How to Learn Dutch: For Beginners

Over the last year and half I’ve received quite a few emails asking me about how I learnt Dutch. Note: I am still learning!!

But anyway, I thought I’d share how I am learning Dutch with you guys. I hope it’s helpful for any of you who are being challenged with this difficult language. I feel you!

1. Michel Thomas CDs

My first port of call was Michel Thomas because my Mum and Dad were learning French at the time via the Michel Thomas method and had highly recommended it. (As do I!)

Learning Dutch materials

Both the Foundation and Advanced course are very good, however they will not suffice (alone) in teaching you Dutch! But they’re great for beginners to get a feel for the language and the pronunciation etc.

Oh and because I’m a food nerd, my sister-in-law cleverly bought me “Your 1000 Most Important Words: Food and Drink”.

2. Dutch textbooks

Secondly, I got my hands on EVERTHING Dutch I could. Dutch textbooks, grammar books, children’s books. I mostly ordered these from Amazon UK as I was still living in England at the time. As I was buying so much, I got the majority of them second-hand.

Learning Dutch materials

For me: the “201 Dutch verbs” is an absolute must! I use it loads. Hugo “Dutch in 3 months” is also a pretty good textbook, except that I’m not even halfway through it. If you are more dedicated than me, it’s a good ‘un!

3. Children’s books

Most of these were lent to me by my schoonmoeder (mother-in-law). I also bought a few myself at Bruna (a chain in the Netherlands – a bit like WH Smith).

I use the really simple ones for pronunciation – I read to the Dutchie and he corrects any errors. Then I read the slightly higher level ones with a dictionary next to me! (The same as I do with magazines.)

Dutch learning materials

4. Online courses

The two I’ve tried are Duolingo and Babbel. I recommend both of them. Duolingo is free – but it does have a few annoying quirks. I see people complaining all the time on the FB group… things which they think are right but Duolingo says are wrong and about the speaking/microphone settings. I found that speaking slowly and loudly helps with that! (Typical English person, eh?) But really, you have to otherwise the programme marks your answers as wrong. I’m pretty sure they have an app too, but I haven’t used that.

Babbel is more visual/text based. You pay 20 euros for 3 months and you can use it as often as you like. They also have a phone/ipad app which I found useful on the go.

5. Dutch courses

I did an intermediate course at my local college as soon as I arrived in Holland. This is obviously one of the best ways to learn – as you’re thrown in at the deep end! Unfortunately… our teacher was rubbish. Sad face.

It did mean that I had to speak Dutch in class for an hour and a half each week though… and do homework every week. So that was great for continuity… (even though every single bloody week I did my homework in a rush – half an hour before class – whilst eating dinner. Some things never change!!)

Dutch learning materials

At my local college they used the “Delftse methode” which is a pretty good course, though the books are VERY old fashioned, despite being published in 2007…

6. Dutch TV

As I’ve already mentioned before, there’s not a lot to write home about with Dutch TV. But pick a subject you’re interested in and hopefully you can find something tolerable. For me that’s MasterChef Holland. (UK Masterchef is the still the best, Australia second and Holland third. The rest suck.)

I used to watch Pim & Pom, a children’s programme about two cats. There are tons of kids programmes available on cable (we have Ziggo) but I couldn’t stand most of them as the voices are too annoying. However, if you can – watching kids programmes is a really good way to learn basic words, sentence structure and pronunciation.

7. Subtitles

I have Dutch subtitles permanently on, no matter what I’m watching. So even if I’m watching an English/American series, I’m still learning. This is easy for people who already live in Holland, but if you don’t – check all your DVDs, you might be surprised how many have Dutch subtitles.

8. Films

Kinda the same deal as with TV, but there are a few gems: Gooische Vrouwen (also a TV series), Dunya & Desie (totally a teener film, but hey, I like Clueless!), Jackie, Alles Is Liefde, Alles is Familie.

9. Radio

Even if it’s on in the background, you’re still exposing yourself to the language. My favourite stations are 3FM, Sky Radio and Radio 538. And at Christmas time… NPO Radio 2! (Because of the Top 2000.)


10. Practice with Dutch people! 

This seems so obvious, but of the whole list… this is the hardest one to pull off!

Here’s the thing with learning Dutch: you speak Dutch, they hear an accent, they switch to English.

There’s only one way to rectify this. You have to be more stubborn than a Dutch person… and believe me, they’re pretty stubborn.

The whole switching to English thing doesn’t happen to me that much anymore (thankfully!!) but occasionally, it rears its ugly head. When this happens you have three options:

  1. Politely tell them (in Dutch) you’d like to continue in Dutch as you need to practice.
  2. Carry on in Dutch and hope they get the message.
  3. Only for the very brave: If they’re winning the stubborn contest and you’re getting frustrated… act like you don’t understand them when they speak in English. “Sorry, wat zeg je?” or “Wat zei je?” whilst looking surprised is rather effective. It forces them to pause and rethink what they are doing and speak back to you in the language you are using. (The Dutchie finds this particularly annoying, but it gets the point across and forces him to make the switch.)

I do find stubbornness wins out… most of the time anyway!

Anything else you’d like to add to this list?

Hayley x



  1. 201 Dutch Verbs–by the same company as my 501 Spanish Verbs! (Yay, Barron’s!) If your book is like mine (except different language and different cover), it’s excellent. I really wish I had “501” in high school, as it might have saved me a lot of headaches!

    That is, if the maestra would’ve allowed it. (My luck, she wouldn’t. My profesora in college did, though!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, the only way to learn Dutch is to forget English! In England I never speak Dutch, not even to dutchies, sod them. One day you’ll find your thoughts and dreams have turned Dutch, no translation switch in your head anymore! Trust me, it will be a case of waking up one morning and find you’re fluent! It worked for me in England, Denmark, Germany and Angola! It’s the first year and a bit you’d have to overcome feeling frustrated or even a bit embarrassed thinking everyone is looking at you (listening to some horrible incomprehensible misuse of their noble grammar), but that’s only in your head. Why not start writing your blog in Dutch? Your followers should understand by now what’s at stake here.(unfortunately, I would have to stick to English ‘cos I’m on a mission of my own! Hahahaha) look forward to your next all Dutch contribution. Erik

    Liked by 1 person

    1. wow, excellent post and comments…however, i totally agree with erik on forgetting english when needing to use dutch…learning dutch for me, was a brainwashing technique and still is…and yes one day it did snap and my thoughts, dreams, responses were all dutch and the translator in my head took a break….learning words is one thing but grammar is another and it will just come with practice…..sentence structure….get the rules memorized and go for it….

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Cynthia, maybe this is an option for other people if they fully want to immerse in Dutch… but “forgetting” English isn’t an option for me unless I never want to speak to my work colleagues, family and friends ever again 😉


    2. Hi Erik, thanks for your comments and suggestions, though it’s actually not an option for me to “forget” English. I work in English, my family are all English as are many of my friends.

      A better goal for me is to be bilingual as I need to use both Dutch and English on a daily basis.

      With regards to writing my blog in Dutch. Absolutely not, no way, never. I love English. Yes, I am probably biased, but I think it’s a wonderful language. Maybe in the future I can do a post here and there in Dutch, but my mother tongue is a beautiful language and I’m sticking to it!


  3. As for movies, you could also choose the less cheesy films like “Simon”, Hufters & Hofdames” by director Eddy Terstall. I enjoyed those films a lot, although I’m not fond of Dutch cinema in general. For music, I could also recommend Doe Maar. Bit dated (80’s) but musically and lyrically still interesting.
    I really like reading your musings! Congrats on your 2nd anniversary.

    Liked by 1 person

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