Is Dutch hard to learn? – Yes! 10 Things that make learning Dutch difficult

It’s a question I get a lot, ‘Is Dutch hard to learn?’ In my previous post I described 10 things that make learning Dutch easy. In this list I will explain why learning Dutch is difficult.

      1. Dutch is hard to pronounce

First, let’s start with the one thing every student of Dutch struggles with: Dutch is hard to pronounce. All those strange sounds, it is verschrikkelijk!

Consonants like ch, sch, ng and nk are unfamiliar in most languages and because you can combine nouns in Dutch, you end up with words like: Slechtstschrijvend (“worst-writing”) and angstschreeuw (cry of fear). Very difficult to pronounce.

And it’s not just the consonants. The vowels also make it a lot more difficult to pronounce the words correctly. Some sounds like ui or eu are new to people who are learning Dutch. To produce those sounds your mouth has to move in ways it has never done before. That’s why it’s really difficult to master these sounds at a later age.

To make it even more difficult, words that have their origin in other languages sometimes keep their original sound. For example detail, laptop, dossier and computeren. I made a series of pronunciation lessons to help you with that.

      1. The word order is very confusing

The next thing is that the word order in Dutch is known for being confusing. Simple sentences can just be made with subject-verb-object, much like in other languages. But one small word can turn the sentence upside down. Sorry, ik ben te laat > Sorry dat ik te laat ben. This is probably something that will torture you during your time learning Dutch. Maybe you are thinking … well, let’s skip that part of grammar. You can’t!

Word order is extremely important in the Dutch language! It determines the function of each word in the sentence. You can tell from the word order if the sentence is a question or a statement, if something is the subject or the object, whether certain information is important or not, whether it is part of the main clause or the subclause. But don’t worry… in my #dutchgrammar course, I explain it all, step-by-step… about the word order of questions and subclauses, and the inversion word order.

      1. All those irregular forms and exceptions make it difficult to learn

The Dutch language has many irregular verbs. There are 200 irregular verbs with all sorts of different irregularities, and it’s almost impossible to find a system. You say kopen (to buy)– ik kocht – ik heb gekocht, but then lopen (to walk) – ik liep – ik heb gelopen. There are no grammar rules for these verbs. You’ll just have to learn them by heart and remember them.

There seem to be many exceptions to the rules. For example why do you say een mooi boek but then there is een mooie auto. Or the conjugation of verbs with ‘jij’. (ik loop – jij loopt – hij loopt – wij lopen / loop ik? – loop jij? – loopt hij? – lopen wij?). Also, the plural forms can confuse you. (1 vat – 2 vaten – 1 kat – 2 katten). The reason why? There’s no reason, it just is.

      1. De and het

That brings me to number 4 of this list, remembering whether a word is a de or het word and all the consequences. Native Dutch speakers struggle with this too when they speak. And like the irregular forms and the exceptions it’s just something you have hear, read and memorize.

      1. Dutch people want to speak English with you

Many Dutch people, especially in Amsterdam, switch to English as soon as they hear that you’re not a native Dutch speaker. Dutch people see themselves as international and love to show their English skills. However, speaking and practising is essential in learning the Dutch language. You can always try and ask Wilt u Nederlands praten, alstublieft?

      1. A different Dutch accent in every region

Het Drents, Brabants, Maastrichts, just three examples of different accents, ‘Fries’ is even an official language. In the relatively small area of the Netherlands there are more then 20 accents. If an Amsterdammer ends up in a conversation with a real ‘Fries’ speaking person (or a Maastrichter with a Drent for that matter), they both may have a hard time understanding each other.  

      1. Is it hard for an American to learn Dutch?

Often I get people from the United States asking me if it’s hard to learn? Dutch is a member of the same family tree as English and there are some similarites for example in word order (SVO) and vocabulary (tomaat =tomato, huis = house, blauw = blue), but there are still a lot of differences and there’s a wide range of vocabulary you need to learn. In fact, the ‘Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal’ (Dictionary of the Dutch Language) is the largest in the world.

