7 Tips to improve your Dutch reading skills

Learning Dutch consists of a lot of different elements. There are things like grammar and vocabulary. But also, skills you need to acquire to communicate in Dutch: speaking, listening, writing and reading.

In this blog I want to focus on your reading skills. In my experience, this is not the main thing my students think of when they start studying Dutch. Most of them want to be able to speak, write and listen.

But they forget that reading is an essential part of it. What I’ve also heard, is that they don’t think it’s so important. “It depends on the words and grammar you know, but you can’t really practice it”, is something I’ve heard.

This is not true

You can focus on your reading skills. And the next question is, why should you? There are a couple of reasons. The most important are:

First, it’s a major part of your communication in Dutch.

Secondly, if you have to do an inburgering, reading is tested in a separate exam.

Practice makes perfect – Doing it means learning it

Spending a lot of time reading is important for the development of reading skills.

I know, this is true for other skills like speaking and writing. But the problem with reading is that it’s difficult to test your ability. In other words, it’s hard to see if you are making progress.

It has been proven that the more you do, the better you get at it.

So how do you read as much as possible?

Reading as much as possible. That is easier said than done. So here are my tips:

Tip 1: Change your smartphone setting to Dutch

It seems like a basic thing. But it’s just a small step in reading more Dutch.

Tip 2: Read the Dutch news

If you are reading the news, and you are just starting to learn Dutch, you will do this in your own language. I understand it’s difficult to understand full texts if you are just starting.

But what you can do, you can then go on and read a Dutch article about the news. If you have more knowledge about a subject, its way easier to read about it.

Tip 3: Put on Dutch subtitles

If you are watching a show in your own language, often it’s possible to add Dutch subtitles. You might want to enjoy the film without learning all the time. The good news is… this is still possible.

You don’t have to pay attention to the subtitles all the time. Just checking them now and then to see what the Dutch words are, really helps.

Tip 4: Make it fun!

Try to read lots of different things. Practise with fun things, like comic books or your favourite magazines.

Find out for yourself what works best for you, even if it means shutting yourself in a room to read out loud. Try lots of different ways.

Tip 5: read easy-to-read books

Start with books at or below your level, not with books above your level. It is the same as starting the highest level of cross-fit when you have just started jogging.

Of course, you will not do well if that is the situation.

So start with books on your own level. You should not have to worry about the meaning of the words or have to read over the sentences very often. There are special NT2-books that offer a great variety of reading.

Tip 6: learn from the context

A lot of students struggle with this. You don’t know what a certain word means. In itself this does not have to be a problem to understand a text or to answer a question. You can often deduce the meaning of a word from its context. Often the sentences around the unknown word give so much information that you will understand the word.

Tip 7: Know what kind of text you are reading

The process of reading isn’t as simple as just starting with the first letter and GO. You have to have knowledge about the text you are reading.

A comment on Facebook is different from a letter from the gemeente. This means that you can expect different words and possibly grammar.

Also, be aware of the position of the writer. What is his goal? He wants to share an opinion? Or he is trying to convince you to act?

How to learn to read most efficiently

If you want to read, there is plenty to choose from. Like I said, if you like reading books, here are some tips.

There are different ways to read and also to make it very efficient for learning Dutch.

An example is that you can make notes when reading. Write down the words you don’t know and look them up. It takes a lot of effort and time, but it’s been proven to be very effective. Especially if you then take these words and practice with them.

But of course, understand that you want to keep it fun. So just reading for fun is also a good way of improving your reading skills. And besides, you don’t have to know ALL words.

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