Learning Dutch is f*cking hard

Dutch kissing

Yesterday I cried about learning Dutch. In public. On a busy pub terrace. Ummm. So yeah, that sucked.

Luckily, it was super sunny yesterday and I was wearing sunglasses so hopefully no one noticed… (I’m totally kidding myself, people definitely noticed.)

Anyway, I cried because learning Dutch is fucking hard.

I don’t really talk about it very much, and I purposely try to keep negativity away from my blog… but this isn’t negative, it’s just honest.

I’ve been learning Dutch properly for about a year. Before that, when we still lived in England, I had a few CDs which I listened to occasionally (Michel Thomas, in case you’re wondering). Occasionally – meaning listening to them for a few hours in blind panic directly before every trip to Holland and then not bothering again for a couple of months. Read: Until the next trip!

I’ve taken a Dutch course (which I didn’t complete because the teacher was a terrible teacher. Nice sweet lady, but seriously loveΒ – you’re in the wrong business) and I can have basic level conversations and understand about 80-90% of what people are saying to me. So considering I’ve only lived here a year, I reckon I’m doing alright.

So yesterday, fuelled by 8 glasses of wine (not all full measures – thankfully!! On the Wijnspijs Culinaire Wandeling – separate post on that to follow) I took the plunge and started talking to my Dutch friend in Dutch. They don’t call it Dutch courage for nothing! He speaks amazing English, I’ve known him for 6 years and we’ve always spoken together in English. But you know, I need to practice. And I’d been speaking Dutch all day, so it seemed natural to me.

It was all going fine until I made a tiny mistake, literally I said ‘heeft’ instead of ‘hebt’. I know it’s wrong, they know it’s wrong…Β but y’know, 8 glasses of wine, talking quickly, in my second language… I’m going to make mistakes. No biggie. But then… The Dutchie corrects me.

Ok – I think to myself – he’s supposed to correct me, that’s the only way I’m going to learn. (We have a deal – we correct each other’s language mistakes, except if we’re in a group. Then you have to remind them about it later, one on one.) So… deep breath, carry on…

Then The Friend corrects me. Again, something ridiculously tiny. And I lose my shit.

I just stopped talking and had a little cry, while they awkwardly carried on talking. Once I’d regained my composure… I went to the toilet to fix my face.

They’re blokes so they thought they were being ‘helpful’. I tried explaining to them that it’s not what you say, but the way you say it… but these are Dutch blokes, so that was no use whatsoever!

When I came back, I started talking in English, but after a few minutes, I thought nope. This is not cool. I WILL speak Dutch and I WILL make mistakes. So I gently reminded myself of my speaking Dutch mantra: fuck it.

I try really hard. Really bloody hard to speak the language. And I had a little wobble… but I bloody well picked myself up, dusted myself off and carried on. How very British of me!

So, to anyone out there who is learning Dutch – or any other language for that matter – good luck to you, hats off and a big virtual high five.

It’s hard fucking work – and I applaud you.

Hayley x


  1. I personally use this site/app called duolingo to get more fluent at the languages I learn in school, and I am learning a new language (Swedish) on it as well. Perhaps you could give it a try. ^^

    Liked by 2 people

    1. *raises her hand* If you’re wondering how I’m learning Dutch, I’m a DuoDork, too! (Now you know where I get my strange sentences that I post on your Facebook page!)

      The best part is, when you start a new language, you can test out on as many modules as you know and still get the points, so you level up very quickly. (I bet you’d easily beat my level 6!)

      I used to have specific days dedicated to specific languages, but I burned out really quickly and now I just bounce around. Which means Spanish and Dutch get lots of attention and Irish is slo-o-owly leaking out of my head. >.<

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Now that I think about it, Duo is how I learned about your blog!

