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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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