8 tips to improve your Dutch listening skills

If you are learning Dutch you know that there are a lot of different aspects to learning the language. There are new words and different sounds you have to get used to.

There’s grammar, there’s the culture that is involved in communication.

And it doesn’t stop there, there are skills like reading, writing and speaking.

In this blog I want to focus on just one skill: listening. It’s something that you can start with right away. You just need your ears and an internet connection.

Just listening is okay. To have as much Dutch around as possible is a good start. Then you can listen and train your skills.

  1. Don’t focus on understanding everything

One of the main mistakes a lot of students make is that they try to understand everything. Especially when you are a beginner, you should focus on the parts you know.

When you are starting, you don’t want to put the bar too high. It’s okay if you understand some words or sentences. It’s definitely NOT efficient to understand all the grammar and vocabulary. Especially when you listen to everyday spoken language.

Try to focus on words you know and in combination with what you see, try to construct the meaning.

  1. Dare to ask for repetition

When you speak with Dutch people, you will see they very quickly switch to English. But then you can ask:

Ik leer Nederlands. Wil je Nederlands spreken? (I’m learning Dutch. Do you want to speak Dutch?)

 You will see the Dutch are pretty willing to switch to Dutch. But then the next problem, they start speaking very fast. What to say then?

  • Mag ik iets vragen? (Can I ask you something?)
  • Kunt u langzamer praten? (Could you speak slower?)
  • Kunt u dat herhalen? (Could you repeat that?)
  • Wat bedoel je? (What do you mean?)
  • Dat begrijp ik niet. (I don’t understand that)
  1. Get to know the sounds

When you start learning Dutch, it seems that there are a lot of strange sounds. Like the G- and the R-sound.

But it’s easier than you think.                                                                                                       

From my experience I can tell you that if you are a good English speaker, there aren’t too many difficult sounds.

I talk about the most difficult sounds in this video.

  1. Practise as much as possible

This one seems a bit obvious but it’s true. The more you listen, the more you get used to the sounds and the better you understand them.

And you don’t have to do it super intensely all the time. If you have the radio on in the background, that helps as well!

A bit more creepy, but helpful, listen to other people on the train or in public places. But I don’t want to advise this too much, because it is a bit strange.

  1. Listen to music

In real life you can only listen once. You can ask for repetition, but the limit is three, I think. It becomes a bit uncomfortable if you ask for repetition 10 times in a row.

This problem is not there with music or digital sources.

The big advantage of music is that you can get used to different accents and dialects.

You don’t know any Dutch music? Here is a list of 10 songs!

  1. Listen to podcasts

Like I said, radio is good to have on in the background. The sounds and sentence structures will become more familiar after a while. The disadvantage is that the people on the radio speak so fast!

A good thing about podcasts is that people take their time to talk. As a result the speech is more relaxed and easier.

Also, there are a wide variety of podcasts and you can listen to them whenever you want.

  1. Watch movies and television

One of the good things about movies and television is that the Dutch love subtitles. Not only for English movies and television, but also their own.

Watching Dutch movies or television with Dutch subtitles is really helpful if you want to connect the sounds to the letters.

Here is a blog with more tips for when watching Dutch movies.

  1. Listening improves other skills

As I said, Dutch is a web of different skills and knowledge. Improving your listening will develop your ability to speak and to read.

Good luck!

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