How to learn Dutch?

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We asked Nicole van Schaijik, Expatica resident and Nederlands tutor, for some advice on learning the local language. Here is what she said.  

Having an "empty head" is best

Parents try to teach and guide their child towards learning language as quickly as possible and do it with endless patience and unconditional love.
However, trying to pick up a second language can be quite different from this initial language learning experience.

When learning your mother tongue you have no frame of reference. The same as it is when you learn your world. Hence, you discover your world and language at the same time. But a child's head is "empty", making the learning process furiously quick.
One challenge for adults learning a second language is that they will always compare it to their first language and are full of questions like: What are the similarities? What are the differences?
They want to "understand" their new language, learn its structure and really "get a grip" on it.

If your are not born into it, find a Dutch partner

The best and quickest method for a foreigner to learn Nederlands is to fall in love with a "Dutchie".
As a person in love, communication with your partner will become a chief goal and you will want to understand and feel everything about him or her 24-hours a day.
And having a native Dutch speaker at your disposal means access to a private teacher offering input, positive feedback and a language improved with love. All for free!
The only comparable situation would be the parent-child relationship, in which you learn your mother language.

Lessons are the next best thing

Of course, if you don't have the good fortune of being in love with a native, taking Dutch lessons is the next best thing.
Studying language with an instructor one-on-one or in a classroom setting can be critical during the difficult language learning process as it provides motivation and support.

The expression "onderdompelen in een taal" or immersion in a language in which you only speak Dutch in the class is fun, but in the beginning, students will also want something to rely upon their mother language in particular.
After all, you will feel uncertain having deprived yourself of an "instrument", such as your native tongue. This is especially so because before you started learning a new language, you were scarcely aware of your instrument due to the automatic ability with which you could use it.

Some advice for beginners

In the beginning of your learning process take it easy when trying to translate. Be patient and don't worry. Motivation is a prerequisite to learning a new language and a lot of listening and talking is very important. Talking and listening in the beginning is much more important than writing and reading, so you should speak as much Dutch as you can. Do not be worried about making mistakes.
Make sure you persevere in speaking Dutch with Dutch people who want to switch to English as soon as they hear the accent in your voice!
Through this practice you will learn how to operate your new instrument and eventually, you will not be worried or concerned then, you would have achieved a new language.

Nicole van Schaijik owns and operates Talent Taaltrainingen Nederlands, based in Amsterdam.

Expatica 2002