        I’d be chuffed to bits if you joined up and opted to follow me. ^_^ (www.duolingo.com/JamiesFanGirl)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Geweldig, ga gewoon door. Ik ben een geboren Nederlandse en maak ook fouten met spreken/schrijven … net als de meeste andere Nederlanders trouwens!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Je hebt helemaal gelijk: Nederlands is heel lastig als het niet je moedertaal is. Dus petje af want 80-90% kunnen volgen, dat is echt heel erg goed!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Amen a hundred times over! The “tone” of the correction really means more to us English speakers. :/ Keep up the good work, and I’ll be puttering right along side you. Keep up the good attitude and make as many mistakes as you need to! (T-minus 1 month until my Staatsexamen…. Good grief)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Let me be completely honest…as an American since we share somewhat of the same culture in the sector of ‘politness’, I get the thing about having issues with the way people word their corrections to you.

      And I have to say: get the #@$! over it.

      Really. Obviously way easier said than done to break and kill your cultural beliefs but… In my opinion, for whatever country you live in, that’s the culture you (mainly) need to absorb and assimiliate.

      Dutch people aren’t trying to be rude to you when they correct you. Although you probably already knew that. Still, when you ask or try to explain to them that the way they say their corrections is ‘rude’, that’s according to your culture. Not theirs (although eikels exist in any country; and some might be rude. not the majority though). You are asking them to accomodate YOU, your culture, and you aren’t doing the opposite by accomodating theirs. Instead of asking them to word it a different way, just listen to the correction and keep moving…you don’t even have to acknowledge the correction. Can just remember for next time. Or you can even let it bother you that you made a mistake…but you can’t take it as them being rude to you.


      1. No one is saying you shouldn’t recognize that there is a cultural difference at play, but sometimes it can be overwhelming just trying to exist abroad, even for the toughest of us. That’s part of the point of the post, that it’s natural to get frustrated, take a moment, and then say f it and trudge along anyway. In this case, there was simply an explanation given for why she was upset, which is with giving if you find yourself crying in public with friends. No one is demanding using their culture standard for interaction or ignoring the culture you live within, just showing how sometimes cultures collide and affect us at a personal level.

        Liked by 3 people

  5. Oh, the memories came flooding back. When I moved to the Netherlands, culture and language courses were mandatory, but I didn’t start classes right away. I really struggled. My go to line was “Het spijt me, maar mijn Nederlands is niet zo goed. Mag ik verder in het Engels pratten?” Which got me through the first 3 months with delightful reactions, but after 3 months, they weren’t delighted any more. By the time I left the Netherlands after completing the 600 hour courses, my Dutch was fluent, but that was 14 years ago. I speak “gebroken” Dutch with my in-laws and the Portland Dutch Society here. It does flow much better after wine. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I speak Dutch relatively well but make mistakes, especially when speaking, and I feel your pain! It’s so horrible when people start correcting you, even when they mean it well… in my more childish moments I will reply to them in Finnish, which they of course won’t understand, or switch to English. The worst however is when they laugh/smile at your mistakes in that way that makes you feel like a small kid. Oh well, gewoon doorgaan πŸ˜€

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree! I’ve lived here for 20 years, raised 3 kids here but still make mistakes …. and now I have my teenagers correcting me, yikes! Sometimes I’m interested in being corrected, sometimes I don’t want to hear it (esp from my teenagers), sometimes I answer “Shall we continue in English?” but I know they mean well. Even though I have a thick skin, sometimes it is not thick enough πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It is a hellish language for sure Hayley. I lived in The Netherlands for 14 years and am fairly fluent. However, my Dutch is far from flwless. I never had formal lessons, so my grammar is particularly dodgy. My problem was that people did not correct me nearly enough. And I’m sure I’m not big and ugly enough that were intimidated! Even my girlfriend with whom I never spoke English, did not correct me. When asked why, she told me “Ik vind het leuk”. Great! =o/
    Stay with it Hayley. For what it is worth, in general, I found females far more willing to cope with my mistakes and make the effort to be understood. Don’t be too hard on your self either. I know of people that made The Netherlands their home for more than a decade, yet never once conversed in Dutch! Mostly because they were afraid to make mistakes. I like your approach. Fuck it . . . go for it!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. To correct the Dutch friend (As a Dutchy myself) “Heeft” of “Hebt” is BOTH correct.

