Is Dutch Hard To Learn? The 5 Trickiest Bits of This Language
This article will explain the most challenging aspects of this language and how to overcome them. So, is Dutch hard to learn? Read on and find out!
How hard is it to learn Dutch?
Let’s start with some good news:
Dutch is a considerably easy language to learn for native English speakers. The Foreign Service Institute (FSI), the federal agency responsible for training US diplomats, ranks Dutch as a Category I language.
Languages in this group – French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian, Swedish, Danish, Portuguese, and Dutch – are considered relatively simple to learn thanks to the similarities they share with English. Languages in Categories II, III, and IV are more complicated because of their differences from English.
For instance, Dutch, Spanish, French, and English use the Latin alphabet – albeit with a few extra variations in the former three – so there aren’t many different symbols and letters to learn. In contrast, Japanese and Russian – both Category IV languages – use distinct writing systems.
So, next time someone asks you “Is Dutch hard to learn?,” tell them that it’s just as easy as French, Spanish, and Italian!
If your doubts are gone and you’re ready to start learning Dutch, do it with us! Download the Fluent Forever app and sign up for our Live Coaching program to get there fast!
How long does it take an English speaker to learn Dutch?
The FSI states that it takes one of their students 24–30 weeks (600–750 class hours) to reach a working proficiency level in Dutch. On the other hand, Japanese and Russian enthusiasts need 88 weeks (2,200 class hours).
That said, the FSI bases this estimate on its courses, resources, and native English speakers. Factors like degree of immersion, previous language learning experience, and access to native speakers can actually speed up or slow down this timeline.
However, before you start thinking that this will be a walk in the park, Dutch does have some tricky bits. So, keep these next challenging aspects in mind so you know what to look out for.
5 hardest parts of Dutch
While Dutch uses the same Latin alphabet as English, there are a few letters and combinations that give learners problems. For example, the letter G requires a guttural, raspy sound that comes from the back of your throat, which is unfamiliar to most English speakers.
Similarly, depending on the speaker’s region, one can pronounce the Dutch R with either a trill/roll – like the way it sounds in Spanish and Italian – or at the back of the throat, as in French and German.
Here’s a quick video with the Dutch alphabet to get you started:
Other difficult aspects of Dutch pronunciation have to do with consonant and vowel combinations. Let’s look at some of these and see how they’re pronounced.
|Letters||IPA||Example in Dutch|
|ng||ŋ||bang [bɑŋ] (anxious)|
|ch||Ch has 3 sounds:
χ, ʃ, and k
|zacht [zaχt] (soft)
douche [duʃ] (shower)
Christus [‘kʀɪstʏs] (Christ)
|sj||ʃ||sjaal [ʃal] (scarf)|
|sch||sχ||schoon [sχoːn] (clean)|
|nk||ŋk||bank [bɑŋk] (couch)|
|kn||kn||knoop [knop] (knot)|
|ps||ps||psycholoog [ˌpsi.χo.ˈloχ] (psychologist)|
Diphthongs, or combinations of two vowels, can also be tricky aspects of Dutch sounds. Together, these letters create sounds that no single vowel could make.
|Letters||IPA pronunciation||Example in Dutch|
|ai||ɑj||mais [mɑjs] (corn)|
|au||ɑu̯||saus [sɑu̯s] (sauce)|
|ei||ɛi̯||ei [ɛi̯] (egg)|
|eu||ø||beuk [bøk] (beech)|
|ij||ɛi̯||wijn [ʋɛɪ̯n] (wine)|
|ou||ɑu̯||oud [ɑu̯t] (old)|
|ui||œʏ̯||huis [ɦœʏ̯s] (house)|
Confusing word order
Another complicated aspect of Dutch is its sentence structure. There isn’t a set pattern, and words can shift depending on several factors.
For example, straightforward subject-verb-object (SVO) sentences do exist:
Hij eet de appel. [hɛi̯ et də ˈɑpəɫ] – He eats the apple.
However, make that a question and the verb moves:
Eet hij de appel? [et hɛi̯ də ˈɑpəɫ] – Does he eat the apple?
