Why learn Dutch, you may ask? Well, from a practical utility standpoint, it may not seem immediately obvious why you should learn a language that doesn’t give you access to a significant geographical swath of the world, not to mention one that doesn’t fall on the list of most useful languages in business. However, Dutch isn’t especially arduous for English speakers to learn — in fact, you may choose to embark on this linguistic journey simply because it’s enjoyable and interesting.
Why Learn Dutch?
Reason 1: Speaking English Gives You An Advantage
The journey you undertake when you start learning a new language can seem daunting at first. Learning Dutch, however, is akin to a jaunty walk on the beach when compared to the grueling, uphill marathons that other languages represent.
Dutch is a comparatively easy language for English speakers to learn because it’s one of the closest living relatives to English. They’re like old friends: both are West Germanic languages, meaning that from a structural point of view even a complete beginner can unravel simple Dutch sentences with much greater ease than Polish or Spanish sentences.
Here’s an example:
- Exhibit A: Wat is jouw naam?
- Translation: What is your name?
Nothing tricky there, right?
There are also thousands of cognates between English and Dutch that will become the sturdy Dutch backbone of your foray into the language. The sweet-toothed among you will smack your lips at the thought of eating koekjes (cookies) and wafels (waffles) at the side of the canal on a crisp spring morning in Amsterdam. And those fluent in political jargon will be bowled over to learn that “filibuster” comes from the Dutch vrijbuiter, which means “pirate” or “freebooter.”
Also, because the Dutch haven’t resisted the creeping infiltration of Anglicisms into their language, you’ll hear a lot of English loan words being spoken by your new Dutch friends. I experienced this Anglofone advantage first-hand while enjoying a gorgeous Belgian cherry-flavored stout in a cutesy pub in Gent. I’m sitting there next to the fireplace, sipping my beer, when the guy sitting at the table next to me waves his hands excitedly in the air and proclaims to his friend, “Je moet out of the box denken!” (You’ve got to think outside of the box).
Ironically, with Dutch, you don’t have to think too far outside of the box.
Reason 2: Gain 23 Million New Friends
Dutch is the third largest Germanic language after English and German, with a diaspora of 23 million native speakers stretching from Europe to South America, as well as an additional 4 million who speak it as a second language.
Of course, Amsterdam springs to mind when you think about Dutch, but learning the language can also set you off on an linguistic adventure that can take you to the Flemish region of Belgium, to the rainforests of Suriname, and to the gorgeous Caribbean islands of Aruba, Saint Maarten and Curaçao.
Reason 3: Afrikaans And Dutch — 2 Languages For The Price Of 1?
I’d be failing in our duty if I neglected to give an honorable mention to Afrikaans, because if you learn Dutch then you’re giving yourself a heck of a leg up with Afrikaans too.
The Afrikaans language was brought to South Africa and Namibia by the Boers (Dutch farmers — the Dutch word for farmer being boer), and it slowly evolved over time from a motley assortment of Dutch dialects to the modern Afrikaans that is spoken by approximately 17 million people today. There are differences in vocabulary of course, and certainly in pronunciation, but going from Dutch to Afrikaans is not too much of a linguistic trek (dankie to Afrikaans for that loanword), because the written language remains largely intelligible to Dutch speakers.
Reason 4: Develop A Deeper Connection To Dutch And Flemish Culture
Fancy experiencing some nostalgia for totaalvoetbal by attending an intense De Klassieker derby between Ajax and Feyenoord? Or maybe you’d prefer to sample some local brews from an authentic Flemish Trappist Monastery?
Ask your average person what they know about the Netherlands or Belgium, and they’ll tell you the same old clichéd stereotypes of Heineken-fueled stag nights in Amsterdam and chocolate-induced sugar rushes on the cobbled streets of Bruges. But there’s so much more to discover if you’re willing to dip your feet into Dutch!
If you’ve just moved to the Netherlands or Belgium, then speaking Dutch will instantly transform you into a rare breed of expat. You’ll connect with your Dutch friends and colleagues on a much deeper level, appreciate and understand the culture around you to a much greater extent, and you’ll certainly stand out from the weed-smoking international crowds that throng the backstreets of Amsterdam’s Red Light District.
Reason 5: Dutch Is So Much Fun To Speak!
Why learn Dutch if you can’t sound cool doing it? Let’s be blunt here — Dutch sounds particularly badass, and it’s insanely cool to speak. In-fact, you could say that “Oranje is the new black.”
French might sound effortlessly suave, and Italian makes a strong claim for the title of “sexiest-sounding language ever,” but Dutch has a unique sound that will give your throat and tongue a good workout. Nothing sounds like Dutch, but that’s what makes the language so much fun to pronounce! To prove this, I’ll let the Dutch do the talking:
- Dutch: “Knaap, de knappe kapper, kapt knap“
- English: “Knaap, the smart-looking hairdresser, styles (hair) beautifully“
If that doesn’t look like a fun sentence to speak then check your wrist for a pulse.
Bonus Reason: High-School German Skills To The Rescue!
If you’re an English speaker with a fair grasp of German, then you don’t need to be a clever clogs to learn Dutch.
The language, much like the Netherlands itself, falls roughly halfway between English and German, so you’ll find that as you start learning Dutch, those old German lessons you took in school will help with Dutch grammar and vocabulary. Plus, if you’ve managed to conquer the minefield that is German word order, then Gefeliciteerd! (congratulations): you’ve already done the leg work to start building your first sentences in Dutch.