I’m Learning Dutch Super Quickly (And You Can Too)

language

This post has nothing to do with sheep

When we met, I thought there was something a little odd about Boyfriend’s accent.

To the untrained ear, it sounds like a perfect example of Queen’s English. But when he admitted to the other pub quiz members that he’s not British, I got it. He was Dutch, and I’d spent enough time around Dutch people at Nintendo to know that “more-perfect-than-perfect” accent anywhere.

As a person who loves languages, I love any excuse to start speaking something new and so I started studying Dutch in secret, with the plan to just come out with a load of it one day and amaze him.

Here’s a thing – I am terrible at keeping things quiet when I’m excited about them, so of course I let de kat out of de zak way too soon.

But luckily, I am learning pretty quickly, so it now means that I can drop Dutch into normal conversation pretty easily. The Boyfriend says I am a genius to be able to learn so quickly. Ha. I wish. I just have a winning method for picking up languages, and I would like to share it with you now.

You can use this method on a whole range of languages (though there are limits, as I’ll explain).

Step One: Get Dutch into my brain.

When I was studying Japanese, I found that sitting over books all day got me absolutely nowhere. It was only when I started to use the podcast Japanesepod101 every day that things seemed to fit into place. Walking to university took about 30 -40 minutes, and I would listen to the podcasts during this time.

It made a huge different to have the language going into my ears passively. When I went to Japan and had Japanese all around me the whole time, it was even better and my brain turned into a sponge.

The languagepod101 series are quite good, but I have found something even better: The Michel Thomas series. This is how I learnt German when I moved there.

Michel Thomas was an absolute dude of the highest rank. Being Polish, he escaped the Nazis eventually after being captured and tortured a bunch of times, and then after the war he escaped to the US. You should totally read his wiki page because he is really awesome.

His language tapes aren’t the traditional kind where you’re repeating after the teacher, who, without hearing you (since they are a recording, of course) says that you’re doing well. He has two students in the room, and it is to them that he teaches. I swear they choose really simple people to play these roles (maybe to make the listener feel better about themselves?)

The languages are built up brick by brick. For example:

Do you want

Do you want it

Do you want it to eat

Do you want it to eat or drink

What do you want

What do you drink

And so on…until you think to yourself “hang on, I think I might be speaking a whole new language!”

I listen to the Dutch tapes (which sadly doesn’t have Michel himself as the German ones do, but this real “mumsy” kind of woman who sounds like she’d give you a massive hug, a glass of milk and a cookie when you make mistakes) in my car either to or from work. Each CD has about 15 tracks on it, and I get through them in a week, with me listening through it at least twice before moving on.

Step Two: Get Words In My Eyes

When I studied French at school, I hated it. Up until GCSE (16 years) I remember mainly making posters and memorising a small speech about my work experience (a lot of which I can still recite to this day). After GCSE I took it up at A Level, and the difficulty jump was massive. Even though the class had just 6 of us in it (because that’s how many people were stupid enough to take A Level French), the teacher was tired and gave us lists and lists of words to learn, so we could understand the books.

I did really badly at it; I had zero motivation (I only took it so that I could take Japanese at university) and sitting memorising loads of stuff just is not my bag.

My teacher told me that since I “could not grasp French, you should just give up on Japanese since you’ll get nowhere with it”. 10 years later, I am fluent in Japanese, conversational in German and can also get by in Chinese, Korean and now Dutch. I wouldn’t even try to use French.

Unless you have the type of brain that loves lists of stuff to memorise, then this is not a good method to learn a language. But you need to know loads of new words, right?

There is another way. Let me introduce Duolingo.com to you.

duolingo

Duolingo is a free, online, language learning programme which is nothing short of awesome. It works with you translating lots of sentences which get progressively more difficult and are split up into categories like “prepositions” and “clothes”.

You can see above there’s the sentence in Dutch, which looks a bit intimidating. But you can hover over the words to remember which each one is. They used to penalise you for this, but the website has changed over the years and it doesn’t anymore.

It gets you to do sentence after sentence and slowly, you’re learning grammar, vocabulary and word order without much effort at all. What’s more, there’s a points table and you can connect with friends on there. I have a friend in Germany who, apparently, is learning every language under the sun right now and so I always try to keep up with her.

Dutch is quite hard visually because it’s not said as it’s written. “Goed” is said something like “hhuuid”, with lots of throat-usage while you’re at it (steady, sailor). So if you want to properly learn the language, you need to be using something to learn to read and write it.

 

There are, of course, more steps to this method. But frankly, I’ve not got there yet. I plan to use memrise.com to build on my vocab when I get better, and also to speak with the boyfriend when I can. There’s a Dutch manager (quite high up) who I had to give some documents to the other day. In an email to him today I tagged onto the end that I am studying Dutch and he told me that when he’s in the office next time we can chat in Dutch. EEEEK. I think bullying myself into Dutch situations is the best way to improve; it’s how I got to be good at Japanese, after all.

Lastly, you can follow these two steps and learn languages super fast as long as your language is listed in both Michel Thomas courses and on Duolingo. The listening course is a little limited and sticks to European languages, but Duolingo has an ever-growing range these days (including Irish and Turkish and other cool things like that!)

If anyone has awesome language-learning tools to recommend to me, I’d love to hear them!

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