Absolute beginner at Dutch
May 20, 2007 5:40 PM   Subscribe

Dutch as a second language

I am an English speaker trying to pick up a foreign language for the first time, specifically Dutch. There aren't any places where I can take classes near me, so I'm trying to go the cd/tape/book route. There seems to be a lot of software and books out there to wade through, anyone actually learn this way? How bad is the learning curve?
posted by AdamOddo to Writing & Language (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Dutch is a rather similar language to English, but it can be quite hard to learn all the same. This is because the majority of Dutch people speak English as well, so there's a small market for Dutch as a 2nd language material.
It seems like a bizarre language to learn, especially as a first 2nd language.
posted by atrazine at 5:49 PM on May 20, 2007

Best answer: I know it's expensive, but Rosetta Stone is a good tool for immersion in a language. I wouldn't use it as the only resource, but it's great for getting it into your brain. Just by repetition & deduction you'll learn stuff... and doing it a little every day can help to teach you a lot in a short time.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:57 PM on May 20, 2007

(It's true though... Dutch people are probably among the best english speakers in Europe.)
posted by miss lynnster at 5:59 PM on May 20, 2007

The biggest problem with most cds/tapes/books for any foreign language is that they're largely focused on phrases, and are largely lacking in grammar. This will be a larger problem for you since it's your first foreign language. Most people don't know enough about English grammar or the role of grammar in general to learn a second language immediately. For example, my mother tried to learn French from tapes, and ignored the sections on gender and conjugation because she "didn't like them". Don't let this happen to you!

My recommendation is to find a college-level textbook and use it. They often come with audio exercises, which will be critical. And be sure to go slowly, and do some of the book exercises! It's easy to rush through the entire thing; resist this urge.
posted by kiltedtaco at 6:12 PM on May 20, 2007

I started to learn dutch when I was about 15 (because it was something really 'punk' to people around me, to learn a language which one one cared about, and because I chatted online with a lot of dutch people). I ultimately gave up, but I still have a lot of the resources book marked.

try this, and this one set out like a book, cracks me up with it's campy 80s-ness. Has sound files and tests, fill in blanks type stuff. really immersion material.
posted by chrisbucks at 7:05 PM on May 20, 2007

I learned German in college and when I went to Germany, many Germans asked me "Why are you learning German?" Plenty of people there, especially young ones, speak good English.

Even more so in Holland. Many people there speak English as good as you, so if you go there you'll get this question a lot. Not to discourage you, you probably have your reasons, but it's a strange choice.
posted by zardoz at 7:43 PM on May 20, 2007

I have to agree with Zardoz - if you're not settled on Dutch, there are loads of languages which would definitely broaden your circle of experiences and acquaintances to a much greater extent. I spent a lot of last summer with three Dutch friends (and may others.) All of us could speak four languages at a minimum and we traded bits of grammar and vocabulary all the time. The Dutch were surprised that anyone would care to learn their language, but not in the "pleasantly surprised" way that Hungarians or Arabs or Turks would be, but rather in a "what the heck are you trying to achieve" way. Most of them said they find it laborious to speak Dutch with someone fluent in English - time-consuming and hard to understand, usually. And dare I mention that a few years back, it was almost decided that all university level courses in the Netherlands would be taught in English. It didn't happen, but it says a lot, I think!

I'd never discourage anyone to learn any language. I've learned several for no purposeful reason at all. And maybe Dutch is simply your thing or part of your ancestry or something. The language itself is not tough, although there'll be a few new crazy sounds to learn. But for a first language, it seems like an odd one to pick.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 7:58 PM on May 20, 2007

Nthing the "why learn Dutch?" Dutch was my first language, but I mostly stopped speaking it after I started going to school in Canada around the age of 5 (although my parents continue to speak to me in Dutch). That makes me semi-fluent, in that Dutch grammar comes to me quite naturally, but my vocabulary is small and I have an obvious Canadian accent. Whenever I'm in Holland I like to use Dutch as much as I can, but almost everyone replies in English as soon as they hear me speak. It's just simpler for them that way (since most Dutch speak English fluently anyway).

I'd say learn German instead. It is quite similar to Dutch, but it has a lot more speakers, and Germans aren't nearly as good at speaking English (unlike in Holland, in Germany they dub most English TV and movies, and there's not as much need). If you can speak German well, it should be pretty easy to pick up Dutch if you ever need to.

A friend of mine went to Holland a while back and did find it handy to learn a few basic phrases to use when ordering at a cafe or whatever. He found that people in Holland (Amsterdam in particular) really appreciated that he at least made an effort -- it differentiated him from the hoards of British and American tourists.

Now, if you're planning to immigrate to Holland, learning Dutch may prove quite useful. The government very strongly encourages immigrants to learn it these days (although that's intended more for people immigrating from places like Turkey).
posted by Emanuel at 8:22 PM on May 20, 2007

Unless you're looking to become a Dutch citizen, I'd just go with the classic 'learn a few key phrases and vocab' route that any book/CD/site will provide. The Dutch realised they ought just to learn other people's languages in the mid-1600s: my last trip to Amsterdam included a conversation that went between Dutch, French, German and English.

If you are still interested, though, I suspect that 'Dutch as a Second Language' (nederlands als tweede taal / NT2) materials designed for immigrants might be more useful -- or at least more up-to-date. And that the Dutch embassy might be worth contacting, too. Though I'd probably take the route of German first, and then head westwards via Plattdeutsch.
posted by holgate at 8:42 PM on May 20, 2007

Damn, I'm impressed by the above advice you get. Especially Holgates Nederlands als tweede taal link.

