How To Learn Dutch: The Ultimate Guide With 7 Effective Tips
Updated February 6, 2024
Do you want to learn Dutch quickly? You’re in the right place! This article will show you the best methods, strategies, and tools to master this exciting European language.
So, you want to learn Dutch
Is this the year you finally decided to learn Dutch? Or are you picking it up after some time off? Whatever the case, this guide will help you learn this language once and for all!
With so many Dutch textbooks, courses, and software options out there, it can be overwhelming and frustrating to choose the right one. So we set out to compile the most effective tips for everything Dutch-related.
Before we begin, remember that your best bet to learn Dutch is to download and use the Fluent Forever app. Additionally, if you want to supercharge and speed through the language, you can sign up for our Live Coaching program and practice with your very own native-speaking tutor.
Download the app and sign up for Live Coaching here.
- Grasp the basics
- Use a language app
- Sign up for a course
- Read textbooks
- Practice with native speakers
- Consume Dutch media
- Surround yourself with Dutch
Why learn Dutch?
Learning any language comes with its own set of benefits. Dutch is no exception! Here are some perks of picking up this wonderful language.
Score brownie points with the locals – Most Dutchies speak English. However, they are still very proud of their native language. There’s no doubt that your experience with locals will be significantly more positive if you can communicate in their language. So, get on the good side of native speakers by surprising them with Nederlands [ˈnedərlɑns]!
Find travel opportunities – If you think that you can only use Dutch in the Netherlands, think again! Around 23 million people speak it worldwide. What’s more, Belgium and Suriname use Dutch as their official language, too. Dutch is also an official language in Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, and Saba, St Eustatius, and St Maarten.
It’s easy to learn it! – Dutch is a relatively simple language to learn for English speakers. For starters, both languages share a lot of vocabulary, so you already know a good number of Dutch words. So if you’re worried about it being too hard, don’t!
Get down to business – Cities like Rotterdam, Den Hague, and Amsterdam are significant business and tourism centers for Europe and the world. Dutch can therefore open doors to European markets, create new clientele, and broaden your overall professional network.
Explore the culture and media – Literature, movies and series, paintings – you name it! The Netherlands is a powerhouse when it comes to cultural exports that have awed the world. For instance, did you know that Big Brother, Who is the Mole, and The Voice, all international award-winning series, were all created by creative Dutchies? Enjoy all of these works in their original, unfiltered language!
Is Dutch hard to learn?
In short, no, it’s not difficult to learn Dutch for native English speakers.
According to the Foreign Service Department (FSI), the agency responsible for training US diplomats, Dutch is a Category I language. Languages in this group are significantly similar to English, so they’re relatively simple to learn for speakers of English.
English and Dutch belong to the West Germanic branch of the Indo-European family of languages. They share similarities in vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. As a matter of fact, Dutch is one of the closest linguistic relatives of English!
That being said, Dutch does have some tricky bits that are distinct from its English cousin. You can learn more about the specific difficulties of Dutch in our Is Dutch Hard to Learn? article.
Differences between Dutch and English
Regardless of their linguistic closeness, Dutch and English do have some differences. The former’s word order, definite articles, and pronouns stand out in particular.
Word order is extremely important in Dutch – it signals if a sentence is a question or statement, and whether a word is the object or subject of a phrase. And, while sentences can follow an SVO structure as in English, Dutch word order generally varies.
For example, the verb in a sentence will move to the front if it’s turned into a question:
Jullie vinden het boek leuk. [ˈjʏli ˈvɪndə(n) ət buk løk] – You (plural) like the book.
Vinden jullie het boek leuk? [ˈvɪndə(n) ˈjʏli ət buk løk] – Do you like the book?
In this case, vinden [ˈvɪndə(n)] (to find or to like) moves to the front in the question.
Things can also move around when using modal verbs. For instance, using willen [ˈʋɪlə(n)] (to want – a help verb) in combination with another verb will shift the latter to the end of the sentence in its infinitive form.
Hij wil een taart. [ɦɛi̯ ʋɪɫ ən taɹt] – He wants a cake.
Hij wil een taart eten. [ɦɛi̯ ʋɪɫ ən taɹt ˈetə(n)] – He wants to eat a cake.
In this example, eten [ˈetə(n)] (to eat) moves to the end in its infinitive form. In a regular English sentence, “to eat” would stay next to “want.”