Additionally, things can move around when words like dat [dɑt] (that) or modal verbs like willen [wɪlə(n)](to want) feature.
For example, a simple SVO sentence like “I am tired,” where ben [bɛn] is the verb, can change as follows:
Ik ben moe. [ɪk bɛn mu] – I am tired.
Sorry dat ik moe ben. [‘sɔʀi dɑt ɪk mu bɛn] – I’m sorry that I’m tired.
When modal verbs are used in combination with other verbs, the latter take the infinitive and are placed at the end of a sentence:
Ik wil mijn boek. [ɪk wɪl mɛin buk]– I want my book.
Ik wil mijn boek lezen. [ɪk wɪl mɛin buk lezə(n)]– I want to read my book.
Sentence structure matters as it determines the function of a word in an utterance. It lets you tell a question from a statement, determine whether something is important or not, and identify the role of a word as object or subject.
Definite articles: De and Het
In Dutch, there are two ways to use the definite article: De [də] and Het [ət]. The first is used for masculine and feminine nouns, while the second is used for neuter nouns.
De man [də mɑn] – the man
De vrouw [də vʀɑu̯] – the woman
Het kind [ət kɪnt] – the child
Unfortunately, not every noun has a defined gender. For example, bier [biːɹ] (beer) uses het, while muis [mœʏ̯s] (mouse) uses de.
In short, knowing whether to use het or de before a noun comes down to memorizing each word’s article. That being said, there are some rules that will make the process easier.
- Nouns that indicate individuals (people): de president [də pʀezi’dɛnt] (the president), de brandweerman [də ‘bʀɑntʋeɹrmɑn] (the fireman)
- Every plural word: de honden [də ɦɔndə(n)] (the dogs)
- Most words ending with -el or -er: de tafel [də ˈtafəɫ] (the table), de bakker [‘bɑkəɹ] (the baker)
- Words with the suffixes -ing, -ij, -ie, -e, and –heid: de politie [də poˈlitsi] (the police), de bakkerij [bɑkəɹɛi̯] (the bakery)
- Words made diminutive with the –je termination: het hondje [‘ɦɔntjə] (the small dog), het biertje [biːɹtjə] (the tiny beer)
- All infinitive verbs used as a noun: het fietsen [ət ’fitsə(n)] (the cycling)
Irregular verb forms
Dutch is similar to English in that it has lots of irregular verbs. While there are some rules and patterns to follow, these don’t always apply.
For example, we write hoop [hop] (to hope), koop [kop] (to buy), loop [loːp] (to walk) in a similar way, but conjugate them differently regardless of their spelling.
- hoop [hop] – I hope
- koop [kop] – I buy
- loop [loːp] – I walk
- hoopte [hopte] – I hoped
- kocht [kɔχt] – I bought
- liep [lip] – I walked
Besides verb forms, plural forms also follow inconsistent rules. For instance, kat [kɑt] (cat) takes a double “t” to become katten [ˈkɑtə(n)] (cats), while the plural of vat [vɑt] (barrel) is simply vaten [ vɑtə(n)] (barrels.)
In short, you will have to memorize these grammar rules – verb by verb, noun by noun. However, just like in English, the more you practice, notice patterns, and root out exceptions, the more second nature these rules will become.
Dutch speakers’ reluctance to speak Dutch
Dutch people are generally great English speakers. As a matter of fact, the 2021 EF English Proficiency Index, which evaluates the English proficiency of 100+ non-native English-speaking countries every year, ranked the Netherlands number one… again.
Truth is, most Dutch people speak English and will usually switch over when they hear a non-native speaker struggling with their language. Regardless of how nice this is of them, it makes them poor practice partners.
Even when you’re trying to speak Dutch with a native speaker, odds are they will address you or reply in English.
Now that you know what to watch out for, don’t let it discourage you from practicing the language! There are some pretty valid reasons why Dutch is generally easy to learn for English speakers. Here are the main three.
3 reasons why Dutch is easy
Dutch is similar to English
Dutch and English belong to the Indo-European language family. Additionally, both are part of the West Germanic branch of this linguistic group.
This all means that English is closely related to this European language. In fact, Dutch is considered the major language that’s most closely related to English.
