Are you an expat living in Flanders and do you have to get your Dutch going?
Then, you’ll recognise this situation: the learning Dutch process sometimes seems hard and slow, there are grammar rules to keep in mind, vocabulary that needs expanding and the talking is not coming.
I’ve been in that situation too. In Belgium Dutch people have to take French classes in school and my learning process was somehow the same story. For years the real application of what I learned didn’t come. Now people tell me that my French level is C1. I suddenly managed to pull it off and started to talk in just a few months.
I’ll tell you what changed and give you 10 tips that worked well for me. You can use them to boost your Dutch learning.
- Always warm up
One of the main reasons people find it hard to use a new language is because they do not warm up. As language trainers we see this quite often. Sometimes people come to a class or training after a day of working or sometimes we also have to call people, e.g. to determine their level of Dutch to organize a training. In both these situations people tend to under perform first.
Actually it’s nothing more than normal. We are humans, not computers. When having worked in English or French for an entire day our brain is not set for speaking Dutch yet. As a result we tend to look for words and make basic grammar mistakes.
It’s a lot easier when we give our brain a little time to get in the Dutch routine. There are many ways to do this. You can take half an hour with Dutch on the radio or television first or have a quick chat with a Dutch colleague or neighbour just to get warmed up.
At the start of our Dutch classes we often play a small game or do a short ‘how was your weekend’-chat to get in the flow.
Always keep in mind that you are learning. No-one was born as a multilingual. This counts especially for perfectionists. Learning and speaking will come but they do much easier when we are relaxed. Putting ourselves under stress makes the brain close itself down as if it has to protect itself against a threat. It’s the same thing that happens in traumatic situations.
Without stress learning is so much easier. Look at it like it’s a computer game. When you make a mistake you’ll have to play the same level again but you don’t really die and you’ll manage the second time.
We always start our Dutch classes with some easy speaking or a game and we don’t take ourselves too seriously all the time. When combining a work life with Dutch classes it’s definitely allowed to put things into perspective and to laugh from time to time.
One of our students is a psychologist. She wrote this review for us: “I really like the fact that the classes are many times combined with board/card games. This makes the learning process fun, easy, fast and relaxing, especially after a long day at work.” When asked why she would recommend us to others she replied: “Because it works and they would be surprised how fast and easy they would improve their Dutch!” (Nina S. – see the testimonial). That’s exactly the attitude we want to show.
Although it is perhaps the most obvious tip to give it is not always the most evident. We sometimes meet people who have a good grammar knowledge but don’t use it to speak. Ok, you’re still learning and your Dutch is not perfect yet and there’re all these Dutch speaking people that switch to any language to help you. We’ve heard these excuses hundreds of times but the point is you’re missing learning opportunities. Speak every time when you’ve got an opportunity to do so.
A few years ago I started to work in a French company and although my French was far from perfect, I decided that I would only speak French in that company. In the beginning it went painfully slow but people waited for me to say what I needed to say and helped me gently, suggesting words or they gave me feedback on how to say things better. It boosted my French and after about 6 meetings in that company started like this: “Ok, everyone is here and speaks French, David is here too so we’ll just do the meeting in French”. After another few months people started to tell me that my level in French was C1, only because I used French in every situation I got in.
When you create the same situation for your Dutch too, your Dutch will skyrocket soon. That’s why we only use Dutch in our classes. We can repeat, reformulate or explain but we keep doing this in Dutch. Our students do the same and they are learning at light speed.
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
When speaking Dutch, you’re learning Dutch. That means you’re on the way. Off course you will make mistakes but that’s why it’s called a learning process. Making mistakes is one of the most important parts of a learning process. People will help you or improve what you wanted to say. That’s definitely OK. Just thank them for their suggestions, integrate them in your own Dutch and go on.
Take this mindset everywhere with you. When you’re in a shop ask for the products you want to buy in Dutch or when you’re asking for the way do it Dutch. The worst that can happen is getting the wrong products or getting more lost but afterwards that will never happen again.
During our Dutch classes we use all kinds of ways to make people speak, we just gently suggest improvements (or let other group members do this) and ask our students to repeat them. A testimonial of one of our students proves that it works. The student wrote about us: “I got feedback on the exercises and activities we made. Based on the feedback I became more aware of bad habits/making certain mistakes. I learned what my weaker points were and now I am working on improvement.” Asking her about the result she answered: “It works! From a perfectionist being afraid of making mistakes I came to the level of active use of the language. Dutch Language Classes delivered the result I wished for.” (Sona K. – see the testimonial).
- Rehearse and repeat
An old proverb says: things have to be repeated 7 times and forgotten 7 times before they are learned. Although we think it sometimes goes a little faster than that there is a lot of truth is that saying.
When you’re speaking Dutch and people help you, suggesting a better way to say things, repeat it the correct way. It will help you to memorize it. From now on you can use that line in every same situation and gradually use in similar situations. That’s how your Dutch knowledge will grow.
