The struggles of learning Dutch – some of your difficult experiences in learning Dutch

As an online Dutch teacher I am in contact with a lot of students and I hear about their experiences of learning Dutch. Also, during the summer and winter school students tell stories to the teachers in my team.

And although we try to make it as easy and fun as possible…

sometimes learning Dutch comes with some frustrations and obstacles.

So if you are learning Dutch and it’s not going the way you wished it would go. You are not alone.

  1. ‘I have no one to practice with’

One of the reasons that I started is that I wanted to help people who weren’t living in the Netherlands. A lot of you live abroad, so if you want to learn Dutch, online is the way to go. But still, this means that you don’t have the opportunity to practise what you have learned.

You can learn a lot from my online program but if you really want to speak Dutch you need to practise speaking.

In lots of countries it’s very difficult to practise your Dutch. So visiting the Netherlands is one of the obvious options.

With the summer school I wanted to create it in a place that is easy to access for everyone.

  1. ‘The more I remember the more I forget’

This quote may sound strange, but it comes from a student from the last winter school.

He claimed that all this new information, the new grammar and vocabulary, were very interesting, but there wasn’t any more room in his brain.

Of course, this isn’t really the case and you are never too old to learn, but remembering all the words can be very difficult.

My blog about memorizing words can help you with this.

  1. ‘Everyone answers in English (or in a strange dialect!)

Especially in the centres of the big cities in the Netherlands, the main language is English and the people there will switch to English as soon as they hear that you’re not a native Dutch speaker. Or in some places they just start with speaking English.

So what is the best thing to do? You go to a small place in the less touristic places. And yes, here they are glad to speak Dutch with you. The problem? They speak with a very difficult accent that is far from the Dutch you are used to…

  1. ‘I called my neighbours farmers’

The [uu] sound can be quite difficult. Most of the time this isn’t a big deal, but sometimes the meaning of a word can really change.

So if you talk to your buren (neighbours) and you pronounce it as boeren (farmer), you might see some people looking strangely at you.

  1. ‘I asked information about how to finance the prostitutes’

The wrong way of pronouncing the [uu] sound can lead to more problems.

If you have to pay the rent, you pay de huur. Pronounce huur with the [uu] sound more like the [oe] sound and you end up saying that you want the pay the hoer (the prostitute).

This happened with a student who lived in Tilburg and wanted to get some information about huursubsidie. The employee at the gemeente had to ask three times to really understand what he meant, because subsidie for the hoeren is kind of a strange thing to ask for.

  1. ‘Biertjes definitely help (although, that is what I thought)’

During the summer school there are several events where you can enjoy a drink or two. Dutch beers can make you feel more confident and also make your pronunciation more fluent. At least, the students thought the biertjes improved their Dutch. But the sober bystander wouldn’t have the same impression.


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