There is no better way to improve one’s vocabulary than to read books. In his latest book ‘De lezende mens’ (The Reading Human), written together with book historian Adriaan van der Weel, Ruud Hisgen of the Direct Dutch Institute makes a strong plea for renewed attention to the future of reading. We’re all aware that reading is important and yet, people all over the world are reading less than ever before. In this article, Ruud Hisgen explains why reading as a language learner is so important, while also giving you some tips and handy Dutch phrases. 

There is no better way to improve one’s vocabulary than to read books. We’re all aware of this fact. And yet, humans all over the world are reading less than ever before. In this article, I want to explain exactly why you should not forget to read when you are a learner of Dutch, while also giving you some tips and handy Dutch phrases. 

1. Ik lees dus ik denk (I read therefore I think) Reading is a fundamental skill. We owe our knowledge and thinking ability to reading. But deep and attentive reading is under pressure. There are just too many distractions. Smart phones, computers, television screens, they’re all champions at drawing our attention to whatever seems to be urgent at any time of the night or day. All of this comes at the cost of our ability to concentrate. We lose ourselves in social media, cute YouTube videos, venomous tweets and flirtatious TikTok dances.

2. Het belang van het boek (The significance of the book)With so much scrambling for our attention, the printed text loses out in the battle for scarce free time. Although we as a society are concerned at the increasing rate of “laaggeletterdheid” (functional illiteracy), we take reading itself for granted. We overlook the fact that everything we’ve achieved in our culture – science, art, justice, medicine, philosophy, politics – was handed on to us and our children by means of books.

Reading seems to be second nature to us. Yet, the history of reading is a relatively short one: humans have moved from deciphering clay tablets to printing books and then swiping on e-books in a relatively short space of time, and at each stage opened up more possibilities and opportunities to us humans. Reading skills and the rise of democracy in the 19th century, for example, went hand in hand. Texts and books brought profound changes to individuals and society. Reading is significant for our wellbeing and our democratic society.

3. Vul je woordenschat (Fill up your vocabulary)When you’re learning another language, the most efficient way of memorising new words is by reading texts in that language. The Dutch have two words for “vocabulary”. There is the Latinate “het vocabulaire” and the word of Germanic origin: “de woordenschat”. This lovely word is a compound of “woorden” (words) and “schat” (treasure). By reading new words and seeing them in context, you add valuable items to your mental treasure chest. Collecting words will multiply your prospects of communication and make you a “richer” person.

4. Gebruik een woordenboek (Use a dictionary)Reading a text in the language you are learning should always be done with a dictionary and a pencil in hand. The word “dictionary” in Dutch is “woordenboek”: a book of words. And the Dutch language has a lot of them. “Het Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal” (WNT, The Dictionary of the Dutch Language) was compiled in the period 1851-1998. This book has about 400.000 main entries whereas the famous Oxford English Dictionary has about 291.500 entries. Unlike the OED, the WNT can be consulted free of charge on the internet.

5. Vergeet je potlood niet (Do not forget your pencil)When reading, you should always use “een potlood” (pencil), because by underlining and making notes you force your brain to memorise the words. Of course, you can read from the screen, but research has shown that this kind of reading is much more cursory and superficial than reading a printed text.

6. Letterkunde, sleutel tot een cultuur (Literature, key to a culture)It does not matter what you read, as long as you read. Whether it is “een krant” (a newspaper), “een tijdschrift” (a magazine), “een roman” (a novel), fiction or non-fiction, choose whatever attracts your interest. 

Dutch-born author Ian Buruma suggested that it would be a good idea for English speakers to learn Dutch: “There are various advantages to Dutch. It has a rich literature. So there is a lot to read.” And it is true that there is a wealth of novels, stories, plays and poems to be discovered. Reading helps you to get a better understanding of Dutch culture and history. 

7. Ik denk dus ik lees (I think therefore I read)When learning Dutch, do not merely focus on speaking and listening – don’t forget to read. Reading will give you a lot of fun, help you to think in Dutch, enlarge your vocabulary and give you a greater understanding of the mysterious culture of the Dutch.