    “Hebt” is most common used by linguistics, but that does not mean “Heeft” is wrong. Personally I find “hebt” not sounding correct (it’s just a feeling) so I use “heeft” all the time. If you want to find the details on it, check here: https://onzetaal.nl/taaladvies/advies/u-hebt-heeft

    Obviously you made another mistake after that, which bottled up on the first one and made you feel like a failure. Well….: You’re far from one!!

    The Dutch language does not only use every possible sound a person can make with his throat (the “R” “G” and “CH” prove to be extremely difficult for foreigners) it also has an extremely adverse set of grammar rules, which all have one or more exceptions that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

    On top of that: We Dutchies speak fluently English, so we often don’t challenge foreigners in speaking Dutch. We switch to whatever makes you comfortable. For you to understand (i’m a fan of you’re blog, so following πŸ˜‰ ) the language the way you do in just one year… is pretty much an amazing achievement.

    Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise and keep up the good spirit!!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I do, as Dutchie, have to make a slight correction here πŸ™‚ JIJ HEEFT is not correct. Then you use HEBT. So heeft and hebt are correct but depends on how you use them. But then again; I would be the last to do correctings; as a child (born out of an Indonesian mothter and Dutch father) I was born in Surinam, lived for yerars in foreign coutries (English speaking) but when we went back to Surinam, I needed to learn Dutch; from a Chinese! You can recon how my Dutch is now πŸ˜‰ So keep up the good spirtis, high five and don’t let it bother you. Let it make you stronger!


      1. Maria, “heeft” en “hebt” is alleen maar allebei correct als je “u” als aanspreekvorm hebt. In de jij-vorm kan “Jij heeft” toch echt niet!


  9. Loved your honesty! As an English speaking communication professional I can honestly say that I feel like crying daily as I realize just how difficult it is to learn how to communicate in a whole new way. Love the suggestions offered in the blog feed too … thank you all!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m trying to learn Turkish from a Kurd, who’s managed the Dutch language in an amazing way. He keeps telling me it’s soooooo easy, since they know no grammar and have a very low word count…. …. ….. …. …. ….

      I wished my parents made me learn this when I was a baby. They taught me English (basically my birth language, since it was the first I learned) German and French.
      But I can’t help wondering what I would have been able to achieve if they added Mandarin, Arabic, Spanish, Italian and Turkish to the whole …..

      I’m still just a Dutchy though. I’m struggling in different languages (at my age) just as much as you are πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 2 people

  10. I have only lived in The Netherlands for two months. I am trying to learn the language–really I am, but it is not the only thing I am learning. I also have to learn a whole new culture, how to do everyday things in a whole different way, put together a whole apartment from nothing, try to deal with all the administrative items that go along with an international move and know that all my friends and family are far, far, away. I started going to exercise classes that are completely in Dutch–no one talks to me unless I ask a question and I can at this point only do that in English. One of the women there told me I need to learn Dutch(duh) and her parents made her go to England to learn English–so she had to sink or swim–so that is what I should do. Not really the same situation–but it is in her mind. Anyway–I understand your frustration and I wish people would understand that it is not simply the language but much more that we deal with. I am also a Duolingo addict. I have used a variety of programs/apps, but Duolingo is my favourite. I am not here forever–just a few years so I do not think I will ever be fluent. I think you are simply amazing if you have been learning Dutch for only a year and are trying to carry on a conversation with native Dutch speakers! Sometimes I kind of want to drop a Dutch person in the middle of China and see how they cope–teach them a little empathy… On the bright side most Dutch have been wonderful in helping us with any number of things and even when they claim they don’t speak much English they actually speak wonderfully!

