Monday, March 10, 2014

The Easiest Way To Learn A Hard Language

For the 3+ years I've lived in the Netherlands I have told myself that I want to learn Dutch. Not only because my boyfriend is Dutch, but also because I've always had a fascination with languages. I work in an international environment and truly admire witnessing friends, colleagues, teammates switch flawlessly between English and their native tongue. Sometimes more languages than one even.  Super impressive. It is such a skill that I wish I pursued vehemently when I was younger - when you're not afraid of acting or sounding like a fool.

Anyway, due to a few somewhat embarrassing (and frustrating) circumstances, I finally got the big kick I needed to learn this very, very difficult language.

The intrinsic motivation was always there, I just needed something confrontational to make me realize that I can talk about wanting to learn but it wasn't going to happen till I got over my shyness. Which I'm usually not - so it was just another barrier to learning Dutch.

I had to make a change.

So now, Steven and I speak only in Dutch. (Thank you sweetheart, for your patience.) There are a few occasions where we switch to English - when one of us is tired, or if there is something we have to quickly say and it's just easier. But for 85-90% of the time we speak only in Dutch. It started off very slow and frustrating on my part, but it has been almost 2 months since this linguistic experiment and I can honestly say I've seen a huge improvement in my vocabulary and self-confidence. After having conversations in Dutch, I feel like I carry myself differently in restaurants or in shops. The doubt is gone, and since I don't doubt myself, the person I am speaking to in return just continues on in Dutch.

Some other things which have helped..

Translating the morning paper. This has become somewhat of a morning ritual for me. I try and read the paper and just look up the words I don't know. Eventually, I can string the story together. I am always scribbling on magazine covers, newspapers, random flyers now.

Watching foreign movies with Dutch subtitles. This has been difficult to find since the Dutch don't dub American movies. (One of the reasons why the Dutch speak such great English.) So we have watched French films (Intouchables) with Dutch subtitles. This is super challenging because its two foreign languages - but it works!

Ask people to help you. My poor Dutch colleagues have been commissioned to be my unofficial language partners. We speak in Dutch till noon and then switch to English in the afternoon - usually because the day is getting really intense and it's just easier and faster to speak in English. One of my colleagues though, only asks me questions and speaks to me in Dutch now which is such a big help to my language journey!

Now that I've started I am really into it. How fun would it be to take this back to the States someday? I'm pretty sure that no one would understand us and we could always talk openly yet privately when needed ;)


  1. Such great tips... immersion really is key. I'm in the process of learning French and I realize that I learn more in the week that I might spend in Paris on vacation than perhaps months here when I have no way to fully immerse myself.

  2. I took German in highschool and lived in Germany for a month when I was 16 during an exchange program. You would think that the two languages would be more similar, but I've heard Dutch spoken and it sounds so different, and even reading that article above, I definitely cannot even pretend to translate any of the words. So funny that they are so similar yet so different!

  3. So cool!! Im so happy to hear that you and Steven speak in Dutch!

  4. Thanks Jeanelle for showing me the easiest way to learn hard language. Truly I have searched a lot for getting some sort of way to learn hard language but I didn't get from anywhere but finally it comes to an end in here and also I am very much happy to get this. Best of luck:)