Want to take your Dutch reading skills to the next level? Then check out the Dutch courses at Direct Dutch! They offer courses for every skill level, as well as free resources and articles to help you develop your Dutch quickly and easily.

One of the greatest challenges in nurturing long-term relationships is how to keep the passion alive – Marianna Kocsany (Bonding Therapy) shares some ideas for how you and your partner can reconnect sexually and rekindle the romance.

1. Let’s talk about sex!Even though a sexual revolution is unfolding in our culture, for many couples talking about sex is quite uncomfortable. There is no way we can improve something unless we talk about what works and what doesn’t. If it’s not your habit yet, create a new ritual with your partner that includes having a conversation about intimacy.

It is recommended to create a cosy set-up (not in the bedroom) and establish safety while sharing desires, needs or discomfort about sex. If you and your partner find it difficult to talk about sex, it might be fun to break the ice with the card game that is made exactly for this: “Pillow Talk” by the School of Life.

2. Letting go of shameFor many, talking about sex and admitting desires is rather unfamiliar. This not only makes conversations difficult, but also stands in the way of feeling comfortable with dirty talk. It can be helpful to work through our shame / guilt around sex, either with our partner or with a therapist.

Many women have shame about not enjoying sex enough. For them, it can be comforting to talk about sexuality with close friends or a professional, and realise they are not alone with this problem.

When it comes to letting go of shame together with your partner, it is a nice start to read an erotic book out loud to each other. This can also be very helpful when it comes to dirty talk.

Another great technique is to masturbate in front of each other, since the feeling of shame is often connected to pleasuring ourselves and being “caught.” If the idea of doing this creates great resistance in you, it is a sign that you should do it.

3. Creating distance, creating desireAlthough it is great to be the best friend of your partner and spend lots of time together, too much safety and closeness can diminish sexual tension. Desire naturally occurs when we are missing each other, as well as in situations when our partner’s behaviour is less predictable. The coronavirus lockdowns resulted in couples having to spend 24 / 7 together.

Consciously re-introducing space and unpredictability into our relationship can be done by spending more time apart or having periods when no sex is allowed (but teasing is). In addition, it is nice to share how much you’ve missed each other’s touch / kiss / body (parts), by writing each other dirty messages or using other forms of dirty talk.

It is also important to mention that desire is a very personal thing: some people get turned on by seeing their partner flirting with someone, while others find that a huge turn-off. When it comes to re-introducing the unpredictability factor in your relationship, it is important to share your preferences with one another.

4. Mixing the perfect “love hormone” cocktailResearch shows that the feeling of “love” is mainly based on three hormones: testosterone (sex drive), dopamine (triggers infatuation), and oxytocin (feeling of attachment). It is advisable to consciously induce these hormones by taking on new habits and activities.

TestosteroneTestosterone can be raised by exercise, competitiveness, and having a healthy work-life balance, whereas high stress levels can lead to a drop in testosterone and libido.

DopamineDopamine can be raised by cultivating novelty, romance, and / or adventure in your relationship. Travelling or stepping outside of our comfort zone increases dopamine levels, which helps us to feel more attracted to our partners. Introducing more unpredictability and longing has the same effect.

OxytocinOxytocin can be cultivated by physical closeness, cuddles and touch. It is important to mention that too much of this can create attachment but lack of desire too! The key is to always find the right balance between all of these “love hormones”!

5. Playing with polarity and rolesOne of the greatest challenges when it comes to sexuality in long-term relationships is to be stuck in a certain sexual dynamic. That it’s always the same person who initiates and the other surrenders. We both show only a part of ourselves, which often means the “caring and loving partner.”

For exhilarating sex, we need to be able to see our partner in a different light, and put on roles that might be unfamiliar or even uncomfortable at times. This journey can become a psychological “game” in the bedroom: we show and integrate forgotten, repressed parts of ourselves, in the arms of our beloved.