De or Het
Dutch has two ways of using “the,” the definite article: De [də] and Het [ət]. The former goes before masculine and feminine nouns, the latter before neuter nouns. For instance:
De man [də mɑn] – the man
De vrouw [də vʀɑu̯] – the woman
Het kind [ət kɪnt] – the child
Unfortunately, not every word has a clear gender. For example, bier [biːɹ] (beer) and paard [paɹt] (horse) are het words, while tafel [ˈtafəɫ] (table) and eend [ent] (duck) use de. Why? Who knows? Not even native speakers!
There are somewhat consistent rules you can follow to know whether to use de or het. However, bear in mind that these rules aren’t 100% undeviating.
- Nouns that indicate individuals (people): de werknemer [də ʋɛɹˈkneməɹ] (the employee), de bokser [də ˈbɔksəɹ] (the boxer)
- Every plural word: de klompen [də klɔmpə(n)] (the clogs)
- Most words ending with -el or -er: de tafel [də ˈtafəɫ] (the table), de bakker [ˈbɑkəɹ] (the baker)
- Words with the suffixes -ing, -ij, -ie, -e, and –heid: de schoonheid [də sχoːnˈɦɛi̯t] (the beauty), de route [də ˈʀutə] (the route)
- Words made diminutive with the –je termination: het biertje [ət ˈbiːɹtjə] (the tiny beer)
- All infinitive verbs used as a noun: het fietsen [ət ’fitsə(n)] (the cycling)
Unlike in English, the Dutch pronouns for “you” and “we” have two different variants. In the former’s case, there’s also a third version reserved for formal situations.
First, both pronouns have stressed and unstressed forms: jij [jɛi̯] (you) and wij [ʋɛi̯] (we), and je [jə] (you) and we [ʋə] (we), respectively.
Je is used when you’re referring to a general and unspecified “you.” On the other hand, jij underscores that a specific person is being pointed out. The same goes for we and wij – the former represents a general “we,” while latter underscores a specific group of two or more people.
Lastly, jij (you) has a formal form, u [y] (you), used in formal situations. While u is used for the singular “you,” its plural version, jullie [ˈjʏli], is used for both informal and formal addresses.
Can you learn Dutch fast?
So, are there ways to learn Dutch quickly? There sure are! But how fast is fast?
The FSI estimates that it takes one of its students 24–30 weeks (600–750 class hours) to reach a working proficiency level in Dutch. In comparison, a person needs 88 weeks (2,200 class hours) to achieve the same with Japanese.
That said, this timeline is based on the FSI’s courses and methodologies. There are other factors that can accelerate the process.
For example, a native German speaker will learn Dutch even faster than an English speaker. And the same native speaker will pick up the language even quicker if they live in a Dutch-speaking country.
Regardless of your native language and where you live, the learning resources and methods you use matter even more. Make sure to choose a learning strategy that fits your style and keeps you engaged.
How to start learning Dutch
Set personal fluency goals
First, start by defining a personal fluency goal with Dutch. Ask yourself: Why do I want to learn Dutch?
Do you want to eventually live in the Netherlands? Are you looking to study there, perhaps? Or are you simply hoping to impress that cute Dutch barista in your favorite cafe?
Setting a personal goal is good for a few reasons. First, it will help you define the language tools and resources you need to use. For instance, if you’re learning Dutch to travel to Amsterdam for the summer, a book of Dutch phrases and travel vocabulary might be a good resource to tap into.
Second, a personal goal will let you know when you’ve reached a satisfactory fluency level. A person looking to relocate to the Netherlands will have a longer way to go than, say, someone hoping to chit-chat with their mother-in-law over a weekly coffee.
Third, a personal goal, as opposed to a generic or vague one, keeps you motivated and engaged during the learning process. “I want to learn Dutch because it’s a nice language” is good, but “I want to learn Dutch to enjoy and discuss Dutch movies with my native-speaking partner” is a stronger motivator.
Choose a method that’s right for you
When it comes to learning Dutch, there are many options out there – both online and offline.
The best thing you can do is to learn Dutch with a method that is motivating, effective, and fits your style.
For example, language textbooks can be great for self-learners who enjoy structured, exercise-filled language tools. In contrast, they can be tedious and boring for people who need others around them to stay engaged.
For the latter, traveling abroad to the Netherlands or signing up for a language class or course might be a better option to learn Dutch. Alternatively, they can work with a private language tutor.
Whatever you go for, make sure it fits your goals and learning style.
The 7 best tips to learn Dutch
1. Grasp the basics
Dutch relies on the same alphabet as English. However, a few letters and combinations can be tricky. For instance, the G is pronounced with a guttural sound that is raspy and unfamiliar to native English speakers.