      1. Written Dutch is not spoken Dutch

Like many languages Dutch isn’t a phonetic language. So the way you write doesn’t correspond with the pronunciation of the words. Maybe you know the schwa. That brings me to number 9 of my list.

      1. Dutch people speak sloppily

You learned the grammar rules, studied the most important words and mastered the key phrases, you’re confident enough to start your first conversation and then you hear…. ‘Hoest?’…

The Dutch swallow sounds and small words when they speak. If you hear ‘Thangtervanaf’, they mean Het hangt ervan af (It depends). It doesn’t make it any easier taking your first steps in Dutch.

      1. Dutch people add small words

Ik zal nou toch nog maar wel eens even kijken. All these small words don’t contain a fixed meaning, you can look them up in the dictionary, but that won’t help you. But they each have a function in the sentence. These words can make it more personal, or they can strengthen or weaken the message.

 

Are you still interested in learning Dutch after what you’ve just read? Well, then I am here for you! On my website learndutch.org you will find a number of online courses that can help you further. I see at as my main task, to make things easy for you… so that you can learn even the most difficult parts of the Dutch language!

 

 

Bart de Pau
online Dutch teacher & founder of the Dutch Summer School & Dutch Winter School

20 replies
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  3. rafao says:

    What is hard about Dutch? For me are sentences like this (from Volkskrant) 🙂 “Rode rozen, handpoppen en bordjes met dankbetuigingen: zo proberen nederige journalisten die een accreditatie hebben weten te bemachtigen voor Poetins jaarlijkse persconferentie, zijn aandacht te trekken.” – I have to ‘wait’ 12 words to finaly get to know what does the journalisten do! :-D. I can deal with it when its written, but when it is spoken i becomes for me impossible to understand the whole sentence….But I’m not giving up 🙂

  4. lucyjackson500@aol.com says:

    Dutch is quite hard. But a lot easier than german (apparently). Your course’s are very helpful especially with my upcoming exam!

  5. Yanyan Suryani says:

    Dankjewel meneer Bart de Pau.. I learned Dutch because I will live there soon but dutch Voor mij is…. Duizelig.. Duizelig… Not easy to learn grammer arrrghhhhh help mij

  6. norysvalero says:

    Talen te leren is moelijk. Unless for me. Ik ben 49 jaar oud and to learn languages is not my best skill.
    My english is not perfect even I took a cursus in my country many years ago and have practiced it often with my partner the last year. But love is powerful.

    I decided change my life to come Nederland and be here with my blue prince. I am journalist and teacher also. The dutch grammar structure makes me crazy, because my mother tongue is Spanish. Altough, as ballet dancer ( I was) I know if you be in focus and practice every day the skills will be development. I am grateful because dutch grammar is helping me a lot to understand why the dutch people speaks different than me. Your english is clear so I can understandi it perfect. I started Dutch Grammar 20 days ago and I have learned much more than the last year with Naar Nederland Cursus.

    Now I get the answers about many questions. Waarom is nieuw jaar niet nieuwe jaar (with extra e, voorbeeld)? Nu, begrijp ik het

    Before I asked my partner and he tried to give me the answers but usually he can not. Simply, for them is that because it is.

    Dank je wel Bart

  7. Duyen says:

    I think it is hard but I keep trying 😉 hard about pronunciation and spelling : ch, sch, g, ng or ui, au, ou, eu..very strange sounds for foreigners.

  8. Steve says:

    I have asked people in the stores and on the streets of Rotterdam who were Dutch Nationals… if they thought Dutch for American was more difficult to learn than English for a Dutch Person. Most Always – they said Dutch leaning for Americans was harder than English for Dutch. I am married to a Dutch lady and have been trying off and on for 12 yrs now to grasp Dutch. I may be at a 5 yr old level??.Becoming a brain surgeon would be easier – IMHO…LOL!!

