Are you looking for some practical tips for learning Dutch? Yes, it’s one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t get easier! We’ll guide you through some very specific areas of Dutch to help you get your head around this rich language.
Don’t Be Afraid Of ‘Scary’ Pronunciation
I know it, you know it, and there’s no way around it: the infamous Dutch G. This guttural sound may frighten you, but just try to relax (you won’t hurt your throat)! There are different levels of pronouncing the G. In the south it is usually softer-spoken than in Amsterdam, where it sounds quite harsh. So don’t let it get you down if you can’t do it perfectly at first!
You might have also noticed that consonants in Dutch can be combined in numerous ways that are difficult to pronounce, like with the [sch] sound. The reason [sch] is so tricky is because it’s a guttural sound that combines the S in “salt” with the [ch] sound that isn’t found in English, much like the G sound above. And in case you want to practice, the most famous example of this sound is in “Scheveningen,” a district of the Hague with a well-known beach.
Singing Can Help Your Vowels
The Dutch language is full of vowel sounds and combinations within one syllable (also known as diphthongs). The UI, IJ and EI, and AU and OU are great examples of these type of sliding-sounds, and you can get a better idea of how to pronounce these tricky sounds (and others) in our article all about Dutch pronunciation. Some are easy to master, but others definitely require more practice.
In addition to repeating these sounds several times aloud, you can also find other ways to practice. I mastered the ui-sound by listening to (and singing along with) a song from the Dutch singer Marco Borsato. In his song “Rood” he sings the line “…en de tv gaat uit” where he stretches the UI for several seconds (at 01:30). If you don’t have the voice to participate successfully in the next talent show, don’t sweat it — you don’t need an audience. It’s all about practicing your pronunciation!
It’s A Small World
What do you do if you’re trying to form Dutch sentences and you can’t remember if a word was a de-word or a het-word? Well, there’s a trick for that. Did you know that all diminutives in Dutch are het-words? (Diminutives generally make words sound smaller and cuter. Just trust us — they’re adorable.)
So in the case that you don’t know if it’s a de– or het-word, simply form the diminutive. This essentially means adding a –je suffix (or –tje, –etje, -pje, –kje) to the end:
- de tuin / het tuintje (the yard)
- de straat / het straatje (the street)
- de fles / het flesje (the bottle)
- het kind / het kindje (the child)
This comes in handy — you can use the diminutive form when something is small, something is positive or even if something is negative, e.g. een boompje (a tree), een leuk cadeautje (a nice present) or een vies tafeltje (a dirty table). Luckily, using the diminutive form doesn’t necessarily mean that something is actually small.
The Spelling Isn’t As Weird As It Seems
So does a word need an O or OO, A or AA? When does the spelling change from Z to S — or from F to V? Dutch spelling can seem complicated and weird at first glance, but it’s simple once you know the rules!
The basic principle is all about open versus closed syllables. Meaning: If a syllable ends in a consonant, it’s called a closed syllable, while if it ends in a vowel, it’s an open syllable. Single vowels in closed syllables are always short sounds, and double vowels in closed syllables are always pronounced long. An open syllable (a vowel at the end of a syllable) is always pronounced long as well.
So if you have the verb maken (to make), the A will be doubled when forming the first-person ik maak in order to keep the long pronunciation. The same applies to: het oog/de ogen (the eye/the eyes), het raam/de ramen (the window/the windows), and so on. Based on the same principle, words can change their spelling. The main switches are from F to V and from Z to S. The important thing to remember is that V and Z are never the last letter of a word! Here are some examples:
- de brief / de brieven (the letter, letters)
- de druif / de druiven (the grape, the grapes)
- ik reis / wij reizen (I travel, we travel)
- ik geef / zij geven (I give, they give)
- het huis / de huizen (the house, the houses)
In the beginning, all you need to know is that words will often change their spelling based on open or closed syllables. They typically follow a clear pattern, and it’s easy to get the hang of.
The most important tip to learn and improve your Dutch (or any other language) is to simply immerse yourself in the language. This is pretty easy in the modern era: Observe how people are speaking in videos, listen to the radio, watch a movie or series in Dutch, or listen to Dutch songs! As mentioned above, singers like Marco Borsato have songs where they clearly pronounce the lyrics. I can also recommend Doe Maar, André Hazes, Guus Meeuwis, and the famous band Bløf!
Of course, the best way is to find native speakers to practice with you — perhaps even finding a tandem partner if possible. The best piece of advice I can give you is to stay active! If you invest time daily you will see your progress build step by step — and, eventually, you will master the Dutch language!