Learning Dutch

A Loving, Satirical Look at Learning to Speak Dutch

  You’ve decided to learn Dutch.

Congrats and good luck! If I can do it, anyone can. But…

Unless you are gifted in languages (definitely not me!), you’ll need a lot of time for studying and a whole bunch of tenacity. After two years of study, I feel I should be further along on my language journey, so I’m going to the Netherlands for a month of intensive immersion in Bart de Pau’s Dutch Summer School in Drenthe. His online courses are phenomenal. I also highly recommend a Dutch tutor. Mine is through LanguaTalk.com; Marianne Aalders is the absolute best. I wish I’d found her a long time ago.

Here are some personal observations about the language, all given with a bit of “tongue in cheek,” and written with a great deal of love for the country, the people, and yes, even the language. I hope it makes you laugh. Someday, I hope to be competent in the language (certainly not fluent). And yes, I would move there in a second if the country allowed me to. I lived in the Netherlands for three years when my late husband was a NATO F-15 pilot for the 32nd TFS, the Wolfhounds, at Soesterberg.

Here are some rules about Dutch …

  • Give several wildly different meanings to the same word.
  • Pepper your sentences with little words that have no definite meaning. Wel, nou, eens, weleens, and maar, I’m looking at you.
  • Stick the word “er” literally everywhere, but follow the fussy rules or it will be WRONG!
  • Use the word “that” a lot (in Dutch: dat and die). Forget what your English teacher said about not overusing the word “that.” Stick it everywhere but know when to use dat and when to use die. And yes, there are many other variations on “that.”
  • Shove prepositions and other prefixes onto verbs, completely changing their meanings, and then divide these separable verbs and toss the prefixes here and there. But follow the rules!
  • Pile all the verbs (except maybe one) at the end of the sentence. The order might be important. Of course it is. Don’t get fancy or it will be WRONG!
  • Insist that a huge number of words start with the letter “v.” Memorizing all that vocabulary will make your head spin.
  • Make sure you know how to expectorate because you’ll need it to make that sound when there is a “g.” And just for good measure, throw lots of g’s at the beginning of most past participles. Well, not all. Memorize over 200 irregular verbs (some with sound shifts).
  • Did you fall asleep in 2nd grade when you learned about long and short vowel sounds? Wake up! This stuff is VITAL in Dutch.
  • Did you ditch English class when they talked about transitive verbs, direct and indirect objects, and the names of all the parts of a sentence? Call your English teacher and beg her forgiveness. You need to know this stuff now.
  • Be mindful of the order of words in a sentence or no one will understand you. Are you talking about the place first before the time? NO!
  • Think it’s easy to learn the numbers? Sure. Unless you have a bit of dyslexia. The numbers are pronounced backwards, so for instance 86 is 6 and 8. Boom! My eyeballs just popped out!
  • If in doubt about a word’s spelling, just throw in an -ijk.
  • Did you think there was just one word for “the”? Wrong! There are two: het and de. There are no rules, no patterns, so don’t try to find any. You have to memorize the correct article with every noun. At least all plurals are de words. Thank goodness for little things, toch? Now you know a Dutch word! Toch means right, as in a question. But not always. And you probably don’t need the question mark, or do you?
  • If you want to cuss at someone, be sure to wish cancer, cholera, or some other dreadful disease on them. This comes in handy for yelling at tourists on the bike path. At least the Dutch are original because let’s face it. Americans are super lazy with their cussing and just use the “f” word for everything. F this, f that, f you… it’s all so tiresome.
  • Learn ALL the words for describing the weather. You will be talking about it ALL THE TIME.
  • Try, try, try, but fail to correctly pronounce words with the diphthong “ui.” What is a diphthong you ask? Shame on you for not paying attention in English class.
  • Don’t you dare end a word with a -z or a -v! And if you have to change the endings (oh, you will!) then you’ll need to change that -z to an -s and that -v to an -f. And don’t forget to change the vowels in the word to retain either the long or short sound.
  • Change the endings on adjectives when they are directly before nouns. Maybe. Sometimes. There are lots of rules. Learn them!
  • Prepositions make no sense. This might just be by design. Are you in, by, on, around, above, near? It is not as easy as it seems. In fact, prepositions are guaranteed to make your head implode.
  • Change verbs into adjectives and back again. Make past participles into nouns and learn about present participles. You will have so much fun!
  • When you speak Dutch be sure to swallow the article het and some other words so that no one can understand you.

Finally, and I mean this with all sincerity, do not give up. I’m sure you’ve had someone in your life tell you that nothing worth having comes easily. For me it is definitely Dutch. But hey, I figure that even if I never become competent with the language, I am keeping dementia at bay. Or am I?

If I ever reach the B1 level of Dutch language competency…Ik ga de bloemetjes buiten zetten.

I adore Dutch proverbs. This one is similar to our saying about painting the town red. The Dutch set the flowers outside. This beautiful drawing is by a talented artist named Kata.

I love Nederlanders. And I love the Dutch language. Really.

Misschien ben ik gewoon een beetje raar!