How to speak Dutch with the Dutch

How to speak Dutch with the Dutch

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Language coach Albert Both shares some enlightening theories on why it’s so difficult for English speakers to speak Dutch with Dutch people – and what you can do about it.

It’s pretty safe to say that most English speakers living in The Netherlands have a tough time speaking Dutch with the natives. The Dutch are often resistant to speaking their own language with English speakers. They invariably switch to English, even if you continue to speak Dutch. This can be extremely frustrating and discourage you from trying out your new language skills. If you visit expat blogs or forums on any expat site, you can see people venting about this problem.

Language coach Albert Both is Dutch and has some insights on the situation. According to Albert, Dutch people often treat Nederlands like a secret language – one they want to keep under their control. Dutch people like keeping the language for themselves.

“There is a firewall system around Dutch, which especially excludes English-speakers,” says Albert. “I believe that language is a question of power.”

“Like a big country has a big army, The Netherlands has an army of languages. Language is the thing that Dutch people are proud of.  Even though Dutch people complain about their country, they are actually proud of it.”

“The first thing you need to understand is the two opposite messages that foreigners get: 1) you don’t need to learn Dutch and 2) you have rejected the Dutch culture.”

“The Dutch live in two dimensions,” he adds, “the small world that is Holland and also the rest of the world – where they want to speak perfect English.”

They still think The Netherlands is better. It is a safe, comfy environment and keeping the Dutch language to themselves will keep their small world safe and protected. However, its small size can make them feel trapped. The rest of the world is bigger – and enticing. The Dutch want to belong to something bigger, to be part of the glamour, success and sophistication of other countries. English is the key to this world.

Another cultural factor to consider is that Dutch people are “socially challenged”.  They think if they give you a compliment on something you have done well, you will stop doing it (because you have achieved it).
So the Dutch will not often give you compliments on your new Dutch language skills. In addition, if they like you they will tease you and maybe even insult you. You just can’t be sensitive. This can be very difficult if you come from a culture that values positive reinforcement, because “smiles and compliments are like a hard drug. You need them, like heroine”.

It is unlikely that you will get much positive feedback for your efforts. So for you to learn Dutch, you have to change your mind set.

Say you have found a Dutch native willing to practice with you and you have decided to forge ahead without positive feedback. Are all your problems solved? Not yet.

“Dutch people have trouble correcting you because often they don’t know HOW to correct you. They know that what you have said is incorrect, but they don’t know how to explain it.”

“Don’t ask a fish what water is.”  In other words, don’t ask Dutch people to explain Dutch grammar.

Often Dutch people don’t know how to help you, so they get frustrated. Then you have TWO frustrated people – not a good situation. The person learning doesn’t realize the Dutch person is also suffering. Seeing the situation from the Dutch person’s point of view can really help keep your frustration in check.

Positive thinking is important, but you also need a method to support it. To this end, Albert has created a different system of teaching based on conversation.

“If you give students a textbook, they will just follow the textbook. That can be limiting.”

Albert feels that many Dutch language textbooks “are against human rights.” Even if you have a positive attitude, having a difficult grammar book will still make you feel overwhelmed.

He starts with the “low-hanging fruit.” He begins by teaching Dutch words that are similar to English to make the language seem logical. He also uses similar language constructions, grammar structures and verb tenses.

However, Albert feels that what some students suffer from the most is rigid thinking.

According to Albert, many people are “chicken learners”. They are short-sighted and get stuck on pronunciation and memorizing, in other words, rigid thinking.

“Learning is all about psychological freedom and freedom of fantasy.”

“You have to overcome your old conditioning. If you can break rigid thinking, learning Dutch is only a small part of the benefits you will receive.”


Albert Both Visit Albert Both’s website at and get your FREE e-book “Why You Hate Learning Dutch and 7 Secrets to Change It”.


Expatica/ LB

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