The Dutch R is also pronounced with either a trill/roll or at the back of the throat, depending on the region and dialect.
That being said, Dutch sounds aren’t as hard to master as they seem. After a week or two of practicing, you should be able to grasp the language’s essential pronunciation.
To give you a head start, here’s a list of consonant combinations and diphthongs that tend to present issues for English learners:
|Ch has three different sounds:
Here are three new videos from the pronunciation trainer that we’ve made available on YouTube: the first covers Dutch phonetics and spelling, the second talks about the Dutch vowels, and the third teaches you key Dutch spelling rules.
If you want to learn Dutch quickly, you should avoid trying to memorize every word you come across and focus on frequency lists instead. Frequency lists are compilations of commonly used words in a specific language.
By learning from these lists, you’re picking up the vocabulary you’ll come across more often in Dutch texts, conversations, and media. In other words, you’ll be able to understand bigger chunks of Dutch you encounter in the wild.
We have an awesome List of 625 Dutch words that you can start with. The vocabulary in this list is arranged in themes, not categories. This makes memorizing the vocab easier and faster by helping you create associations between the terms in each theme.
Once you’re done with that list, you can check out the Routledge Frequency Dictionary. It’s a great source of commonly used Dutch words that’s readily available from most online bookstores.
Lastly, when it comes to Dutch vocabulary, here’s some good news: you probably already know a lot of it!
Because both English and Dutch are so closely related, they share a lot of vocab. Lots of words in Dutch are either identical or very similar to their English counterparts in terms of spelling and/or sound.
For instance, here’s a list of Dutch words you probably don’t need the translation for:
Tomaat [to’mat] – tomato
Bakker [ˈbɑkəɹ] – baker
Auto [ˈɔutoː] – car
Trein [tʀɛi̯n] – train
Mandarijn [mɑndɑ’ʀɛi̯n] – mandarin
Still, you should keep an eye out for false friends, or words in two different languages that share similarities in spelling or sound but differ in meaning. For example, slim in Dutch doesn’t mean “slim” in English, but “smart.”
Dutch grammar can be a headache for English speakers for three reasons: informal verb forms, word order, and definite articles. We already went over the last two in this section.
When it comes to Dutch’s informal verb forms, there’s no other way to say it: there are lots of them. Just like in English!
For instance, hoop [hoːp] ( hope), koop [koːp] ( buy), loop [loːp] (walk) have a similar spelling in their simple present form, but they’re conjugated differently in their simple past form: hoopte [hoːptə], kocht [kɔχt], liep [liːp].
Don’t obsess about memorizing each and every Dutch verb form there is. Instead, focus on picking up a lot of vocabulary and learning grammar rules intuitively.
If you really want to delve into Dutch grammar, you can check out our grammar book recommendations in the resource section of this article.
Similar to frequency lists, common phrases are useful to help you speak Dutch quickly. They’re also great if you’re planning to travel to a Dutch-speaking country soon!
We have a couple of articles that can give you a head start in this matter. First, check out the different ways to say please and thank you in Dutch, followed by the many words and phrases to say hello and goodbye.
Now, these basics may seem like a lot, but there’s good news! There’s a way to learn the basics (and more) of Dutch in a simple yet effective way. With the Fluent Forever method, of course!
Get familiar with the core of the language with a proven method, all in one go.
First, using effective listening tests, the app rewires your ears for Dutch sounds and prepares your brain to memorize vocabulary more easily.
Second, through effective flashcards and a personalized review algorithm, the app teaches you the essential Dutch vocabulary and grammar. Plus, you can choose the sentences to practice with.
Lastly, through our Live Coaching program, you’re paired with your very own native-speaking language tutor. Your Dutch coach creates custom sessions based on your goals and interests, making for engaging sessions that will motivate you to speak Dutch in no time!
Download the app and sign up for Live Coaching here.
2. Use a language app
In terms of practicality, language apps are tough to beat – they can be effective and fun while fitting in the palm of your hand. But we know that the options can be overwhelming.
Additionally, with so many companies out there, it’s easy to invest in something ineffective and incomplete. For instance, most apps focus on vocabulary through rote memorization but fail to address pronunciation.
By relying on rote memorization and not teaching you pronunciation first, these apps are slowing down your progress and making things more difficult to retain. So, when it comes to apps, get something that’s both effective and comprehensive.
Not to toot our own horn, but our app is part of a 4-step methodology proven to teach you a language fast. And, you guessed it, we make sure to teach you proper pronunciation first.
