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Learning Dutch takes more than words alone!

Updated: Oct 28, 2023

“afstandsbediening” is listed in the top ten most difficult words to pronounce in the Dutch language. This list could actually be much longer!

One question that is also in the top ten when you meet an expat, besides “How long have you been living in Holland?”, is “Do you speak Dutch?”

We know people that have been living in the Netherlands for 18 years and still don’t speak fluent Dutch, but we also meet people who have only been here for six months and are already fluent. This makes us curious about the process and, of course, what makes the difference between these two people.

We have the perfect example at home. Our oldest daughter came to the Netherlands “full time” she was six years old and she went to a Dutch school. In six months she was speaking fluently. Lots of people say “children learn faster”. This is true, so the question is: Why do they learn fast?

Let’s start by understanding the brain process that is involved in the learning process.

We don’t all learn in the same way. Some of us are more visual, some more auditory and some of us learn more by experience (feelings/ sensations). Nowadays we know that memory and learning is not only a process in the brain but that it happens throughout the body. All cells have memory and the ability to learn. Saying this, the more you involve all your senses, the easier it will be.

In practice this means that more than the sound of the words, you should “do” the word. One great example is the word “lekker” will really sound like a Dutch person if you use your hand just like they do. Doing this can also make it much more fun!

The second thing is that learning something new, like a language, has an impact on the “personality”. Yes! That’s right. You will become more Dutchy! Are you ready for that?

Studies show that people change their behavioural patterns when they change the language that they are expressing themselves in.

The fear of losing identity is one of the most verbalized internal motives for not fully changing language. But, of course, this awareness sometimes needs external feedback to be recognized. The best way to start this self-inquiry is by asking yourself: Who will I be if I start to speak Dutch?

Another point that you maybe want to dedicate some attention to is your motivation. What is your internal motivation to learn a new language?

If you think about children and how they learn, you can see that children normally learn to play better just because they want to play. So, they make the extra effort to connect and to have a partner to play with.

In a city like Amsterdam, where almost everyone speaks English, it is very easy not to feel the need to start speaking a new language.

But if you really want to do it, some self-coaching can give you the right boost.

What is your motivation? Why is it important for you to learn the language? What is your intention to learn Dutch? What will that give you?

Your ability to learn the language is more related to the way your feel about it than your intellectual capacity.

This take us to the last point.

What do you believe in?

We like to say that “you will do everything that your beliefs allow you to do.”

If you believe that Dutch is a difficult language, that it is not such an important language to speak, that you don’t need it, that you will not be living in the Netherlands for long enough to learn it, and so on, this blocks the entrance of the language into your daily life.

Beliefs play a distinct role in our lives. They create the information for our brain to do or not to do things. We can say that a belief is like the hard program in our brain, and even when we try really hard to do something different than the program is designed for, it will be pretty difficult to achieve the desired end result.

So change you beliefs and your world will change with them.

In summary, how can Dutch become easier?

  1. Create an intention to learn Dutch;

  2. Talk like Dutch people talk, using words and your body;

Change your beliefs about the language and maybe more importantly about Dutch people.

Ligia Ramos

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