Is it really that hard to speak Dutch? Is Dutch a difficult language to learn? Many people have strong opinions about it and many people may tell you that Dutch is a very difficult language. As a Dutch language coach, I would strongly disagree. I have been teaching Dutch for 20 years, again and again for thousands of hours, and I have come to conclusions that are totally different. As the founder of Talencoach, I would like to share my story and some of my ideas that could help you to feel far more optimistic, right now!

You may have tried to improve your Dutch several times and, yes, it is very easy to come to the conclusion that Dutch is hard indeed, if not impossible. For me, the adventure started 20 years ago when all I had were some ideas, a bike and a laptop. I went to the houses of different people and I was on a mission. I wanted to make sure that people learnt languages a lot faster, while having more fun. 

So, there I went again and again on my bike with a laptop and helping people to speak other languages a lot better, like Spanish and English. Here is the strange thing, as a child there was one subject that I really hated at school and it was Dutch. For some mysterious reason, I never understood Dutch grammar, I always got low scores and, on top of it, I found it quite boring.

Other languages can help you with DutchSomehow I loved other languages at school, such as English, French and German. The reason was simple. During the summer, it turned out that languages were the most useful knowledge that I got from school. What amazed me the most was that even when I went to Spain or Italy, I could figure out many things all by myself, just by using things that I learnt from English and French. From that moment on, I got “infected” by the language virus and I have been playing with languages ever since, including Turkish and New Greek.

The last thing that I wanted to do was teach Dutch, but somehow people kept asking me again and again to teach my own language and for practical reasons, I gave in … I thought, I am a Dutch person, I am a native speaker of Dutch and Amsterdam is still in the Netherlands, so why not?

Teaching your own language is difficultHere is a funny thing … Have you ever tried to teach your own language? It might not be as simple as it looks. You might think that all you need to do is talk and let the students repeat what you just said, but unfortunately, it does not work like that. Whenever you have tried to teach your language, you may have noticed that the favourite question of all students is “Why?” or “Waarom?” in Dutch.

If you are like many teachers, you could simply answer with, “Just because” or “This is the way that it is”. But for students this is very dissatisfying. So, now you need to know how your own language works and you need to be able to explain it so that your students also understand it. Preferably in a way so that your students think: Wow! This is easy, I can do it! It makes perfect sense!

But here is the strange thing, chances are high that you do not really understand how your language works if you already speak it. They call it being unconsciously competent, which is great but there is only one problem: it does not help your student! If you really like to help students, you need to be very conscious and you need to know exactly what you do when you make sentences in your own language! You need to be aware of all the little things that you do – or do not do – when you speak or write your own language and, believe me, this is a skill by itself!

Dutch grammar books are awfulBefore I started to teach Dutch, a great thing had happened in my life. My Spanish partner came over in 2000 and of course needed to learn Dutch. At that time I did not teach any Dutch and when I looked in the books that my partner was using I initially thought that they were great. But it did not take long to realise that all these books were quite awful!

When I looked at the books, I realised that they did not make any sense to a person that only speaks Spanish and some English. The only thing that I could see was the dropping of information bombs. Loads of incomprehensible Dutch stuff that did not make any sense if you wanted to learn the language.

In a way, this was the beginning of my journey of teaching. I decided to speak Dutch with my partner and what I did was very simple. I started to use words and sentence constructions that were very close to Spanish or English. The strategy worked!

My partner started to pick up words a lot faster and when things started to make sense, I gradually started to move my Dutch away from Spanish and English. I did it in very logical steps, while talking Dutch again and again and that brought me to a first important conclusion: you cannot learn things that you do not understand.

Traditional teaching methods aren’t effectiveMany people believe that if you speak any Dutch, then a person will pick it up automatically, but unfortunately this is not true. Also, memorising does not work at all. The most important thing is that you start with things that already look familiar to you and that you discover, step-by-step, how the language really works. Once you understand how a language really works, and once things really start to make sense to you, you can start aiming high.

One tough thing that many people struggle with is grammar. When you learn Dutch, two things could happen. Your teacher either tells you that there are no real rules and that there are always more exceptions or they give you loads of grammar and they make it look very complex and complicated …

That is why one day I decided to write my own method but I did not want to use any official Dutch grammar book. I went to a swimming pool and I started swimming for hours and hours, with only one question in mind: how does my language really work? While swimming again and again, new insights kept popping up in my head: Dutch is very close to English indeed and… it actually works like simplified German.

Teaching is the best way to learnAnother thing that also helped me a lot was actually teaching my students, for me, it was the best way of learning. Leren in Dutch means both to learn and to teach. It makes sense, right?

Here is the great thing: once you start working with people again and again, you can easily recognise important patterns. It turns out that everyone needs to go through the same procedure. People always travel the same path.

And of course, once I started teaching again, I found more and more shortcuts. During these 20 years, I have learnt a lot. I realised that if I use certain words, my students learn faster and that also the order in which I explain things has an immediate impact. People can simply learn faster when you break out of traditional ways of thinking!

EngagementThe most important thing that I learnt, however, is something that probably only a few people will tell you. The real factor of success has little to do with intelligence or memorisation or hard work … It has to do with engagement. What really allows you to learn faster is your engagement and the energy that you have.

People that learn fast and that speak great Dutch often have one thing in common. Somehow, you can feel that they have a great energy. They like Dutch, they have tremendous fun with it and they enjoy getting new insights about words and structures.

In the end, it is very simple. If you feel great while learning and playing with the language, you will learn fast and you’ll speak Dutch. It is virtually guaranteed. That is why, whenever I teach, I make sure that people quickly discover that you actually can have a lot of fun while learning Dutch. Here is another important thing: once you learn how to figure out things all by yourself, you can feel good about yourself and you can discover for yourself that you may be more intelligent than you think.

Making a differenceAfter 20 years of teaching Dutch, I know one thing … I will be doing this for many more years, because every time I discover more things, it can make a radical difference for my students. And, somehow, I also get new insights from my students because there is always a beneficial interaction that never stops.

Want to start speaking Dutch fast? Take part in the intensive, seven-day Dutch Brainwash programme from Talencoach. 

Download the e-book “3 Steps to Dutch flow” Download the e-book “Why You Hate Learning Dutch and 7 Secrets to Change It” Visit the website Talencoach.nl Check out the Facebook page Watch videos on YouTube All free of charge!

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