long been jealous of those who are bilingual. I studied Spanish and then French during high school (four and three years respectively) and did extremely well.

But, as the saying goes, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” And I lost 99% of the Spanish and roughly half of the French. So I see this as being my big chance. Mainly because I now have one key aspect that I was missing with the other two languages: immersion.

I am a firm believer that there is truly only one way to learn a language, and that’s the instruction/immersion combo. During instruction by a certified teacher, you learn the structure and the ‘why’s.’ Basically, you learn to speak, read, and write the language correctly.

With the immersion piece, you hear it all the time and you can apply what you learn in class to real life as well as learn the way the people speak the language – not just the way the text book uses the language.

I started using the Dutch I knew right away. Even when my vocabulary only included dankuwel and alstublieft, I forced myself to use English only to fill in the gaps. Now I use it only when I have asked the person to repeat themselves or speak slower and I still don’t understand.

Another great piece of advice is to speak it all the time. During the break in my Dutch class, I sit with the teacher and listen to and speak with her. I also use it with my husband more frequently as my Dutch improves. And my husband’s friends speak more Dutch around me now that they know I understand the majority of what they’re saying.

I play a little game with myself to see how little English I can use whenever I go shopping or to the dreaded gemeentehuis. I also joined a Dutch practice group through the International Women’s Club I joined here in Utrecht. The woman who leads the group has lived in the Netherlands for 12 years and is positively fluent. She has really given me something to aspire to.

Dutch is undoubtedly a complicated language. I have found bits and pieces of French and English within it, but all in all, it is nothing like any other language I have studied.

The structure of sentences is very complex. You’re always in suspense until you get to the end of the sentence, which is where the verb usually is. And no matter how much I practice or how hard I think about it, niet always eludes me. Where on earth do you put it depending on the point you want to get across? There are just so many rules and exceptions!

The bijzin, in my opinion, is by far the worst. You just can’t translate them literally. Although I will admit that it is fun! Take “als je Nederlands wil leren” for example… “if you Dutch want to learn”??? You gotta love it!

My husband loves the little oddities I come up with. For instance, I learned rather quickly that you cannot directly translate everything. “Home sweet home” does not become “thuis lief thuis.” Nor does “kijk naar je mond” mean the same as “watch your mouth.”

Then there’s the art of communicating in simpler words you do know when you don’t know the appropriate vocabulary. This is an art I have not quite mastered: chopping an onion and saying to my husband, with tears streaming down my face (as happens when one cuts onions) “Mijn ogen hebben water.”

How about you: What pitfalls and a-ha moments have you had while learning Dutch? Any Dutch speaking faux pas’ native speakers have given you an odd look over? I know you have them!

I’d also like to share my favorite video from 2BDutch. Enjoy!

If you’re interested in learning Dutch and want to know more about the books pictured in this post (all of which I highly recommend), see the links below. When you buy using any one of these links, a portion of your purchase goes to the maintenance and upkeep of Clogs and Hotdogs. Thanks in advance for your support!


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3 Replies to “Thoughts on Learning Dutch from a Newbie”

  1. On Sept 10, 2009 at 2:41PM Melynda said “When I first got here, one of my favorite Dutch mistakes was when I wanted to say I felt like having a party and said “Ik voel me als een feest!” (rub me to find out if it’s true!).

    I think you’re doing such an amazing job so far! They say musical people learn languages better because they remember it as music in their heads. The trick is to dare to try, something you’ve definitely been doing! Keep it up and you’ll be fluent in no time!”

  2. On Oct 4, 2009 at 1:49PM clogsandtulips said “I have some other good ones too. It seems like they just keep coming! In the future, I plan to do a post devoted to my Dutch faux pas – I’m getting quite a collection.

    Thanks for the encouragement. I have to confess that you’ve been a role model since I observed my first Divina rehearsal. Fluency is definitely my goal!”

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