A few thoughts: immersion is key.
- So get a few weeks of speaking dutch exclusively. Do a course in the Netherlands f.i.
- All movies are subtitled in the Netherlands. While DVDs might be hard to get by where you are, if you're into downloading movies there are separate subtitle sites so you can add the Dutch subtitles.
- Look at dutch television on subjects that interest you.

If your still interested I can help you a bit more. Email is in the profile.
posted by jouke at 10:01 PM on May 20, 2007

For those questioning why learn dutch, why not? The poster hasn't given a reason why they want to learn dutch, and there really doesn't need to be one. If a person wants to expand their horizons, who are we to interfere? I think it's great that someone would choose to do this, and I don't think there needs to be a practical reason any more than you'd need one to read a book, or work in the garden, or play the oboe.

I wish I could give some specific advice regarding this, but I can't since it was also the first language I learned as a child. I too have a small vocabulary, but a great accent. I think that has more to do with my playful nature than anything else since my brothers both are pretty stodgy in that department. I learned German in High School, and French in College, and I found Dutch much closer to English. All I can suggest is have fun and relax. You'll do great with whatever path you choose.
posted by Eekacat at 12:38 AM on May 21, 2007

As a Dutch person, I am a bit surprised at all the "why Dutch?" questions. There are many reasons why someone would want to learn a specific language. While it is true that many young intelligent Dutch people speak English quite well, there are still many, many Dutch people who do not speak it as well as some people here seem to think. I have nieces and nephews who live in the US and cannot speak to their grandparents because they do not speak Dutch anymore. Most people over 50 do not speak English. Many people in their 20's and 30's do not speak English very well. Those are probably not the people in the mefi demographic, but people who went to the "VMBO" (sorry, this is not the place to explain the Dutch education system. VMBO is the lowest level of high school. About 50% of all children go there) and did not get any higher education.

Sorry that I do not have a specific suggestion to learn Dutch as a second language. The exam that foreigners who want to live here have to take is called NT2. Searching for NT2 Dutch second language may help you further.
posted by davar at 5:05 AM on May 21, 2007

Marry a Dutch-speaker. Keep in mind, Dutch is also the official language of over 50% of Belgians, and the official version of the language is identical in both countries. But watch out for those double vowels! Also, if you want to practice Dutch, you'll have better luck in Belgium (Antwerpen, for example), as they are less likely to speak English.
posted by Goofyy at 5:53 AM on May 21, 2007

Once you get into it a bit, Azur sells and ships books, DVDs, etc.
posted by gimonca at 5:54 AM on May 21, 2007

jouke is right on with the subtitled entertainment angle. I had the advantage of several years of high school German, but when I did a house swap in Holland for two weeks a few years ago I picked up the language pretty quickly from renting movies and watching TV. The pronunciation is probably the trickiest thing (ie. "Khhow-da" instead of "Goo-da" and the whole "ij" thing), but it's not too bad.

Also, "alstublieft" is the coolest word I know in any language.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:05 AM on May 21, 2007

Indeed, why shouldn't you learn Dutch? Since Dutch is my mother tongue I can only encourage this... You'll have access to a rich trove of written and spoken culture of both the Netherlands and Flanders.

Inderdaad, waarom zou je geen Nederlands leren? Aangezien Nederlands mijn moedertaal is kan ik dit alleen maar aanmoedigen... Je zal toegang hebben tot een rijke schat aan geschreven en gesproken cultuur van zowel Nederland als Vlaanderen.

Dutch is easier to learn then e.g. German (with its nasty noun inflection). You'll have to start using unknown parts of your mouth to get the pronunciation right though...
posted by pj_rivera at 6:14 AM on May 21, 2007

Rock Steady: in most situations you'll want to say alsjeblieft. The more common informal form.
posted by jouke at 1:08 PM on May 21, 2007

Hey there - living now in Amsterdam and so can recommend a good textbook: CODE 1. Doesn't focus so much on pronunciation, but it comes with a useful CD and lots of exercises (and an answer key). You can find pronunciation hints online to compensate. Also, it is entirely in Dutch (no English explanations) - this may seem like a hindrance but in the end it may be best... check it out. The best I've seen.
posted by mateuslee at 1:14 PM on May 21, 2007

jouke: the article (which is great) is mostly about transactions in stores. I would not say that alsjeblieft is more common. I only use alsjeblieft when the cashier is very young (under 18 or so). That seems to be the norm around here. See also this thread.
posted by davar at 4:11 PM on May 21, 2007

If you'd specify your location that might help. You may be able to find classes in your area after all.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 4:50 PM on May 21, 2007

Response by poster: I'm in the Sarasota/Bradenton (South of Tampa) in Florida, USA. I've looked around for local courses, but nothing within a convenient distance.
posted by AdamOddo at 5:48 PM on May 21, 2007

I see, thanks. Then, let me reiterate what others have said: why Dutch?

(I'm a native speaker, feel free to email me with any questions.)
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:18 PM on May 21, 2007

Heh, davar, I don't think I need that thread to explain the difference between u & jij.
Apparently you're just a bit more old-fashioned and formal. :-)
posted by jouke at 8:26 PM on May 21, 2007

Response by poster: On a recent trip to Amsterdam, while I felt comfortable with the basics, I wanted to communicate more effectively.

I'm not saying I'll be fluent, just wanted a better grasp of the local language. So far I've been following kiltedtaco's suggestion and hitting up textbooks.
posted by AdamOddo at 8:31 PM on May 22, 2007

AdamOddo I'll be writing my thesis in english. See this askme thread.
We can swap language input! I could do dutch conversation with you for instance and you could read my thesis for glaring errors....
If you or anybody else is interested; my email is in my profile.
posted by jouke at 9:38 AM on July 5, 2007

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