    Liked by 4 people

  11. I would say, keep on trucking! You’re doing geweldig! understanding so much of what is beeing said to you! If you ever want to ‘oefen’ with a Dutchie with a London history, living in Hilversum, I’m your girl!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Awww, I so get it. My first language is Portuguese and I’m (trying to) learn Dutch myself, here in Brazil. And… I feel like I was… Dumb. Really. It’s so hard! But one advice from someone that uses a second language a lot : you are not a native. So do your best and if someone bother you fuck it. You are trying something hard. I had to think that way to speak English because I was always worried about making mistakes, and helped. So, good luck and high five back

    Liked by 1 person

  13. My year in Zwolle I spent one week in the beginning saying I am pretty instead of I am tired… so my sentence each night to my host family (Rotary exchange) was ” I am pretty so now I go upstairs to sleep”. It took awhile for anyone to tell me my mistake. I totally get your frustration. Cheryl

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Dear Hayley,

    I read your blog for quite some time now. You’re good, it’s really amusing. So please don’t stop, ever.

    My father is an expat himself, so I can relate to many things you write. He’s been living here for about 30 years now. He speaks the language pretty well, but he still makes some minor mistakes. He doesn’t mind. People understand him and he’s okay with that. He says ‘kuts’ instead of ‘koets’ (carriage). I corrected him once on the matter, but he thinks ‘kuts’ is funnier. I can’t disagree with him. My mother doesn’t like it though.

    I think it’s great you’re trying to improve your Dutch even further. I also think it’s courageous to practise a second language. It’s even more courageous to continue practising after your hard time you described in your post. It’s easier to stick to what you know. I was moved by your pure and honest description. That’s why I post this comment (my first ever).

    There’s a quote by H. Jackson Brown Jr. It says: β€œNever make fun of someone who speaks broken English. It means they know another language.”

    It’s not that relevant because they were just trying to help you. But the concept applies here: you speak a second language. You will make more mistakes in the future, but you will also improve.
    You can’t say that about A LOT of native speakers who tend to make the same mistakes again and again (you’re/your). So I guess your will to improve defines you, right? Stay stong, little grasshopper.

    P.S. how’s my broken English?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Alejandro,

      Your first ever comment – I’m flattered! Thank you for your kind words and yep, I’m going to stick with it. Keep making mistakes and keep improving (hopefully!!)

      Oh and thanks for calling me a grasshopper – that made me smile.


      P.S. Your English is excellent. πŸ™‚


  15. I’m doing it the other way around. (A lot less difficult than what you have to do, so really hats off to you!) Come from the Netherlands and live in America. I so feel your pain. Sometimes I wished I could have used the backspace while speaking. Bummer, it doesn’t work like that. But I get better in taking the risk and totally am okay if people correct me now. Because the fact that you’re trying to speak their language is way more important than the correction. Keep at it!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I admire your dedication. I have traveled a lot and I am not good at learning new languages. Usually when I go somewhere I am armed with just a little bit of language and inevitably as soon as I try to speak they tell me, ‘No, I speak English.’ I know it’s their being helpful, but it can discouraging when you’re shut down as soon as you try. Keep going!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Hi, I am a “Nederlander ” living in England, been here 31 years. I make mistakes in the language, but I am only human. My dear other half is English and her Dutch is not even there after all that time.
    We Dutch love to show off that we can make ourselves known in at least one other language, what the hell we are only small, and for that corrections making, it’s in our blood and mend to be helpful and kind. I think it’s great that you learn to cope with us and our difficult language. Good luck.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Today when the bf texted me he won I replied ‘what’s the price?’ Why he then replied ‘Of what?’ was beyond me for like half an hour. The word I was going for (obviously!) was priZe! You will make mistakes for ever and always. So do first language speakers, though. The amount of time he’s texted me ‘your’ in stead of ‘you’re’ are just too many. And if you ever wanna get back at a Dutch person I am 100% sure you’ll very easily catch a d/t-fout. Keep the smiles up πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I hear you! Sometimes mistakes should be corrected, but sometimes you just need to speak without interruption for awhile to get the language buzzing through your head! Perhaps you should have your friend only correct mistakes that you keep repeating?

