Learning Dutch was never a goal of mine. It simply wasn’t part of my plan. It was something that just happened along the way, as with many things in life. Once it became more apparent that I would be calling Amsterdam my home for the coming few years, I realized that acquiring the basics of the language would be essential to my integration into Dutch society. I became curious to learn more about my cultural surroundings through the eyes of the locals, even though English is commonly understood and spoken throughout the Netherlands. My decision to take a Dutch course was purely based on my desire to become more immersed in Dutch culture.
In the classroom
From my own experiences with learning a second language at school and teaching English as a second language, I knew that the traditional method of learning a language, with the emphasis on grammar, does not provide you with enough confidence to speak in real-life situations. With this in mind, I purposely chose a course designed to help increase fluency and pronunciation in order to become more confident when communicating with neighbors, colleagues and other contacts through daily interaction. In my personal and professional experience, I have found this to be the best way to learn and speak a language. Practice, practice and some more practice.
In the real world
For those of you who may be on this road right now, or plan to tackle the language at some point in the near future, here are my personal tips for successfully acquiring Dutch as a second (or third) language:
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
Fluency is more important than accuracy. If possible, ask a Dutch friend or colleague to speak Dutch with you and correct your mistakes. Aim at becoming comfortable with expressing your thoughts and forming sentences in Dutch, without holding back out of fear of making mistakes.
Increase your exposure to Dutch media
Watch Dutch films, read Dutch newspapers and listen to Dutch music. If you don’t have the opportunity to practice Dutch at your workplace, take the time to expose yourself to the language at home, in the car, or during your daily commute.
Practice with the locals
Ask Dutch locals to speak Dutch with you even when they insist on speaking English. The Dutch are renowned for their ability to communicate in English and take every opportunity they can to practice with an English native speaker, but this won’t get you very far in building Dutch fluency. Stay patient, speak slowly and don’t be afraid to practice with strangers.
Avoid translating from your native language
Focus on the context of the conversation at hand. One of the pitfalls of learning a new language is translating literally from your mother tongue. This may lead you to fossilize certain phrases incorrectly due to language interference, not to mention how tiring it can be for your brain to continuously switch between two languages.
If you plan on spending an extended period of time in the Netherlands, being able to communicate and comprehend Dutch really does make all the difference to the quality of your experience. Whether it is to socialize with Dutch locals, to increase job opportunities or to feel less like a tourist, it is definitely worth the effort!