A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Eager to get to know a new culture? Yes?… Great! You successfully took the first step to start. Adapting to a wholly new culture, being surrounded by a new language with a unique pronunciation may not be easy to handle for a new-comer. The second step to enjoy a new culture would definitely be to learn the local language. Not local as Frisian local, but the common language of “the Low Lands”: Dutch or… Nederlands.
What is the first step?
To decide your course of action. The first option which comes into mind may be to enroll in a language course. For example, Leiden University Language Centre offers Dutch courses indeed. However, there may well be the ones who want to follow the self-study method like me, for any reason. I have to admit that resources on the internet for the Dutch language are not so abundant in comparison with English or German. But still, you can access a number of online websites and materials, e.g. nt2taalmenu. As diving into these websites, google translate will be your loyal supporter in the first weeks.
How to proceed in the first times?
The most important point at the outset is to learn the pronunciation of the sounds, particularly when two or more letters come together. Some of them are ei, ui, ij, sch, oe. These sounds may be impossible to guess for a foreigner because they are unique. However, that’s what makes Dutch fun to speak. By the way, this is a very fundamental and crucial matter. I observed that many foreigners do not accord sufficient importance on this issue. Remember, it is harder to fix something wrongly made than to correctly make it! There are a lot of audios, podcasts explaining how to pronounce the sounds on online streaming websites, like YouTube.
Second important step is to involve Dutch into your daily life. Checking the meaning of every single sign and trying to say your daily routines in Dutch may be useful step in the beginning. At least, try to develop greetings and a couple of sentences with the people who works at your school. The more you repeat, the more you become fluent. Actually, isn’t speaking all about repetition of certain patterns?
A bit of my story
When I first I arrived in Netherlands, I didn’t use to understand even a word I heard. The only thing came to my ears was a combination of uniquely pronounced sounds. Luckily, every single person in Netherlands is capable of communicating in English. This fact was quite an advantage in my first months. I was pretty happy with the fact that I was able to talk to everyone without knowing how to speak the local language.
After a while, once a Dutch friend whom I then just met asked me the killer question, which ignited me to start learning Dutch: “Hoe gaat het met je Nederlands?” (How is it going with Dutch?). Then, I realized that my relations in the Nederlands with local people would be better off if I knew Dutch. Even if they are so kind as to switch to English when they notice that I am a foreigner, they feel content when I want to talk in Dutch.
It’s been 3 months since I started studying Dutch on my own. I have been following free language café days (Taalcafé) provided by BplusC Library which helped me a lot. Every morning on my way to faculty (of course on my bike), I have been listening to local radio, Sleutelstad FM. I’m trying to speak as much as possible. Even if I still make some mistakes, everyone around is assisting me in my endeavors of learning Dutch. I got so many positive feedbacks on my pronunciation as well which made me even more motivated. For my pronunciation, I carefully listened to pronunciation guides on online contents created by native speakers and repeated them multiple times. Then I requested my Dutch friends to listen to my pronunciation and, if there is any mistake, to correct me. I think, so far, it’s worked.
My experience to share flowing from past six months is that: “If you want to be a part of Dutch society in real terms, don’t hesitate to begin your journey with speaking a few words Dutch! One word will led to another! You can learn them even by yourself!”
As a last point, feel free to stress the awesome letter “g” as much as you can, it’s a sheer fun!
Let us know your tips on studying Dutch in the comments below! Cheers!