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Difficulties when learning the Dutch language

By Yann, published on 11/12/2018 We Love Prof - IN > Languages > Dutch > 10 major struggles when learning the Dutch language

In general, the Dutch language is viewed as one that is exceptionally difficult to learn. Here, however, we attempt to make it as simple as possible for you. Fortunately, the alphabet is similar to the English one. That’s a good start. The Dutch language has also borrowed many words from various languages including Italian, French, English and German. Therefore, you might recognize a few words here and there. So, if you speak any of the other languages mentioned, that can be an advantage for you.

Nonetheless, Dutch is still a difficult language. Especially the pronunciation and the grammar can be pure horror. Just like with any other language there are certain common mistakes that are made. In this blog, we will discuss ten of the most frustrating issues that can occur when you are trying to learn Dutch. We hope you can put the information provided to good use. Good luck with practising and we are sure that you will manage in the end!

The Dutch language can be complicated Some beautiful Dutch flowers.

The ten main struggles when learning the Dutch language

  • The sequence of words in a sentence

First of all, the seqeunce of words in a typical Dutch sentence can be very confusing. Very simple sentences are not a problem. They usually start with a subject, followed by a verb and then the predicate. But it gets more complicated when you add more words. The Dutch language is however particularly notorious for splitting verbs in the sentence. Therefore, regularly, parts of the verb will be in the beginning of the sentence and parts will be in the end.

You can add things like time, manner and place in the middle. Therefore a sentence could, for example, consist of subject – finite verb – time – manner- place and then other verbs. The following sentence is an excellent example: Ik heb vanmorgen weer met tegenzin in de sportschool getraind, with the highlighted parts being the verbs.  It is difficult to recognize when a verb will be split. These cases simply have to be learned by heart.

  • Pronunciation

It is easy to complain without end about the pronunciation of certain letters and combinations of letters in Dutch. Scheveningen is the word that appears unpronounceable for all those not born and raised Dutch. The ‘sch’ sound in Dutch is definitely unique and is used quite a lot (school, schip, etc.) That is also the case with the similar ch. Other difficult sounds can be ieuw and eeuw (nieuw and leeuw). Ou and au typically sound the same as each other. Imagine that, when writing!

Additionally, it can also be frustrating that the sounds of certain letters sometimes change when they are combined with other letters. Fortunately, these can be explained to a certain extent, so you should be able to learn this and adjust to it.

  • The vs. de and het

The word ‘the’ is one of the words that is used the most in the English language.  It keeps it very simple for sure. In Dutch, however, there are two options: de and het (and een, but we won’t discuss that one here). It is very difficult to explain when one uses de and when one uses het. In the basis, the de is for female and male words and het is for words without a gender. However, in practice, this distinction is not very useful.

Therefore there is only one way to properly learn how to use de and het, which is practicing, making mistakes and simply learning the combinations by heart.

  • Accents

The Netherlands may be a small country, but every region or even every small town has its own accent. This is an additional complicating factor for foreigners because it is difficult to understand what part is accent and what part is actually Dutch.

Frisian is an official language and dialect that is spoken in part of the north of the Netherlands. It is an entirely different language that is usually not understood by Dutch people from the rest of the country.  Other dialects throughout the country, especially in the east and south are more understandable, but can still be confusing for foreigners.

  • Spoken vs. written

In Dutch, the written language is different from the spoken language. Therefore, even if you think that you can read or write certain words perfectly, you can get completely confused when listening or speaking. It is difficult to give you any specific advice in this regard, besides: practice, practice, and practice. That really is the only way that you can get yourself acquainted with the Dutch spoken language.

Never be afraid to ask if you don’t understand something. The Dutch typically understand what makes their language so difficult. Finally, if you are actually living in the Netherlands it is advisable to adjust yourself to the peculiarities in the region that you live in.

  • Words that have multiple meanings

An additional complicating thing is that in Dutch a relatively large amount of words have multiple meanings. A clear example is the word ‘weer’, which means both again, as well as weather. Another example is the word vak, which means course or subject, as well as profession and section. We’ll leave it up to you to figure that one out! Clearly, once you progress in learning the language you will be able to place words in their context. Apart from that, it is difficult for us to provide you with any clear advice or suggestions here.

  • The paste tense/irregular verbs

Irregular verbs in the Dutch language can make you go crazy. There are a few languages that consist of such much irregular verbs. Fortunately, the Dutch will understand when you wrongly express yourself. There is no clear rule or guideline that can teach you how to deal with this. You simply have to learn the rules and regulations regarding when you are learning verbs one by one. You will get frustrated so many times, but it can be taught and learned!

  • Picture language

The Dutch language is definitely a picture language and this can have disadvantages as well as advantages for you. An excellent example is a word stokbrood. Which means stick and bread and is a French bread. Highway in Dutch is snelweg. Snel means fast, weg means road. On the one hand, this can make it easier for you, on the other hand, you can never really guess the picture words, as they are not necessarily the norm.

  • Composed words

Finally, the Dutch language is also known for its extremely long words and compositions of multiple words in one. We have looked up a couple for you. First of all, the longest word in the Dutch language has 53 letters (Kindercarnavalsoptochtvoorbereidingswerkzaamheden).  This may make foreigners dizzy. Some more examples include (3 or 4 more words).

Our advice: Try to dissolve the words in smaller parts that you can translate. Most of these long words consist of four or five smaller words that are far simpler. If you do this, you will see that you can manage just fine. Dutch words are also always filled with vowels, which can make them extra difficult to pronounce. This also makes the pronunciation simpler. Don’t be scared, give it a chance.

This task could be made much easier with the help you would find in Dutch classes London!

We hope you are still with us. Another typical Dutch image

  • Dutch people want to speak English!

The final ‘problem’ is that most Dutch people can and want to speak English. Foreigners often mention that Dutch people are very social, always willing to help and speak excellent English. As a small country that is very internationally orientated this is not surprising. Dutch children learn English in schools from a very young age. Also, all English or American TV shows are typically subtitled and not synchronized like for example in Germany.  Dutch people also love to travel and they have located themselves throughout the entire world. Dutch people always ‘complain’ that no matter how far you travel you will always meet (a lot of) other Dutch people.

Due to its geographic location, the Netherlands itself is also a strong economic power, especially taking into account its small size. Finally, also due to the fact that the Netherlands is a small country there are only about 20 million people that speak Dutch. Therefore, if the Dutch want to make themselves understandable abroad they don’t have a choice but to learning foreign languages. However, if you explain that you are learning to speak Dutch just tell people and they will typically be enthusiastic to help you!

Your are almost at the end Dutch-people-are-known-for-their-bicycles

Our conclusions

In conclusion, we can state that there are different conditions that make Dutch difficult to learn. These can be based on grammar, pronunciation, but certain external factors are also not very helpful. Yes, Dutch is a difficult language and the points mentioned above can confirm that. It is, however, definitely do-able. Our main advice is to practice as much as you can and to never be afraid to try.

Also, keep reading our blog, because we regularly post new ones that are all equally useful. If you don’t live in the Netherlands but still want to learn Dutch, see if there are Dutch people living in your community that are willing to help you. Sometimes, in bigger cities, there are Dutch organizations for expats. One thing is for sure; you won’t just learn it from a book (though they can help).

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