So, if it’s always your partner who is in charge in bed, initiates, and decides which position is next, switch up the roles and see what happens! You might be surprised how pleasurable it is for both of you when the roles are reversed.

Come up with fun role-play that might bring up those old times when you were just dating! Act like you are just two strangers, or each other’s neighbours, hooking up for a one-night stand. Put on a costume and a wig and act like you are another person.

For more adventurous people: play with different sexual archetypes, and power dynamics such as maid / houseowner, prostitute / client, teacher / student, boss / secretary, nurse / patient, or masseur / client. You can take these to another level by exploring kinks and even BDSM.

For more information on how to spice up your sex life and couples’ counselling go to Bonding Therapy.

Your home is a reflection of you. It is one of the few spaces that you have for yourself and can therefore be made into a reflection of who you truly are. With this in mind, it is important that a lot of thought goes into how the spaces in your home should look and make you feel.

Your home is where you may be spending most of your time and it is where you “come home” at the end of a day, so it has to be a space you really love. Bringing a bit of personality into the design of your home is guaranteed to improve the feel of the space. Yet, what stays out of your space is JUST as important as what goes into your space. This might seem like a daunting task, so here are a few key interior design mistakes you should be aware of while designing your dream interior.

5 key things you should keep in mind when designing your home interiorKeep the following things in mind while designing your dream home:

1. Don’t think everything has to matchWhile making selections for your interior, you may think that getting matching sets of furniture, matching your upholstery and colour coordinated fixtures and paints is the best way forward. This could end up making your house less vibrant and more monotonous, similar to every other house you may have seen.

Instead, choose focal elements that stand out and opt for unique mixes and matches of furniture without overdoing it. This will help you achieve a more unique space which demonstrates your personal taste, rather than it looking like something out of a showroom.

2. Don’t overdo design trendsYou might find lots of articles in magazines and posts online about the latest design trends of the year. While it is beneficial to use them as a reference point for your space, make sure you refer to them only as a starting point, and not as a complete guide. Whilst designing your home, make sure you fill it with pieces that you authentically enjoy, instead of what has been dictated somewhere else. This will ensure that your space is your own, a place that you love, and a space that you feel connected to.

In order to make your space feel personal, opt for interior choices based on your specific likes and your personal aesthetics, rather than based on a trend in a magazine or on social media.

3. Avoid using dark furniture in small spacesHaving the appropriate furniture in your space is one of the most important things to consider. This aspect has the ability to make or break your space as the furniture influences how you will perceive it. In smaller spaces, opt for light-coloured, simple furniture, as darker furniture can make your space appear even smaller.

The scale and proportion of the elements in your space always matter. Heavy and bulky furniture could make your area seem quite overcrowded and cramped, therefore opt for lighter fabrics and finishes instead. Utilising a lighter colour palette, with even a focal wall or element of a bright colour, will tie your room together well and make the space seem more open and spacious than it actually is.

4. Don’t be afraid of colourA common mistake which is similar to the error of matching everything in your home is having everything in neutral non-colours. Before painting your walls, decide on your flooring, the counter finishes, and larger items of furniture that you want for your space. These elements take up maximum visual importance.

Once this is done, decide on the wall paint colour that you feel is best suited for your space, with the elements you have already chosen in mind. You should experiment with a variety of colours, or even look at having a few accent elements or focal walls in a different or brighter colour that would tie the whole space together. This will help tie the overall design together, reinforce the colour scheme, and give the room more texture and personality.

A home that is devoid of colour can feel cold and uninviting, so try to experiment with colour, patterns, or wall murals as accent elements that will add interest and colour to your space.

5. Don’t have outlets and cords as an afterthoughtHaving electrical cords and wires in your house may be unavoidable, but there are ways of efficiently dealing with this. If you do not have the option of running them inside the wall, there are ways to disguise any exposed wires you might have throughout your home.

For example, you could paint them the same colour as your wall to make them less noticeable, or opt for small fixtures with built-in charging stations. Nowadays there are even cord covers available in a variety of colours, which can be used to effectively disguise cords and cables that run throughout your house.

