Six Steps to Speaking Dutch with Confidence
Article written by Neli Galabova for the Dutch Language Cafe
Do you still struggle with speaking Dutch? Becoming an independent language speaker can be very beneficial for both your personal and professional development. But whether you are at a beginner’s or an intermediate level, speaking Dutch can be challenging - or not! Keep reading to find out more about increasing your confidence and improving your language skills with these six simple steps to becoming a confident Dutch speaker!
1. Let go of perfectionism
When communicating with a native speaker in their own language, we often tend to be more self-conscious, overthinking every word we say. However, speaking a foreign language is not a grammar puzzle, it’s the freedom to express yourself and dive deeper in another culture. Therefore, instead of focusing on minor language mistakes, try letting go and just be present in the conversation. After all, being heard and understood is of higher importance than using the correct plural form of a word, right? So, if you want to feel and sound more natural when speaking Dutch, try allowing yourself to make mistakes and be kind to yourself. Give yourself a little tap on the shoulder every time you have a conversation in Dutch. When in doubt, here is something to remember – accents and language imperfections can be charming, just look at Queen Maxima!
2. Dare to speak more often
You are now one step closer to speaking Dutch with confidence. Now try doing it more often.
When you go to your local supermarket, try to speak in Dutch and be persistent, even if the cashier responds in English. Tip: say ‘Ik ben Nederlands aan het leren’ to show that you want to practice speaking Dutch, you will see that people are very eager to help you after that! Although most people in the Netherlands speak English, do not be tempted to stay in your comfort zone, because then you will remain on the sidelines. By speaking Dutch, you immediately cut some of the distance and engage in a more personal communication with the locals. Thus, dare to speak more often! Try lending a book from the library and promise yourself to only communicate in Dutch. Go to a new city and ask for directions. Next time you are in a restaurant, try ordering your food in Dutch. The more you put yourself in situations where you speak the language, the easier it will get.
3. Embrace Dutch small talk
‘’Over koetjes en kalfjes praten’’ means “having small-talk” and it is something they enjoy greatly. It is also one more opportunity for you to practice and learn Dutch in real life.
Next time you see your neighbor, try asking him how his weekend was or if he is enjoying his new car. When you pick your child from school, try talking to the other parents in Dutch. You will be surprised how rewarding it can be, especially when you start receiving responses only in Dutch. If you are not sure how to approach someone, a strong conversation starter is ‘’Lekker weertje hè’’. Just make sure you only say it on a sunny day, otherwise you risk being called ‘’zo gek als een deur’’ which is the Dutch way of calling you crazy (by comparing you to a door). Nevertheless, that is an additional advantage of embracing small talk in Dutch – you can learn phrases you would not hear in a traditional language course.
4. Deepen the conversation
Now that you dare to speak more often, it’s time to step it up. Next time you go out for drinks with your colleagues, try to engage in the conversation and share your perspective, in Dutch of course. You will notice that when you speak about a topic you are passionate about or as a discussion intensifies, you get carried away and almost forget you are speaking in another language. Moreover, by voicing your opinion in Dutch, you also increase your chance of forming a closer relationship with your peers – the Dutch appreciate your effort to learn their language.
5. Do volunteer work in Dutch!
Volunteering is a great way to practice Dutch! This way, besides practicing the language, you get all sorts of other benefits, such as developing other skills, broadening your network, building your resume, getting to know the local culture, and of course, doing something good for the world! And, since you are volunteering, it is a more relaxed environment to practice than let’s say a high-pressure job! When you start volunteering, it is very important to speak Dutch from day 1 and let everyone know you are there to practice Dutch, because once people are used to speaking English to you, it is very hard to switch back!
6. Visit the Dutch language café in the Hague
A great place to practice your Dutch with native speakers and meet fellow expats is the Dutch Language Café in the Hague. It is a community-based organization that focuses on learning a language through speaking it while engaging in fun activities. For example, every Wednesday is a games night, where you can enjoy a wide range of board games. If you are up for the challenge of playing scrabble in Dutch or practicing your small talk skills during a game of Monopoly, you can find more about this and other events on the café’s website. The environment is very friendly and encouraging and the atmosphere at the café is always welcoming and cozy. Therefore, make sure you leave your books at home and visit the café, have some fun and be ready to impress yourself with your own Dutch skills. And lastly, it is a great place to volunteer! They have all sorts of volunteer positions where you can also practice Dutch in a very informal, relaxed and safe space!
As the Dutch would say ‘’Niet geschoten is altijd mis’’ – If you try something and fail, that’s unfortunate. But if you never try something at all, it’s even worse.