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The Best Way to Learn Dutch: Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Study

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When I first moved to the Netherlands with my family, I was a teenager who couldn’t speak a word of Dutch. I remember sitting down in front of the TV, turning the channel to my favorite program, and realizing with dismay that I had no idea what any of the characters were saying. It’s been a long journey in the twenty years since then, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. In this article, I will share some of my favorite tips and tricks, as well as the best way to learn Dutch depending on your skill level, interests, and the time available to you.

Regardless of where you are in your journey, the best way to learn Dutch is to have fun and build sustainable, consistent habits. Having good resources is important, but an intensive course is no good if you’re a busy parent with only ten minutes to spare each day.

Keep a Diary

I discovered this trick relatively recently, and it has quickly become one of my favorite tips for language learning. It’s easy to overthink this concept, focusing too much on grammar, sentence structure, or spelling. However, although these concepts are useful to keep in mind, producing perfect writing is not the objective of this exercise. The goal is to get into the habit of thinking and writing in Dutch daily.

For this exercise, you’ll need either a notebook, a journaling app, or the notes app on your phone. Then, set a time, and get into the habit of adding something to the journal each day. It doesn’t have to be much, especially in the beginning. It could be a sentence about how much you liked the soup you had for lunch, a paragraph summarizing your day, or pages of rambling. Go at your own pace and commit to what you feel comfortable with. Remember, this isn’t about producing memorable, perfect prose. It’s about learning to think in Dutch. This is about learning how to find the words to express your thoughts and opinions, as well as describing memories and experiences.

Speaking Dutch, especially with native Dutch speakers, can be an intimidating first step to take. It’s a fast-paced environment and leaves little time to formulate even simple thoughts for new learners. If you find yourself struggling to take that crucial step into Dutch conversation, then keeping a diary may be the best way to learn Dutch at this stage in your journey.

With time, as you commit to keeping this diary, you might find that writing and thinking in Dutch becomes easier and easier. You may find yourself writing for longer and on more complex topics. It can be an excellent tool for growing your confidence.

Another benefit to keeping a diary is that it can help you track your growth. After several years of study, it’s easy to forget how you started. Keeping a diary can be an excellent tool for those days when you’re feeling frustrated with your progress. Cracking open your first diary and comparing what you wrote then to what you know now can provide some valuable perspective on how far you’ve come as a student.

Make a Habit of Listening Practice

I would personally argue that active listening while engaging with media you enjoy is the best way to learn Dutch at the beginning of your studies.

When I first moved to the Netherlands, I made a habit of watching Dutch-spoken TV each day after school. In particular, I watched a lot of cartoons. Cartoons and children’s media are a fantastic starting point, as the dialogue is often enunciated more clearly and spoken more slowly.

In the beginning, I relied heavily on subtitles to understand what was going on. However, with time, I became familiar enough with the cadence of Dutch to begin picking up words and then sentences. With persistence, I began to notice that specific expressions and words belonged to certain actions or emotions. I relied on the subtitles less and less until, at a certain point, I stopped needing them altogether.

The key to listening practice is to incorporate it regularly into your schedule. Daily if you can. Although it’s tempting to slap a podcast on in the background and listen absently while doing something else, the best way to learn Dutch when using listening practice is to remain actively engaged. I find it best to use media you find genuinely interesting or entertaining. If you want to understand what’s being said, it will make the entire process much more rewarding.

With the amount of resources available online today, there’s no shortage of potential options. For a full breakdown of how to use listening in your studies, as well as a list of resources to get you started, I recommend the following article on Dutch listening practice.

Engage in Conversation

The best way to learn Dutch at any level is to engage in Dutch conversation. Although this can be intimidating at first, especially for us introverts, the benefits far outweigh the cons. If you can persevere through the initial nervousness, speaking Dutch will become easier and easier. In combination with additional learning resources, such as a course and/or active listening, this is a fantastic way to move toward fluency. When I committed to this, I saw a drastic improvement in just a year.

If you are fortunate enough to be learning Dutch while living in the Netherlands, I would suggest committing to only speaking Dutch. During my time there, I would often meet many lovely people who would immediately switch to English the second they realized I was struggling. However, as tempting as it is to take that lifeline, I’d recommend sticking to Dutch with dogged determination. It may feel like jumping in the deep end at first, but it’s easily the best way to learn Dutch in my experience.

When I first started learning, I came away with an impressive number of conversational blunders, which earned me a few bewildered looks from the people I was speaking to, followed by a slow and cautious suggestion of what I’d meant to say (rather than the incredibly worrying and/or offensive thing I’d actually said). It’s challenging at first and you will make mistakes. However, with time, speaking in Dutch will get easier. Persistence and practice are key.