Home is where the heart isConsider your home as a space close to your heart, for in some ways it is the core of your everyday being. Creating a coherent design may seem difficult at first as there are many mistakes you could potentially make and end up regretting. Mistakes include choosing the wrong paint colours, picking the wrong furniture, not incorporating enough lighting and choosing wrong proportions just to name a few. These can all be avoided by carefully selecting each element for your space, always opting for timeless, durable and convenient design.

When designing your interior, recall the saying ‘Home is where the heart is”; choose elements that appeal to you instead of going for what may be “in” at that point of time. Trends come and go, and they may very well not be what might be apt for you. Therefore, we recommend referring to a lot of images but always choosing what describes you best. Don’t be afraid to add your personal touch to the space and let your character show through.

If all else fails, you can always turn to an expert. Hiring a professional interior designer who has experience and knows what they are doing could significantly help you to achieve your dream home, just make sure they keep your likes and interests as a top priority, instead of their own vision.

If you’re an expat who likes the weather in the Netherlands, please explain it to me. Personally, now that we’re heading into autumn and winter, my mind wanders off to those moments cycling to work in 4-degree celsius torrential rain on a Monday morning. In the dark.

But the weather also has its benefits. Usually, it creates an excuse to snuggle up in a dimly lit brown cafe, have some deep-fried snacks and good beer with friends. And the festive season is coming up.

Stock up, share, ’cause it’s gonna be toughWe’ve got Halloween coming up, which has procured semi-permanent recognition here in the Netherlands, even though most of us Dutchies are still on the fence as to how we’re supposed to celebrate Halloween properly. Dressing up and getting hammered is fairly easy, but the whole trick or treat thing sometimes backfires.

You see, since forever we’ve celebrated Sint Maarten. I only vaguely recall the whole idea behind Sint Maarten, to be honest: some dude called Maarten, born in Hungary around 316 A.D. to two roman parents (If his dad’s name was Nortius Maximus, I’m going to keel over laughing), basically had the philosophy of giving out stuff to the needy.

Good on him. It subsequently became linked to Christianity. You see, Maarten – even though interested in said religion – didn’t want to become a Bishop, but he made the error of hiding from his devotees in a cot full of geese.

Again, Monty Python sketches pop up in my head.

Sint Maarten is basically a day to remember that the coming months will be harder, and that food will become scarcer.

Halloween is pretty much the same thing. Except this is a Celtic fest, originally, where people believed that the ghosts of the dead would come back to earth and – for some reason – thought it would be a good idea to mess with their crops. So, if you see someone staggering across the street wearing a “slutty nurse” costume, don’t judge. Remember: they’re warding off ghosts.

The idea behind the two is similar: stock up, share, ’cause it’s gonna be tough.

Then we’ve got the similarities between Sinterklaas and Santa Claus, where admittedly there’s a bit of a – let’s call it a “tussle” – in opinions about the first one. I’m guessing there’s probably a rap sheet to be found somewhere on Santa as well. I mean: Edward Snowden had to take up residence in Russia, so maybe that’s why Santa lives on the North Pole…

I could continue on for a bit to illustrate how basically all of the holidays we humans in different cultures celebrate are based upon the same principles. I think Bill and Ted summarised it best: “Be excellent to each other.”

Don’t judge.

Be excellent to each otherToday, I read an article where the term “Wokum” was coined (whoever came up with that one is a genius, by the way). I liked that description. It was followed by the sentence: “all modern discussions are being settled here.”

Nobody raised an eyebrow when Chris Pontius from Jackass did handstands in a kilt to show off his wiener on Dam Square (if he’d been on a bicycle path though, things might have worked out poorly for him).

But, the thing is, these next few months will undoubtedly raise some eyebrows, due to the festivities. And opinions. Opinions are like a**holes, they say – everyone has one.

So, going into these next months of scarce food, rising gas prices, and what else the world will throw at us – like the distressed baboon it’s rapidly becoming – welcome to Wokum. Be excellent to each other.