In previous posts, the Shallow Man has often recommended that expats learn Dutch.
I’m well aware of the reasons why people decide not to do so. For example
- You’re only planning on staying in the Netherlands for a couple of years, after which you’ll return home and have no use for Dutch
- The business language of your office is English, so you’ll not even get a chance to put it into practice
- You’ve tried a couple of introductory Dutch classes and the grammar almost made your head explode
- The Dutch always insist on speaking English
There are plenty of reasons not to learn Dutch but below I’ll provide some reasons why you should.
Interaction with the Dutch on public transport
You’re sitting on a tram, and the woman in front of you is brushing her wet hair, kindly leaving clumps of it all over you. Yes, you can say something to her in English, but how much more embarrassing would it be for her, if you were able to ask her to stop doing so in Dutch?
The Dutch love nothing better than to have a good discussion (gossip) about the goings on in the neighbourhood. So imagine that while you’re waiting a ridiculously long time to be served at the local groenteboer, the people in the store discuss in Dutch that a convicted serial killer has just been released from prison after serving a three-year sentence (this is the Netherlands) and has just moved in next door to you. You’ll have no idea, till it’s too late!
Being able to communicate and comprehend Dutch, makes a huge difference in the dating scene. Take my word for it. The assumption of a lot of Dutch people is that expats can’t be bothered to learn the language. Just showing that you’re making the effort to learn Dutch can be the difference between three kisses on the cheek goodbye (forever) or being woken up with a boterham with kaas by a Dutch partner in the morning.
If you actually are able to make Dutch friends, there is nothing worse than being the only non-Dutch speaking person at a social event. Yes, they will all be able to speak English, and from time to time will switch to English to attempt to explain the conversation that has been going on around you for the last twenty minutes. Having been in this situation, it’s much better when you can follow what’s being discussed and even contribute. Remember though that not being Dutch, your opinion won’t count if you disagree with them. 😉
Listen to the recording below.
A year ago, the lady speaking on the recording couldn’t speak a word of Dutch. She can now pronounce Scheveningen so well that she wouldn’t have been shot by the Dutch resistance during the second world war for being a German spy. She was able to achieve this by attending evening courses at Koentact.
Koentact believes that the key to success with Dutch is context
The Shallow Man has attended Dutch courses in the past where the emphasis was on grammar. Apart from being pretty tedious, attempting to hold a conversation with a Dutch speaker while remembering the rules of grammar, led to me sounding as natural as a Dalek.
Leren (to learn)
Ik leer, jij leert, hij leert, u leert, wij leren, jullie leren, zij leren.
Understanding the different tenses, present, past future, conditional etc is important, but unless these are put into the context of practical use, this really won’t help with being confident in speaking Dutch. This is where the methodology used by Koentact differs from many other language schools. Koentact focuses heavily on relevance. There’s not much point in learning how to express your appreciation of the paintings of Van Gogh when what would really be useful is to understand how to order food at a cafe, or to be able to introduce yourself properly in Dutch.
Koentact focuses heavily on putting all knowledge learnt during their courses into practice immediately. All of their teachers are native Dutch speakers and are fully qualified. You won’t find interns, looking to gain teaching experience working there. (Something friends of mine have experienced elsewhere).
Koentact aim to make learning Dutch an enjoyable experience with as much practice taking place as possible. A key element of the course is interaction with native Dutch speakers.
Koentact organises structured field trips. This enables course participants to go out in Amsterdam and have conversations with Dutch speakers in different contexts and environments. This ties into their philosophy that paper knowledge alone won’t get you too far. Especially in Amsterdam where many Dutch native speakers insist on speaking English to expats.
The objectives of the field trip are to get students out of their comfort zone by having them ask strangers on the street key questions about Dutch culture. Several shop owners actively participate, so that students can visit different places and practice using the Dutch they’ve learned so far.
Learning Dutch is a journey
Every journey has to start somewhere. Koentact regularly has open days where you’ll be able to ask them questions about their courses and have a free introductory Dutch lesson.
Final words of a (Dutch speaking) Shallow Man
Being able to understand and speak Dutch is like the transition from having a black and white TV to watching Avatar at the cinema in 3D. Just being able to sit on a terrace of a cafe and hearing a shocking discussion being held by a group of Dutch ladies about what they got up to the previous night, and then realising that “hey, I understand every word, even though they’re speaking in Dutch” was a turning point for me, that’s inspired many a blog post. Speaking Dutch opens many doors, (and helps in acquiring phone numbers) and is really a quality of life issue. Even if you don’t need it for your job, it’s well worth being able to understand and speak the language.
This post is sponsored by Koentact, but to make this absolutely clear, the Shallow Man would never accept sponsorship from a company or service that he didn’t believe in. I know people that have attended courses at Koentact and have nothing but positive things to say about them. Don’t just take my word for it, give it a try.
No Dutch learners were hurt during the writing of this post.