If you’re learning outside the Netherlands, your options are a little more limited. However, I would suggest taking to online communities. Finding Dutch groups online, be it on social media, instant messaging apps, or hobby communities, can offer brilliant opportunities to engage and practice.

Gamify Your Experience with Apps

When I first started learning Dutch, the options available for study were quite limited, especially outside the Netherlands. Now, more than ever, we have so many great options. We can so easily open our phones and have colorful, tailored apps available to deliver learning in bite-sized chunks. If you have virtually no time on your hands, using one of these apps may be the best way to learn Dutch.

However, it’s important to note that no app is ever going to provide a complete learning resource. During very busy periods of my life, I have often found myself relying on a preferred app to stay practiced, but within the scope of your overall learning, I would suggest only using them as supplements.

Here are a few options to explore:

  • Clozemaster – With apps available on Android and iOS, and a web version, Clozemaster is an excellent tool for practicing your Dutch in short bursts. Its methodology relies on using contextual clues to help you learn more about the language. It also offers a variety of customization options, allowing for a much more targeted study experience. Lessons can be adjusted so that they focus on a variety of areas, including vocabulary and listening comprehension.
  • Duolingo – This award-winning program has apps available for Android, iOS, and as a website, and is a good tool for studying in small bursts. It’s useful for improving vocabulary, spelling, writing, and basic listening comprehension.
  • Babbel – With options for Android, iOS, and the web, Babbel is another popular study option. Offering a comprehensive study plan, each lesson has been designed to improve all factors of your language learning, including listening, vocabulary, grammar, and fluency. The app offers daily reviews, providing insight into areas that you may need to focus on. It also has games, podcasts, and additional audio lessons to help you study. Babbel is available through a paid subscription, although you can test it with a free trial.
  • LingQ – Available on Android, iOS, and as a web version, LingQ is another excellent study tool. This app relies on media engagement to drive learning and provides a huge catalog of options, including books, articles, podcasts, songs, and YouTube videos in the language you are studying. This option is only available with a paid subscription.
  • AnkiApp – Available on Android, iOS, and on the web, this flashcard app is an excellent study tool. With the option to download premade packs, it’s easy to get started on improving vocabulary within minutes of downloading. However, it does also allow the option to build your own flashcard pack from scratch.

Enroll in a Course

If you’re planning to work or live in the Netherlands, or perhaps become a Dutch citizen, you will likely need to take the Staatsexamen Nt2. In this case, the best way to learn Dutch and take your studies to the next level is to invest in a course. Although there are plenty of options online, I would personally recommend LOI.

LOI is a Dutch education provider that offers a variety of courses, ranging from children’s reading comprehension to college-level courses. All of the learning materials are in Dutch and are aimed at Dutch speakers, so this will be best for advanced learners. If one of the courses piques your interest, you will need to sign up (inschrijven) and once you have finished, you will receive emails with information on how to log in, as well as details on how to pay. Please note that payment is only accepted through bank transfer with the LOI.

If you’re interested, here are a few courses to take a look at:

  • Leesvaardigheid – Intended for children aged seven to ten, this interactive online course aims to improve children’s reading comprehension.
  • VMBO Nederlands – This entry-level high school course will cover the fundamentals of Dutch for this level. The VMBO is an official Dutch qualification that stands for ‘voorbereidend middelbaar beroepsonderwijs’.
  • HAVO Nederlands – This eight-month course will cover Dutch up to high school diploma level. Like the VMBO, the HAVO is an official Dutch qualification that stands for ‘hoger algemeen voortgezet onderwijs’.

If you’re looking for something a little more intense, the LOI also offers several vocational and higher education options. These include MBO (middle-level applied education) and HBO (higher professional education) courses.

Visit the Netherlands

If you ever get the chance, I would highly recommend visiting the Netherlands at some point during your studies. Spending time in a country where the first language is Dutch will give you ample opportunities to practice everything you’ve learned.

More than that, it will give you the chance to spend some time surrounded by the culture, enjoying the food and exploring the country. Turning on the TV will give you immediate access to Dutch television and a little shopping will give you the chance to buy Dutch books, movies, and music.

Even if just for a few days, having the chance to put everything you’ve learned into practice in this way can be incredibly motivating and can give you something to aim toward.

In Conclusion

In the end, this is your learning journey. Ultimately, the best way to learn Dutch is to tailor your learning to what you need: to the time you have available, and to what you find interesting and motivating.

I wish you the greatest luck with your studies, and, as always, blijf oefenen!

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