    Liked by 2 people

  20. As a native Dutchman i can attest to this. Dutch is fucking hard, so many rules to follow so many mnemonic’s to remember it’s an absolute chore. By the time i was 16 i knew as much words from the English language as i did with Dutch. My tests where A+’s/10’s. But not so much for my Dutch.
    Now in my early 30’ies i can say i master the advanced Dutch grammar to some degree for about 5 years. And still i struggle.
    So please keep trying, keep struggling, it’s hard it’s going to take you time. But it will be rewarding.
    “Gezellig op de brommer van Madurodam naar Scheveningen” is a funny example for foreigners to say.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d actually say one of the main issues with the Dutch language is the gigantuous amount of more-or-less unwritten rules, things you can only know or really ‘feel’.
      The ‘sister language’ German for instance is extremely structured and very clear. To me that means it is much easier to learn.
      Take for instance the Dutch ‘er’. That must be the single most difficult thing for foreigners.


  21. Succes met leren! Het gaat je lukken! Ik ben zelf Nederlands maar snap heel goed dat je het moeilijk vindt. Het is totaal geen logische taal..

    Liked by 1 person

  22. The Dutch (as pretty much anyone else) tend to think their language is really difficult to learn. It is not. The most (and about only) difficult part in learning languages is being able to speak up. That is, to dare make mistakes and try again. That’s how it is with any skill.

    The thing that, in my opinion, makes learning Dutch a bit more challenging than other languages, is the native’s good English. In spotting an accent, the Dutch start speaking English to you, and it takes quite an effort to make them speak their own language.

    I find it helpful to remember that no language is “logical”, that the rules are, at best, recommendations, and that with that many exceptions, there are no real rules. Try to remind that to your Dutch friends sometimes, and perhaps a harsh correction when they make a mistake in English will put things into a perspective for them.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I completely understand! Being Dutch I completely understand how hard it must be to learn it. Now I live in England there are so many people who correct my English and even though I study English and Creative Writing and I absolutely adore the language, I am very insecure about it. But as you said, making mistakes it the best way to learn it! ❀

    Liked by 1 person

  24. wanneer je huilt omdat je een taalfout maakt, ben je of niet goed bij je hoofd of je bent een perfectionist.
    het maakt niet uit hoe je iets zegt, maar dat je het zegt!
    for proper english translation, please contact.
    grts hrmn strmn


  25. “Learning Dutch is f*cking hard”

    Tell me about it. I’m native Dutch and my grades for Dutch are much lower than my grades for English. I’m not even trying to get high grades for English, but I get them nonetheless.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Hayley: Je hebt gelijk! Nederlands is inderdaad F#$@ing hard!

    I’ve been living here for almost four years and I’ve had a few moments when I’ve had to fight back the tears. Not just from making a mistake, but because we pour so much energy into every conversation, whether we are talking about something important or complaining about the lack of summer.

    Remind your Dutchie not to correct you in groups (I dont like my Dutchie correcting me in groups either) en ga gewoon door…je doet het geweldig!

    I’m looking forward to your post on the Wijnspijs Culinaire Wandeling!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jade! That makes me feel better… although in a way it doesn’t… as I still have such a long way to go! πŸ˜‰ But thanks, ik ga gewoon door!

      The WijnSpijs post is written and will be making it live this week or early next week. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  27. Hayley, it’s not funny but I did have a little giggle. For an English lady you’re doing incredibly well! It really is easier for the Dutchies to learn all these lingo’s we seem to collect like stamps. English is everywhere, radio tv music schools teach it from the age of 10 what’s really not helping is your friends switching to English the minute you open your mouth πŸ‘„! I don’t think being corrected all of the time makes for a relaxed chat. If your friends know what you mean they should just speak Dutch and get you a drink for such an amazing effort! Try reading in Dutch,watch tv with Dutch subtitles. It will get worse before it gets better. I lived in Denmark for a while and the sound of Danish was a constant migraine in my head , but I really woke up one morning and was fluent! Dive into the Dutch phenomenon and avoid English. You will start dreaming and thinking in one language and that’s the morning waking up Dutch becomes true.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Could you promise me one thing? In your heroic efforts to master the Dutch language, could you try and not end up like those so-called native speakers who think Teletubby speak is real and acceptable? Speaking without saying anything (especially your tv neighbours in Hilversum);
    Ja, nou zeg, goh, tjee, maar uh, niet dan?
    Pfffff is ook een typisch nederlandse variant op jouw 2 tone zucht. In Angola werd ik vaak uitgelachen om mijn mouth farts…..hahahahaha en laatst maar niet minst; Engelse woorden gebruiken met nederlandse gramaticale uiteinden is echt niet mooi. Zag laatst in de Volkskrant (more issues than in the Volkskrant, die uitdrukking kende ik niet maar ga ik nu wel gebruiken) “Britain’s Got Talent wnnende act gefaket” Ik moest even op de bank liggen, goh, zeg, tjee, ech niet, wel dan, nou ja zeg, niet te geloven hoor, is het niet?