A significant closeness between languages results in similarities in grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary. And it’s the latter that stands out the most when it comes to Dutch and English.
You already know a lot of Dutch words
Did you know that you probably already know a bunch of Dutch words?
The former worldwide influence of the Dutch people resulted in a lot of places and languages adopting Dutch vocabulary. This is why lots of English words have Dutch origins.
For example, “cookie,” “booze,” and “skate” all have Dutch roots. Additionally, Dutch has borrowed many words from English – editor and manager mean exactly what you think they mean.
So, when it comes to learning Dutch vocabulary, you already have a head start!
Effective learning resources are readily available
Nowadays, language learning isn’t confined to a school or college course. Tools, methods, and strategies to study new languages (including Dutch) have never been as readily available and varied.
Textbooks – It’s hard to understate how reliable and popular language textbooks are. If you choose right, they can be comprehensive, trustworthy, and well-structured tools for self-studying learners.
Software and apps – If you’re more of a digital-minded person, these might suit your learning style better. However, the options run the gamut from “effective” to “not so much.” If you want to use a language software or app, make sure it yields results.
Our honest Fluent Forever app review offers a pretty comprehensive guide on what to look for in a language app.
Tutors and courses – Here’s an option for learners who need a bit more guidance. Additionally, these resources provide continuous testing and exercises to reinforce your knowledge and monitor your progress.
You can check out more useful Dutch resources in our comprehensive guide to The Best Way To Learn Dutch.
Is Dutch worth learning?
Dutch, like any other language, comes with its own set of perks.
First off, There are 23 million people worldwide who speak Dutch. Although famously the official language of the Netherlands, it’s also spoken in Belgium and Suriname. Additionally, Dutch is an official language of Aruba, Curaçao, and St Maarten.
Besides giving you ample choices to travel to all of these places and communicate your way around with ease, Dutch lets you discover so many different cultures and can open the door to new work opportunities.
Best ways to learn Dutch with 4 effective tips
Now that you have a more detailed understanding of Dutch – both its hard and easy bits – here are 5 effective tips to learn this language.
1. Set goals
Start your Dutch journey by figuring out why you want to learn it. However, make sure to pick a personal reason that will motivate you to keep going when the going gets tough.
Then, give your goal smaller objectives with deadlines to reach. For example, if your aim is to travel to the Netherlands in the summer, why not learn 5 new Dutch phrases every week?
2. Stay motivated
Find ways to stay motivated throughout the process of learning Dutch. For instance, you could reward yourself with a treat or a Dutch movie each time you meet your weekly 5-phrase quota!
3. Use word lists to build vocabulary
If you want to speak and understand Dutch fast, your safest bet is to learn from frequency lists. These are compilations of the most commonly used words in a specific language.
By learning the top 1,000 words used in Dutch, you’ll be able to read, speak, and understand bigger chunks of the language.
You can start with this awesome list of 625 words that’s also available in Dutch.
4. Learn Dutch with Fluent Forever
We’ve already mentioned that the tools and resources you rely on to learn Dutch can make the process easier. So, when it comes to an effective language learning method, you can’t get any better than Fluent Forever.
Through the proprietary app and Live Coaching program, Fluent Forever provides you with the fastest way to learn Dutch.
First, you learn tricky pronunciation and frequently used vocabulary in-app through personalized flashcards. With the help of an internal SRS (spaced repetition) algorithm, the app creates custom review sessions for you based on your progress.
Second, with some Dutch under your belt, the app’s flashcard system will teach you grammar using vocabulary you already know. Plus, you can add new sentences and phrases you are interested in learning.
Lastly, to really supercharge your journey to Dutch fluency, you can work with a personal language tutor. Our Live Coaching program pairs you up with a native-speaking coach who’ll get you speaking comfortably and having engaging conversations based on your interests and fluency goals.
Our language coaches are 100% Dutch native speakers trained in our teaching methodology. Additionally, they play the role of keeping you stoked about learning Dutch and holding you accountable for your progress.
So, are you ready to learn Dutch? Download our app and sign up for Live Coaching here![shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="28313910"]
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