Are you struggling to learn Dutch? Stop thinking of language levels, learn grammar and vocabulary and start speaking with the help of TalenCoach. [Contributed by Talencoach / Dutch Flow Now]
Do terms like A1 and A2 make sense to you? If you are ambitious about speaking the Dutch language greatly, then probably do. A1 and A2 are examples of codes designated by the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for speaking languages.
If you are A1, then you are a total beginner. If your level is C2 then you might like to call yourself linguistically enlightened, because this is the highest score for Dutch language proficiency. Therefore, if you like to speak Dutch on the highest level, you’ll have to move from A1 to C2. And preferably as fast as possible, right? It sounds logical, but if you think about it again, it does not make sense and it could mean a huge waste of your precious time.
Levels of learning
When you first look at the CEFR system, it seems to make a lot of sense. Whenever you learn something, there are always different levels. You start at a lower level and then gradually, when you get more skills, you will move on to the next. So why would speaking Dutch be an exception?
Here is the subtle truth. When you want to speak Dutch, there are definitively different levels. There are things that are easy to learn and there are things that require more insights, skills and practice. But contrary to what you may believe, understanding the language has nothing to do with A1 or C2.
If you find it difficult to believe, then just check each level’s loose description for yourself. Level A suggests that you can introduce yourself, make an appointment in Dutch, order in a restaurant and talk about where you live.
All right then, here it is: “Mijn naam is…,” “Ik wil graag bier,” “Ik woon in Amsterdam en ik wil graag een afspraak voor morgen om 10.00.” If you have learned some Dutch before, these sentences should not be too difficult to understand.
There’s a trick. According to this system, the subject dictates whether something is difficult or not. But… contrary to what you may believe, this is not true. Actually, it is not so much the subject in Dutch that defines if talking about it is difficult or not. It is — surprise, surprise — vocabulary and grammar!
Have a look for yourself. If you say, “Mijn adres is,” then it is obvious that you are talking about your address? But what would you think of the next Dutch sentence, “Het adres waarop ik sinds korte tijd woonachtig ben is…?” The message is more or less the same, but the grammar is far more complex. It is not the subject that determines whether something is difficult or not, it is the grammar that you use!
Here is another funny thing. According to the current system, talking about yourself is easy, but talking about, say, politics, should be far more difficult. A subject like that could only be discussed if you have at least a level B. But if, for example, you would like to say something about Donald Trump, here are two sentences to choose from: “Ik vind Donald Trump de beste presidentskanditaat voor Amerika,” or “Ik vind Donald Trump een narcist.” Actually talking about politics is not that difficult.
Forgetting about language grades
Another important thing to consider is that, first of all, Dutch is the closest language to English and if you speak English well enough, it automatically means that you master many Latin words that Dutch people use on a high level. Look at this following sentence for example: “De juiste positionering is essentieel voor een organisatie.” Do you find it hard to decode it? It means, “The right positioning is essential for an organization.” You see? Now, you have already started to talk about PR and marketing in Dutch — subjects that officially would only be possible on a higher B level.
So here is a secret if you want to move to a higher level fast: Simply forget about the A1, A2 and B levels because they are pure nonsense for the Dutch language.
An official warning is that although it makes perfect sense to start at A1 so you gradually move forward to higher levels, it is very easy to get stuck. The reason is simple. While the subject looks simple, the grammar and vocabulary are often not! You can talk about easy things in a difficult way and you can talk about more difficult subjects in a simple way.
If you aim is to learn quickly then here is how you can do it. First, remember that you can start talking about anything you like from day 1. Some Dutch words to choose from are: cultuur, dans, politiek, literatuur, muziek, spiritualitieit and yoga. These words are simple and do not cause huge problems.
Talk about subjects you love
Following that, you can start talking about your interests by using constructions that are relatively simple. Also, if you talk about subjects you feel passionate about more often, you will learn a lot faster. The contrary, however, is also true. If you try to memorise words that don’t really interest you, then you’ll probably find it tedious and boring. Progress will be low and before you know it, you’ll start to think that talking about things you truly like must be difficult or only possible after a long time.
Once again, I cannot say it often enough: Dutch is not an ‘alien’ language such as Turkish or Polish. Therefore if you speak English, it already means that you already have 50 percent of all the words in your pocket. But it requires that you start to learn from a whole new perspective. This could mean that it is relatively easy to sound like a Dutch intellectual or things that are easy for Dutch children could be more challenging for you (at least certainly in the beginning.)
Actually, it is hard not to overestimate the benefit that you have if you already know English. If you know other languages such as Spanish, French, Portuguese, Romanian, German, Norwegian, it is even better. On top of that, even knowing other languages, such as Greek, Russian and Croatian give many great benefits. It means that you’ll understand many things really fast but only if you are willing to give up the idea of sticking to the official system of A, B or C levels.
Start at the top
Last but not least, it is always a great idea to make as much progress as you can if you like to speak a new language. So simply imagine that you see many people waiting in a queue and when you see that another desk is just opening where there’s no queue at all? Would you still wait in the queue? What if you can grasp many great things right now, without having to wait for it?
Therefore my tip for you is to stop thinking in A, B or C levels. They will only slow you down. Why not start at the top? It is faster, more fun and certainly a lot better for speaking Dutch!