What is standing in the way of you and Dutch fluency? If I ask this question to my students, one of the most common replies is English. This answer seems to make a lot of sense. The only question is: is it really true? Albert Both from Talencoach explains how English can actually help you.
Let’s be honest, it’s easy to believe that speaking English will often work against you if you try to speak Dutch, particularly if you are a native speaker. The second that Dutch people notice that you have an English accent, they often immediately switch to English, and, as an extra “gift”, they’ll assure you that Dutch is one of the hardest languages on this entire planet and that your efforts to learn the language are just a waste of time.
Dutch people love to assert that you don’t really need Dutch. That is until you try to apply for a new job, because the “reality” turns out to be totally different: all of a sudden proficiency in Dutch really matters.
Although it seems that the English language often works against you, the opposite is true
At first, it might seem that Dutch is useless anyway, so why should you bother? However, if speaking Dutch does matter to you, then congratulations! You are already many steps ahead! But be aware, if you’ve decided that you would love to speak Dutch, then many other obstacles are waiting for you.
But… let’s start with some good news first. The advantage of knowing English is much bigger than you could ever realise. Sure, it is easy to believe that English only works against you, but you should also start to see that the opposite could be true! What you do need, however, is a willingness to open your mind.
First of all, many Dutch words are very similar to English words. Could you “decode” the following sentences?
- Ik slaap in mijn bed
- Ik drink rode wijn
- Ik eet stroopwafels
It’s not that hard, right? It might help if you know that “ik” means “I”. If you didn’t get them, the sentences mean:
- I sleep in my bed
- I drink red wine
- I eat stroopwafels
There are thousands and thousands of words that are very similar to English words. Try to learn Czech, Greek or Turkish and you’ll quickly notice how easy the Dutch words are (unless you speak these languages already).
Here is some more good news: even if Dutch words are not similar to English words, they are still not too far removed from English words. Here is a perfect example. “Blaffen” sounds like “bluff” in English, but it means to bark. It is easy to remember it like this: “honden blaffen” (dogs bark). They bluff by barking out loud!
The advantage of knowing English compared to other languages
The third reason why speaking English is one of the biggest “privileges” that you could ever think of may sound a bit more abstract to you. The principle is very simple: English and Dutch share many concepts and ideas that are the same. The best way to explain it is with some practical examples.
What do you notice about these four sentences?
- Ik breek mijn arm
- Ik mis de zon in Nederland
- Hoe oud ben je?
- Ik heb stroopwafels
It’s probably not that hard for you to know what these sentences mean: “I break my arm”, “I miss the sun in the Netherlands”, “How old are you?” and “I have stroopwafels”. You might believe that these sentences are quite easy, but, chances are high that you overlooked one fact: the sentences are so easy because you understand English!
Here is the thing, contrary to what you may believe, speaking a language is not just about memorising a bunch of alien-sounding sounds. One of the most important things is that you also understand certain ideas and concepts. Chances are high that you never thought about it, probably because all four of these sentences make perfect sense! So, let’s have a look again to see what you might have overlooked.
Let’s start with “ik breek mijn arm”, it means “I break my arm”. If this happens, then it would probably be an accident, right? Look at the sentence again; who says that you did not do it on purpose? If you translate it literally into Spanish, it would only mean one thing: you are insane! Why would you hurt yourself!? That is why you need to understand how Spanish people look at this situation. You would have to think: the arm breaks to me (se me rompio el brazo). It is only if you say it this way – the arm got broken to me – that they would understand it was an accident!
“Ik mis de zon in Nederland”, means “I miss the sun in the Netherlands”. That one is easy. So, here is a simple question: who is doing the action? If you say “I” miss the sun, then you are doing the action. But, if you say this in Italian, it would be mi manca il sole. Now, in Italian, the sun is doing the action, it is giving a feeling of incompleteness to you. The literal construction is that the sun is missing you.
“Hou oud ben je?” means “How old are you?” Did you notice that the suggestion is that you are already old? In other languages, there is no such assumption. In Spanish, you would say “cuántos años tienes?” (what is the amount of years that you have). “kaç yaşındasın?” in Turkish. literally means “in what year are you?” I really love the non-judgemental aspect of these constructions.
“Ik heb stroopwafels” means “I have stroopwafels”, this one is also easy, right? Maybe for you, but not for everyone. In Turkish, strangely enough, you cannot really have things. You could say Stroopwafellerim var, which means “my stroopwafels are there”.
You need to learn how to realise that you are in a very good position
Here is another test: could you tell the difference between “de kat”, “een kat” and “kat”? You should immediately see what they mean: “the cat”, “a cat” and “cat”, and you would quickly understand the difference. But here is the catch: not all languages make this difference. A simple word like “de” (the) does not exist in Chinese or many Slavic languages. So, if someone says I like cat, you would probably jump to the conclusion that they want to eat your cat. However, there is no reason to panic, it’s a simple language mistake!
So here is the weird thing. If you want to teach a person a new language, then one effective way of doing it is showing it in real life. For example, if you want to teach the word “melk”, you should show milk. Even with “fiets” – which might be harder to recognise – you can simply show a bike and that should do the trick.
Now, for a more difficult question: how would you show the abstract and invisible word “de” (the)? Imagine that in your language this word does not exist. Then how could you explain it? What would be the difference between “fiets” and “de fiets”? Sure, you know the difference, but once again, how would you explain it to someone else?
Use your other languages to learn Dutch fast
So, here is the greatest news ever: although Dutch may feel overwhelming and impossible at times, with your knowledge of English you have more advantages than you could ever imagine. You cannot only start on a much higher level, but you can also learn it relatively fast.
Will learning and speaking Dutch always be easier? Yes and no. It is easy not to see all the good things and talents that you already have. It is very easy to lose confidence quickly because part of our human nature is that we tend to focus on negative things. However, if somehow you can shift your focus, many more amazing things will be possible! No matter what you think about Dutch right now, if you’d like to reach Dutch fluency, you can reach it a lot faster thanks to English. By the way, if you know other languages, then it is even easier to make huge jumps a lot faster!
Do you want to be able to express yourself freely and learn to communicate in Dutch quickly and effectively? Get in touch with Albert at firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up for Talencoach’s Dutch Brainwash programme – an intensive 7-day Dutch course in the centre of Amsterdam.
You can also:
Download his e-book “3 Steps to Dutch flow“
Download his e-book “Why You Hate Learning Dutch and 7 Secrets to Change It“
Visit his website Talencoach.nl
Check out his Facebook page
Watch videos on his YouTube channel
All free of charge!