    Love this blog, feel better now.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. I completely get this! I’m British and living in Valkenswaard, near Eindhoven for just over a year and I struggle so much. I’ve sort of turned into a mute which is not who I am at all. So I applaud you for taking the plunge! Something I need to do but the pronunciation is such a bitch! I dread it!

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Yep. Even after 15 years of trying I find it f-ing hard too. I so often fall into silence during a Dutch conversation and try to fake my way through it by nodding and smiling with out an f-ing clue what they are saying.

    Liked by 2 people

  31. Oh my word. I moved from Australia to The Netherlands 5 months ago and have been dabbling in learning the language however I always end up feeling so completely deflated and well, stupid. Why isn’t this The Matrix already and I can just upload the information? Blah!

    Liked by 1 person

  32. I know how you feel. I moved to Australia from the Netherlands. I have been speaking English for many years and sometime I make small mistakes. I hear it when it happens and really get the shits when people correct me. And when I do make that mistake I will never hear the end of it. I always ask them how many languages they speak fluently, usually just one. So a bit of respect is very welcome.
    It makes me feel a bit stupid. But we’re not, we are bilingual and that’s an accomplishment! It can be very tiring to constantly speak a different language. Good that you keep trying, it gets easier:)

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Ugh i can definitely relate, i am really struggling with it. Everyone is saying i should try harder etc etc I feel so dumb xD especially when 13years olds know 3 languages.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Nederlands leren kan inderdaad lastig zijn. En vooral als je het even niet meer ziet zitten. Mijn advies is om de taal toch vooral te blijven praten. Daardoor leer je namelijk het snelst.
    Ik was in keer in de rij in de supermarkt toen degene voor me in de rij in het Engels tegen me zei: ‘Oh, ik ben iets vergeten. Ik ga het even pakken’. Dus ik antwoordde natuurlijk in het Engels ‘OkΓ©, geen probleem’. Maar toen hij terugkwam zag ik dat hij een button op zijn rugtas had met ‘Praat Nederlands met mij’ erop. Dus toen vroeg ik me af waarom hij Engels tegen mij had gepraat als hij Nederlands wilde leren. Ik vind het heel goed dat u Nederlands leert en hoewel het soms moeilijk is, zult u er steeds beter in worden zolang u blijft oefenen. Succes!

    PS. Er is een website genaamd polyglotclub.com waar gebruikers teksten kunnen schrijven in de taal die ze aan het leren zijn. Die teksten worden vervolgens door moedertaalsprekers gecontroleerd en verbeterd. Misschien een goede tip voor mensen hier die Nederlands (of een andere taal) leren.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. It has been so nice reading these. I too am trying to learn Dutch and its bloomin hard! The Dutch are also more direct than us Brits, no right or wrong, just culturally different, so I too as a Brit become shaken when corrected. I suppose that’s why the Dutchies are so good at many languages as they have a thicker skin to make mistakes. My husband certainly does anyway hahaa.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Thank you for sharing your story and struggles Hayley! Loved your honesty! Dutch is not the easiest language and lots of people in the Netherlands do speak pretty good English, which makes it even harder. Keep up the good work and before you know it, you are fluent in Dutch yourself!


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