Check out an honest review of the Fluent Forever app and see for yourself.
3. Sign up for a course
Online courses can be reliable options for those looking for a more structured way to learn Dutch. Similar to apps, there are lots of options out there.
Whatever you choose, make sure it allows you to practice a lot – this can be via writing or speaking exercises. A course should provide lots of opportunities to actually use Dutch.
4. Read textbooks
It’s easy to see why language textbooks continue to be popular among learners. They’re comprehensive, structured, and trustworthy resources to study and practice a new language.
Most textbooks come with workbooks with useful exercises and handy tips. Some also tend to include audio support in the form of MP3 files or CDs.
You can start by checking Amazon’s Top Selling List of Dutch books.
5. Practice with native speakers
Books will only take you so far in Dutch; you need to actually speak it!
Enter native speakers.
Native speakers are extremely valuable resources for learners for a few reasons. First, they provide perfect pronunciation and, depending on where they are from, a variety of accents to choose from.
Second, they offer immediate feedback and corrections. Lastly, they are basically walking, talking, moving dictionaries – an endless source of new vocabulary!
So, find native speakers and language communities online and offline to practice your Dutch. Better yet, work with a language tutor. Besides usually being native speakers, tutors have a vast experience in language teaching methods and strategies.
Fluent Forever’s Live Coaching can pair you up with your very own language tutor who’s also a native Dutch speaker. Our tutors are referred to as coaches because they play the extra role of motivating throughout your journey to Dutch fluency.
Sign up today!
6. Consume Dutch media
One of the best ways to learn Dutch from the comfort of your couch is through Dutch media. Once you have enough vocabulary and grammar under your belt, consume as many podcasts, songs, TV, news, movies, series, and YouTube videos as you can to speed up your progress.
7. Surround yourself with Dutch
The most effective way to learn Dutch is to spend some time in a Dutch-speaking country. In this way, you are surrounding yourself with the language 24/7 – speaking, reading, and thinking in Dutch every waking moment of the day.
This refers to immersion in language learning, and it’s incredibly effective. In short, you’re forcing yourself to use and think in your target language intensively, which makes for a powerful learning method.
Unfortunately, not everyone can drop everything and go live in another country. However, there are ways to mimic immersion in your everyday life. Here are some techniques you can try in your home:
- Change the language settings of your electronics to Dutch: phone, computer, tablet, etc.
- Tag objects in your house with flashcards featuring their Dutch names
- Volunteer or work in a place frequented by native speakers
- Switch to Dutch short stories, magazines, and news
Dutch language resources
Dutch grammar books
As we’ve already mentioned, Dutch grammar isn’t too different from English grammar. But there are some tricky bits and pieces that may present a challenge, especially for beginners.
Essential Dutch Grammar and Dutch Made Nice & Easy are simple yet effective introductions to the language’s most used phrases and basic grammar rules. Afterwards, you can delve deeper into this element with more advanced textbooks, like Intermediate Dutch.
You can read anything you’re interested in learning. If you’re still at a beginner level, you can check out Dutch Short Stories for Beginners, a great compilation of short narratives covering different genres.
The Harry Potter series is a Fluent Forever favorite because it has been translated into hundreds of different languages, including Dutch!
The Assimil series is a long-used learning resource available for different languages. It was made popular with French, but its method has been shown to be effective with other languages.
We suggest you use Assimil’s Dutch package as a supplement to the other resources you use to learn Dutch.
Dictionarist provides translations, example sentences, conjugations, and synonyms for a number of languages, including Dutch.
The Fluent Forever method: the best way to learn Dutch
Together, the Fluent Forever app and Live Coaching program provide you with our proven and efficient 4-step method to learn Dutch:
Step 1 – The app trains your brain to identify Dutch pronunciation with effective listening tests.
Step 2 – Through the unrivaled learning power of flashcards, you acquire key Dutch vocabulary. Along with the integrated personalized SRS algorithm, the app automates the process of making flashcards with images and customized review sessions based on your progress.
Step 3 – Using the words you’ve already learned, the app will get you to learn Dutch grammar intuitively. Here you can choose the sentences you want to practice with and add some of your own!
Step 4 – Our language coaches will get you speaking Dutch quickly, being 100% native speakers and trained in our teaching methodology. Your 1-on-1 sessions will be based on your fluency goals and personal interests, making for engaging and fun Dutch lessons.
So, are you ready to get your Dutch on? Get the Fluent Forever app and join the Live Coaching program to learn Dutch fast!
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