  9. Hermann says:

    At least your article made me smile, because I can see the difficulties you must experience. Even though I am Afrikaans speaking and therefore a lot of those problems will not be as huge for me, even Afrikaans speakers find it not so easy to understand Dutch.

    And the picture on top – i have so much empathy!

  10. IvEA says:

    Hoi, Bart! I’m Russian and now I’m learning English and Dutch. When I started to learn Dutch all my Dutch and Belgian friends told me that that Dutch is very difficult for foreigners. But from the first steps, I understood that Dutch is much easier for me than English. I even had strange feeling that I knew this language before. I tried to analyze this feeling, why it is so. And now I see more and more in common between Dutch and Russian. Much more, than between English and Russian. And I really enjoy Dutch. But – yes, it’s still very difficult for me to understand Dutch-speaking. And all these small words also are rather a difficult topic, but here I see again that in Russian we also use a lot of such words, I just need to analyze this topic a bit more. Thank you very much for all your wonderful lessons! I’m sure that with your help I will know Dutch well!

  11. Howard says:

    Bart
    I will add another point.
    As an Englishman, for example, I say ‘nijmegen ‘, sounding the ‘en’ at the end of the word.
    A Dutch person says ‘ nijmeger’ and this applies to many Dutch words.
    This, in my view, is lazy, and confused me even more!

  12. Ninathabet says:

    Ik vind de Nederlandse taal niet moeilijk maar wat wel moeilijk is, is dat er veel voorzetsels voor een woord zijn en de betekenis is anders. Ik vertaal ook de zinnen van het Engels naar het Nederlands en dat is fout. Ik wil graag netjes praten en echt snel zonder aarzelen. Is dat mogelijk? Nogmaals bedankt voor uw tijd. Nina

  13. Hazel Lees says:

    Hello Bart,
    What I find most difficult is remembering all the information. I try to apply myself every day, following your advice.

  14. helen says:

    I find the same thing as Howard, but think this will get better with practice. I am currently learning Spanish too and am having the same experience there. Hardest bit for me is all the “tch nog maar we eens” as this cannot really be taught.

  15. John says:

    But my 3-year-old grandson doesn’t seem to have any trouble learning Dutch & English. I don’r wish I were three, but I would like his ability to learn languages.

  16. Howard says:

    Hi Bart
    Dutch is quite reasonable to learn. I am English and my partner is Dutch.
    However, I find it impossible to understand when Dutch is spoken to me at normal conversation speed by a dutch person. Additionally, when I listen to Dutch being spoken at normal speed when the Dutch speak together, then, on the whole, it’s just noise without understanding except for a few phrases

  17. Lid says:

    For me, Dutch is a bit easier than English.I see familiar habits in him 🙂
    Thank you Bart for your job!

  18. georgeamol says:

    It is not a question of being difficult or easy. All languages are difficult and easy at the same time. Difficult because at the beginning they represent something new, that the learner is not familiar with, and easy because when the learner arrives to the point to master them (“de les maîtriser” comme on dit en français) everything arrives “in one go” and the learner can communicate in the same way that the natives are doing.
    The most important point in my opinion, is the time. Every language needs time (average 3-5 years in order to arrive in a good intermediate level, B2 according to the new European terminology) and most of the learners are in a hurry and try to speed their study up because psychologically they feel that they will achieve better results. THIS IS ABSOLUTELY WRONG. They must take their time and the modern technology offers an important aid to them with the amount of lessons, texts and other information through the Internet and if all these will be used properly the results will be amazing.
    Don’t forget: “Es geht mit der Zeit (Everything goes with time”. This is a wise German expression that everyone who wants to learn a new language (or something new, in general) should have in his mind.

    George Amolochitis
    http://www.proz.com/pro/111220

  19. Rossella says:

    Thank you Bart! I joined your webinars, and I’m currently watching all the videos of your YouTube channel. If in the future I’ll need another Ditch course, I’ll surely sign up one of your courses. Fijne dag!

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