How do I gain a reading knowledge of Dutch on my own?
February 15, 2011 7:25 PM   Subscribe

How do I go about gaining a reading knowledge of Dutch on my own, and what is important to emphasize when doing so?

I'd like to be able to gain a reading knowledge of Dutch, mostly in order to read texts in a particular field (campanology, to be specific) and general related publications. By "reading knowledge," I mean the ability to generally comprehend Dutch text, armed with a dictionary for more obscure words and a reference grammar for really unusual grammatical structures. I'm not too concerned with being able to write, speak or understand spoken Dutch. FYI, I currently speak English, Mandarin Chinese, French and basic Spanish.

I know there are other similar resources for other languages such as "French for Reading Knowledge," but a Google search doesn't seem to reveal any in-print or readily available resources for Dutch, so I'm wondering what to emphasize. I've learned French and Spanish as second languages, but in "total," i.e. learned them with the goal of being able to speak, read, write and listen them. But I've never tried to learn a language just for reading purposes, so I'm not sure what to focus on, i.e. how important is it to be able to recognize/produce verbal conjugations, etc.?

I'd like to do this on my own with books/tapes and without online/in-person classes, which is part of why I'm only focusing on gaining a reading knowledge, as I think that's doable on my own while also keeping a 9-5 (and longer!) job and other responsibilities. What would be good resources to use for this purpose, and what would you suggest focusing on?

I've looked at this thread and this one, among others, but I'm more focused on specific reading knowledge, although of course being able to write basic Dutch would be a great side benefit.

(If it's relevant, I have an undergraduate degree in linguistics and a good understanding of most basic concepts, so for example I know what morphemes and phonemes are, and I understand the concept of verb-second word order.)
posted by andrewesque to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Here are two free intros--very brief, and I can't attest to their quality. Searching Amazon for "dutch grammar" turns up plenty of likely avenues, particularly given your aim and your linguistics background.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 8:17 PM on February 15, 2011

If I were in your shoes, I'd pick up a "Beginning Dutch" book that is not specifically geared toward travellers--one that is more focused on grammar and basic vocabulary, and not on learning common phrases. Learn your pronouns, articles, common verbs and verb conjugations, and then just start reading--especially in the field that interests you, although you can branch out for fun and profit. I find that Wikipedia is actually a great source for learning texts--you can read about any subject that might interest you, but it's pretty devoid of slang and colloquial idioms (which can be a problem even in newspaper articles). Reading online also encourages you to use useful online resources (dictionaries, verb conjugation tools, etc.)

I learned to read Portuguese just by slogging through it (admittedly, this is a process greatly sped up by the fact that I was already fluent in Spanish).
posted by drlith at 8:22 PM on February 15, 2011

I would start with an intense pronunciation session. Dutch can be deceptively straightforward to read until you realise you've been pronouncing it in your head completely wrong. I lived in the Netherlands for a while but didn't take classes, and am still unlearning bad habits.

Next, just start reading. The suggestion to read Wikipedia is good.
posted by wingless_angel at 12:27 AM on February 16, 2011

The Hugo Dutch in Three Months book has helped me a lot (I don't have the CDs, so my experience is based only on reading it).

This site and this site have some information about Dutch grammar. Of course, most courses/books focus heavily on speaking and understanding spoken Dutch before learning to read or write it, so you'll probably have to pick and choose what you spend your time on.

I recently took a Dutch course in which we learned in this order: pronouns; the present tense; the past perfect tense; the simple past tense; and the simple future tense. We were expected to pick up specific nouns and verbs as we went along, although I think you do have to spend some time memorizing a few word lists so you have a basic idea of what you're reading about. A good place to start is the Amsterdam city council's "2000 words all Dutch children should know", which you can download here.

Also, I sent you a MeFi Mail.
posted by neushoorn at 12:39 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I speak fluent Dutch and began by learning to read, as I needed to access information that was only available in written form. I could read Dutch well for several years before really beginning to speak it much.

For me, the key was to have a text that I really, really wanted to understand. I sat in the research library with a big fat Dutch-English dictionary and the text, and worked my way through it. And then another one. And another one. I was super-motivated, so that was really how it happened.

Everyone learns languages differently so that may not be helpful to you, but that's how I did it.

I highly recommend the word lists neushoorn linked to, as well. They are brilliant and I wish they'd been around when I started learning.

This is the best online dictionary IMO, which will give you a start.
posted by rubbish bin night at 1:02 AM on February 16, 2011

See if your local library subscribes to the Tell Me More language program, or maybe buy it for yourself. Dutch is one of their languages. (I was told that it's because the Dutch government paid them to include it, to encourage more learning of the language.)
posted by bentley at 6:04 AM on February 16, 2011

In addition to the resources mentioned above, you might want to take a look at the Thematische woordenschat - Nederlands voor anderstaligen, which has a basic vocabulary of around 6000 words divided up into thematic groups, with plenty of examples of usage. It's entirely in Dutch so not for absolute beginners, but I find such thematic dictionaries are very useful for getting a working grasp of a language.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:07 AM on February 16, 2011

I have a friend who both learned Dutch from no knowledge to near-fluent in a few short months and wrote a (protected) blog post on how she did it. Since she didn't make it public, I can't link, but I can probably me-mail her guide to learning language quickly if you would like.
posted by Kurichina at 11:45 AM on February 16, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everybody for all their input, and in particular for all the links! I figured it would be something similar to this (gain some basic grammatical knowledge, and then just get cracking on reading a text), but it's good to hear that this is the right approach.

A side question: if I have a Dutch book that I want to read, but it's not available on Amazon, either the US or the UK sides, would anyone know a relatively easy way or website to buy it on? A casual Google search seems to reveal that it's easily available on a bunch of bookselling websites, but I'm a bit wary of giving my credit card information to a website entirely in Dutch when I can't quite understand the website's terms yet.
posted by andrewesque at 6:06 AM on February 17, 2011 and Selexyz are reliable.
posted by neushoorn at 9:57 AM on February 17, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks neushoorn! I forgot to mention (I guess this is my US-centric perspective showing), I am in the United States.
posted by andrewesque at 10:00 AM on February 17, 2011

The Taal Vitaal books were recently recommended to me, if you go with the textbook route. Apparently they are one of THE textbooks for foreigners learning Dutch. On the other hand, I haven't ordered them yet.

For reading only, at least for Dutch as learned by an English speaker, I think there is a lot to be said for the brute force method rubbish bin night described above. Consider adding media with Dutch subtitles to your TV/movie schedule. From my own experience, I am surprised at how much I am picking up this way!
posted by whatzit at 4:09 PM on June 13, 2011

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