The Perks of Learning Dutch

By Stephanie Bui – April 14th, 2020

Cover photo: Photo by Margot Polinder on Unsplash

The Netherlands is a multicultural country that embraces a multitude of different cultures and ethnicities. Therefore, one normally does not feel the urge to learn the native language and instead stays in their comfort zone with English. Let’s get the cat out of the bag: Dutch is not known for being straightforward or particularly pleasant-sounding. But immersing oneself in another culture is definitively a joy, and while we have in our hands three (or more) years, why not give it a shot? 


In the first few months before I started my Dutch journey, I knew that I could get by with English. However, the official language of my new home is still Dutch. In essence, announcements in public transport and labels in the supermarket are in Dutch, and people habitually would speak Dutch to me. Dazed and confused, I could not understand a single word (except for the ones similar to English) as I half-guessed and Google-translated my days away. Thus, my fascination with the native language mounted as I struggled to immerse myself in the new culture. 


However, this uncertainty melted away when my Dutch class commenced. The excitement of understanding Dutch was almost unmatched. Every new vocabulary ignites my inner child, especially words that share the same root with English. Dutch lessons feel like magic tricks: suddenly, I can comprehend the signs in the metro station and the cashiers at Albert Heijn. I no longer need to religiously use Google Translate for websites and text messages in Dutch. Now I force myself to say “Goedemorgen” and “Fijne dag” instead of the usual dealio. Even YouTube advertisements become less annoying and survive my skipping impulse as I listen and read the ad’s content. At last, I slowly understand part of this culture, bridging the gap between me, a foreigner, and the Netherlands. A fun fact: the Dutch, though infamous for their bluntness, try to soften their tone and sound polite by adding specific words in a sentence. This knowledge stimulates my appreciation, as the language brings me closer to a culture I once considered distant and incomprehensible. 


Let’s be real: Dutch is not the most romantic language in the world. Many non-Dutch friends of mine have expressed their hesitance to learn the language due to these harsh sounds. As an honest student, I cannot keep up with the times I have coughed up my lungs, trying to pronounce the “g” sound and ending up with a sore throat at the end of class. Dutch grammar is also not the most forgiving for new language learners: complicated structures, tenses, and variations that even my teachers cannot explain. Cue Bruno Mars – it’s “just the way it is.” The inversion (inversie), the split words (scheidbare werkwoord), the perfectum and imperfectum still confuse me to no end. The counting system (one’s before ten’s) and the timing structure unfortunately still do not make sense to me. Nonetheless, the intricacy of mastering the language keeps me yearning for more knowledge, in the hope of achieving fluency and cultural immersion. 


Although learning Dutch is not a walk in the park, we can enrich and open our minds to a brand new culture and perspective. We need to dig deeper into our intrinsic core and unleash our inner children’s curiosity about acquiring a foreign language. As we can see through the basic, Duolingo-level facade of the “dank je wel” or “hoi,” we will find newfound gratitude for the country that we all now dearly call home. 


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