must learn Dutch: resources

March 23, 2014 · 10 comments

in Belgium, impractical advice

I wanted to go into more detail about my attempts to learn Dutch.

dutch books

Duolingo. I’ve been using DuoLingo for French… because I love wasting time? I don’t know, I really do enjoy the format. Plus, I studied French in middle school, high school and university, so it’s been nice for my ego to blaze through some of the easy levels and refresh those SEVEN years of study. The DuoLingo Incubator estimates that their Dutch course should be ready by next January (grrr, it was September when I checked a few days ago!), but if you’re a bilingual Dutch-English speaker, you could contribute and make it go a lot faster! (And have my eternal gratitude!)

Memrise. I like the format and I like that it quizzes me on new words in different ways. Not only do I have to choose the right Dutch word when I’m given the English translation (and vice versa), but sometimes it makes me type out the Dutch word when it gives the English translation. That’s usually where I mess up, so it helps to reinforce the vocabulary. There’s also a free Android app that I’ve enjoyed using over the past week. My biggest issue with Memrise is that it is just straightforward words on flashcards. I’m currently going through a course on the 1001 most common Dutch words, and I’ve learned several words for “you” (u, jij, je, jouw, jullie) but I’m not 100% clear on the differences between them. I’ve learned that “to go” is “gaat” and “(I) go” is “ga”, but I don’t know how to conjugate for other pronouns (I don’t even know all of the pronouns yet). I know “Ik ben” is “I am” and “je bent” is “you are”, but “zijn” is “to be”, which loses me completely. I do like the feature that reminds me to “water” old words that I’ve previously “planted”; it’s a great way to refresh my memory on words I might not have seen for a day or so. I just wish there were more sentences, phrases, and examples that show how to correctly use the vocabulary I’m learning.

LingQ. I had heard good things about their reading feature, and after five minutes of using this site, I was happy with the layout. There’s a short passage, with a recording, and I’d click on the words to get the definition, marking it as either a word I’d need to remember and study later, or a word I already know that doesn’t need to be studied later. I thought it was great to see words that I studied on Memrise used properly in context. So for five minutes, I was happy. Then I apparently learned too much for free, ran out of my 20 “LingQs” limit (I tried deleting them and it didn’t work), and I couldn’t even see the translations for new words anymore. Since the upgrade starts at $10/month, I’m writing off LingQ.

Lang-8. I don’t think I’ll get much use out of this site for now, since I’m mostly just absorbing random vocabulary from Memrise. From what I can tell, you can post a few sentences in the language you’re attempting to learn, and someone who speaks that language can correct it for you. You can also correct other people’s entries in your native language and earn points (because all of these programs have a point system. Maybe I’m a bit overloaded right now, but it seems meaningless to have A TRILLION-BAJILLION points on any one of these sites).

Busuu. I’ve heard good things, but they don’t have Dutch. Sad face.

Phrasebook and children’s books. I bought the Dutch phrasebook from Lonely Planets after reading Benny’s post on how phrasebooks are an excellent way to start learning a language fast. After going through Memrise and feeling unsatisfied with the amount of usable vocabulary I had after spending so much time with it, a phrasebook seems like the perfect way to get a teeny-tiny base of practical Dutch knowledge. I also bought a Dutch verb dictionary that has 201 verbs fully conjugated, which I feel will be useful when(/er, maybe if) I type out journal entries on Lang-8, and because the lack of verb conjugation on Memrise is another thing I find frustrating about it.

Huis van de Nederlands. I visit it a few days ago, spoke with a man about language courses, and I figured out that I could maybe start an intensive course at the University of Ghent in late May. Then a few days later I received a job offer, so I think classes are a no-go for me at the moment.


Reading Dutch things. I follow a few Dutch-language Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. For now, thanks mostly to Memrise, I know a lot of prepositions, pronouns and articles, so when I look at sentences, I can recognize 90% of the words (or 100% of the words, in the case of this sign I saw on the bus), but my understanding is something like, “Take at home on also even you not at home are.” So, umm, I sort of get it. But not exactly.

Podcasts. So far, I’ve subscribed to several Dutch-language podcasts; One Minute Dutch and One Minute Flemish, Laura Speaks Dutch and a short, Dutch-language news podcast. I’ve already listened to the entire One Minute Flemish series, and it was good to hear the pronunciation. I’m curious how it differs from the One Minute Dutch series, and a little annoyed that some of the phrases are slightly different than those in the Flemish for Dummies videos. Come on, Flemings, cut it out with the new dialects every five kilometers.

I feel like I have to mention Memrise again, because it’s the resource I’m using the most now. If I’m on the tram, waiting in a bank lobby, relaxing at a cafe, or feeding Darwin, I’m most likely on my Memrise app repeating new vocabulary under my breath or silently congratulating myself on remembering a word I had previously learned. It’s not perfect, so I found other resources to (hopefully) supplement, but otherwise I think it’s the clear winner for me now.

We’ll see how the combination of all of this nonsense works out in the end!

P.S. – So far “giechel” (giggle) is the most difficult word I’ve tried to pronounce. Those Dutch G’s are killer.

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