Also by reviewing your notes or other course materials you will integrate more and more. Because we know you don’t always have the time to rehearse previous lessons we just integrate the rehearsal in the next class using a conversation, a game or another small activity to reactivate your knowledge.
- Flip the cereal pack
This one a little more metaphorical. We don’t want you to spill cereals on the floor. What we mean is this: on every packaging there is a lot of product information. In Belgium this information will be there in Dutch. If you would read these informations every time your Dutch will evolve quickly.
Do this everywhere you can. You can read product information, Dutch newspapers, watch the news in Dutch or even try a film. A lot of new words will come to you this way and if just 1% of this all sticks you will pick up many new words, expressions or lines ready to use will get to you.
During our Dutch classes we encourage all different ways to get more in touch with the Dutch language but an exponent of all this are our fieldtrips through Flanders. You chose wherever we go to and you will do all the talking, things will come your way and you will have to deal with them in Dutch. This is a great way to discover how much you can do and solve in Dutch without you having realised that before. Of course we will be there to assist you whenever necessary but that’s not the point. In this situation you can learn more Dutch in a day than you would do in a month staying in a classroom.
- Make vocabulary shortlists
During a Dutch class we will provide you with lists with vocabulary and grammar. That’s part of the Dutch Language Classes service. On the other hand it is always useful to make your own shortlists around specifically relevant vocabulary. When you are working in finance you can make lists of all financial vocabulary you encounter. If you regularly do a revision of these shortlists you will memorise important words a lot faster and easier.
- Push the limits
This tip might seem a little strange in this context. We first told you to relax and to accept the risk of making mistakes. Now we suddenly tell you to push the limits.
What we want to say is that it is a good thing when you ‘stretch’ yourself to the maximum and you have fun during this process.
When I started to improve my French I regularly ended up in philosophical or political discussions and they are not easy, not even in someone’s mother tongue. The good thing about this is that you’re not just talking with (probably) new words, you’re using abstract language. And this is an indication you’re reaching the B2/C1 level.
When you always look for what’s still not easy you are really pushing the limits. You will discover that there is always a way to make clear what you want to say. Perhaps you will be corrected and you will learn. Perhaps whatever you wanted to say was told brilliantly and your self-esteem will grow.
- Use all the tools you have
We mentioned before: the more ways you use to learn Dutch the better your Dutch will become. That’s why you should try it all: reading Dutch newspapers, listening to the Dutch radio, going on a trip in Flanders or getting lost and asking for the road in Dutch.
It also means having a chat with a friendly guy in a pub or apologising in Dutch to your neighbour that tells you off when your music is too loud, just because they’re great learning tools.
Many other schools would add e-learning to this list of tools. They are right and we have got absolutely nothing against it. We even developed some of the materials for one of the market leaders in e-learning. We just think that there are more than enough free e-learning tools on the web. We also made a special article about free online Dutch e-learning tools we can integrate in your training or you can use on your own. You can find the article via the link.
- See your own progress!
Seeing your own progress is a great motivational tool but sometimes we are blind for it. When you speak Dutch everywhere, no matter with whom and regardless possible mistakes, people will quickly start tell you how good you do that. They will exaggerate from time to time telling you they think you reached a B2 or a C1-level. Whether that’s completely true or a little too optimistic is not really relevant. You spoke Dutch, they understood you, they liked it and now they give you compliments about it. Thank them for that! You’re doing great and you’re definitely on the way to the high levels.
How Dutch language Classes can help you to boost your Dutch
Dutch Language classes is a conversation based Dutch learning project that really makes you speak Dutch. Over the years we evolved from Dutch teachers to Dutch coaches. That’s why we don’t only work in a classical way but use all possible tools to boost your Dutch learning.
We know this approach makes your Dutch learning accelerate and our clients confirm that. One of them even wrote this for us:
“Since I had to prepare for a new job in which I have now contact with Dutch speaking clients, it was very necessary to work on my Dutch. That’s why we worked on fluent conversations, using conversation card decks, language learning games and role plays, we read texts and watched documentaries about sales and marketing. Each training was different from the others.
I had the chance to talk about all the topics and use the vocabulary myself. This is how I started to talk more easily and step by step I gained self confidence. David encouraged me and pushed me gently to try more each time.
I use it daily now. I speak Dutch with clients, on the phone, with my colleagues and with the Dutch speaking people of my family in law. Although my vocabulary still needs expansion, I already do a lot of conversations in Dutch and feel more and more comfortable with it”
(Philippine L – see the testimonial)
When you are an expat in Flanders, having to get your Dutch going, we will be glad to help you too!
To try it yourself we offer you half an hour of preliminary training for FREE. We will use that time to discuss your goals with you, to get to know you and perhaps to organise our training agenda.
Check it yourself and contact us! You can fill in the contact form on this website or send us an e-mail and we’ll get back to you.