So you want to learn Dutch? You can!

Be prepared for a long and difficult journey though.

Since Adek Deny is trying to master the Dutch language she obviously comes to me with questions about how and why some things are as they are in Dutch language and grammar. As Dutch is my native language I accepted a lot of things when I learned the language over the years without explicitly thinking about the things I was taught. Frustrating for a new comer, because I have to think deeply and sometimes do not have a proper explanation  at all.

I want to show you in this post some of the difficulties that one might experience, trying to learn the Dutch language. Those difficulties are based on my own experiences with the questions from Adek Deny.

1. The Dutch have a very difficult system with conjugating verbs

Learning to use verbs correctly in sentences can be a nightmare, it is so difficult that the Dutch themselves make lots of mistakes actually. I have this example from one of the most popular and best read Dutch blogs: Geenstijl. It states “betaald” while it should say “betaalt” because they mix up the writing of a past particle with the third person singular tense (there is also an extra other bonus mistake as you can see in the picture).


All media often make grammatical errors (maybe this might give you some comfort). Through Google you can find lots of  websites that will try to give you the best explanations of the difficult matter of conjugating verbs.

2. The Dutch break have a habit of putting words in a sentence in a special order

Sometimes you think you can get away by your knowledge of the English language when creating your first sentences. Unfortunately, in some cases your knowledge of the English language is not applicable in Dutch. Have a look for example at this sentence: “I go to school tomorrow“. Knowledge of English language is not enough to make a correct Dutch sentence like “Ik ga naar school morgen” (although the Dutch will understand what you mean). The correct order would be: “Ik ga morgen naar school”. So besides that you already speak a language with news words and carefully have to think about the verbs to use, things can get extra complicated when at the same time you carefully have to consider the order in which you put the words in an sentence.

3. The Dutch break verbs apart

I never realised it myself, but there is something else strange going on with verbs. We break them apart in some circumstances. There are verbs like ‘aanzetten’ (= “to put on”) that suddenly are split when used in a sentence like ‘Ik zet de televisie aan”  (= “I put on the the television”). Actually what happens is that the verb already contains a preposition (“aan”) that will be taken away from the ‘real’ verb (“zetten”).

4. Pronunciation of the Dutch is very unlike most languages

In Netherlands we have this mocking about to how to determine someone is not originally Dutch by having her or him pronounce the word “Scheveningen” (the name of a beach village located close to Den Haag). The Dutch used that trick in Second World War to discover secret German agents and soldiers.

I started to realise that the Dutch have many more unique (vowel) sounds, like “ui” as in “huis” (=”house”), “eu” as in “keuken” (= “kitchen”), but even more standard vowel sounds like “aa” are difficult to master, because the Dutch really like to prolong  the sound, so don’t be afraid to hold the vowel and say a long “aaaaaaa” instead of a short “aa”. Trust me, it will make you sound more authentically Dutch.

5. The Dutch love to use in between and extra words

Also never realised it, but we Dutch use lots of extra words to create a sort of “cuty” effect or to make someone clear it is all not too serious (I tried to think about why we do that and I can not come up with a more satisfying explanation).

Use lots of words like “hoor” as in “Ja hoor”, “Nee hoor”, “Jammer hoor”. But there are so many other words, like “wel”, “nog”, “even”, “en zo”, “of zo” all difficult or impossible to translate in other languages. An example of a sentence using some of these words would be like: “Ik kan nog wel even doorgaan of zo” (= “I could continue like this’).

Some other tip to improve your authenticity as a Dutch speaking person: repeat some words lot. So when you leave friend or family, say “Doei doei” instead of “Doei” (=”Bye”) or say “Ja, ja” instead of “Ja” (=”Yes”).

6. De/ Het

Ok, so the Dutch have two defining articles “de” and “het” where the English only have one (=”the”). The positive side of the story is that this is one less than in German (“Der”, “Die”, “Das”), the bad news is that you must be prepared to study long time to learn what article to use in what case. There are so many ‘rules’ what to use in what instance, that it is probably easier to learn them by heart and expand your knowledge as you get more comfortable by learning Dutch.

There are more other difficulties with Dutch, so maybe one day I will expand the list later when Adek Deny comes with new questions. Be patient with your partner to teach him or her Dutch, because despite the difficulties I mentioned, you can absolutely learn Dutch and the Dutch will be very proud when you try to master their language! Mingle among the Dutch, watch television a lot or YouTube movies teaching Dutch, start with children books (like the famous “Nijntje”) and I am sure you will be doing fine learning the Dutch!



13 thoughts on “So you want to learn Dutch? You can!

    1. Hi Winny,

      Yes Dutch is similar with Deutsch (= the German language, the language that is the native language of the people in Germany, Austria, Switzerland). German and Dutch are the most closely related languages. Dutch is also similar to English, but not as close as to German.

      Still follow me? 😉

  1. I could see how proud my late step grandmom was when i told her i learn Dutch at the Erasmus huis jakarta (i pronounced it like who is), she smiled and thought me how to pronounce Huis. No one on her own grand children willing to learn Dutch, i was the only one.

    1. Hi Ruru,

      Very good! Never heard of the Erasmus Huis in Jakarta. Looks a nice place to visit one day.

    1. That’s a pity Ailtje!
      Your name sounds Dutch by the way. We put a -je behind a noun to indicate ‘little’ or ‘small’. For example “kaart-je” is “little card”. So ‘Ailtje’ would mean ‘little Ailt’ 🙂

    1. Sorry to hear about your grandma. Actually I get questions from people if Indonesians still learn Dutch in school . I guess the people in Indonesia who still can speak Dutch will be a small minority and from older generation. It is funny that Deny and I regularly discover words in Bahasa Indonesia that come from Dutch language. Today we had the word ‘machtig’ as in something you eat and find that it fills you easily.

  2. Some time ago I visited Amsterdam. When I heard the locals talk I seriously couldn’t figure out when one word ends and the next one starts :/
    Good thing most merchants there can speak basic English.

    1. Although Netherlands is a small country, there is an enormous variety in Dutch dialects and there are Dutch related languages spoken, in Limburg for example that I can not even comprehend. And in Friesland people speak a language (Fries) that is only remotely related to the Dutch language. People from the big cities Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague can -for Dutch- easily be identified by their accent. Definitely something that complicates matters 😉

  3. Hi Dani. That is correct, Deny is producing most of the posts on this site and I am the side kick and do some technical stuff 🙂

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