“Is Dutch hard to learn?” If you want to learn Dutch, then this is a question that’s probably been rattling around the back of your mind..
Now, unfortunately, there is no one size fits all answer. It depends on your native language, your previous experience learning foreign languages, your level of motivation, and how much you’re exposed to the Dutch language.
The Foreign Service Institute says you need around 600 to 750 hours to become fluent in Dutch. That means if you were to spend around 6 hours per week practicing, you’d need to learn for 2 years to become fluent. However, you would be able to have conversations in Dutch with native speakers already much earlier than that.
Dutch is an indo-european language from the Germanic family. As the location of the Netherlands, it looks and sounds like a mixture between German and English. Some good news! Since you’re reading this article in English, you already have a huge leg up when it comes to learning Duch.
However, Dutch isn’t as easy as it may seem from the first glance. So in this article, we discuss 6 reasons why Dutch is actually quite difficult to learn.
6 reasons why Dutch is difficult to learn
Reason 1: The Pronunciation
If you’ve been learning Dutch for a while, you’ll probably be very aware that Dutch has a wide variety of sounds that you don’t find in most other languages. Often, these sounds are so foreign, that it’s very difficult for foreigners to pronounce them correctly.
Here’s a short overview of combinations of letters that are difficult for foreigners to pronounce:
Reason 2: All Dutch people speak English
Since Dutch is so closely related to English, virtually every Dutch person speaks English. This is great if you want to spend a couple of days in Amsterdam as a tourist.
But it’s horrible if you move to the Netherlands and want to learn Dutch.
Because Dutch people like to help, but are also a bit impatient, they often switch to English right away when they hear you’re not a native speaker. It’s easier and faster to communicate like that.
However, this means that you get few opportunities to practice Dutch.
So you need to make it very clear from the start of a conversation that you want to speak Dutch.
Reason 3: Irregular articles ‘de’ and ‘het’
While the articles in Dutch are not completely irregular, it’s virtually impossible to deduct which article should be used for a noun.
You need to learn an extra ‘useless’ word for each noun that you learn.
Not only is this a lot of extra effort to get right, you also make more mistakes often. And this instantly gives away that you’re not a native speaker.
Reason 4: Confusing word order
With simple sentences, Dutch sentences are similar to English sentences:
Subject + verb + object
However, once sentences become longer, Dutch start doing some weird things… Like breaking up the verbs. Or switching the verb and subject.
A simple example would be:
I have done it = Ik heb het gedaan
In English all the verbs stay together, but in Dutch you add the perfect or conditional at the end of the sentence. The sentence above in English with Dutch word order would be: I have it done.
Reason 5: Heaps of dialects and accents
Another problem you’ll encounter when learning Dutch is the crazy amount of accents. In some parts of the country, the dialect changes when you go to the next village just 5 kilometers away!
People from the south of the Netherlands cannot understand the dialect of people from the north. And the rest of the country doesn’t understand the dialect from the south.
The Dutch solved this by having a type of Dutch that everyone knows: ABN (algemeen beschaafd Nederlands – general civilized Dutch).
However, people from different regions still have a strong accent. Which means that if you would spend 3 years living in Den Haag, and then move to Eindhoven, you would struggle understanding what people say, before you get used to the new accent.
Reason 6: Irregular verbs and exceptions
Dutch is known for its many irregular verbs and exceptions. If you know the word for ‘to buy’ (kopen), you might expect that if you want to say ‘I bought’, you say ‘ik koopte’.
For most Dutch verbs this would be correct. However, for ‘I bought’ it should be ‘ik kocht’. And there are many more verbs like this, that you have to memorize the past tense for.
Another thing that Dutch also has is irregular perfect tenses. Just like in English you don’t say ‘I have thinked’, but you say ‘I have thought’. The Dutch language does the same thing.
There are approximately several hundreds of these irregular verbs. And the only way to learn them well is to memorize and practice them often.
2 reasons why Dutch is easy to learn
The previous 6 reasons might scare you away from learning Dutch. But it’s not all bad. There are some strong reasons why Dutch is actually easy to learn for foreigners. Let’s check them out.
Reason 1: Dutch is closely related to English
Dutch is arguably the most closely related language to English. The only language that is closer to English would be Afrikaans in South Africa, which is a mixture between English, Dutch and African languages.
That means that if you know English, you already can understand and read basic Dutch.
The phrase for ‘my home is not isolated against the cold’ is ‘mijn huis is niet geïsoleerd tegen de kou’ in Dutch.
While you still need to learn plenty of new words, you already know hundreds if not thousands of cognates (words that are the same in English and Dutch).
Also grammar tends to follow the same rules as English, with a couple of exceptions that we spoke about before. This means that you do not need to learn the language from scratch.
And bonus points if you had German in high school. Dutch can be compared to a mixture between English and German. So if you know both, Dutch is easy for you.
Reason 2: You don’t need to speak perfectly
Remember we spoke about the fact that Dutch has a large number of dialects?
That’s something that also works in your favor.
If someone from Amsterdam barely understands someone from Maastricht, they won’t hold you as a foreigner to high standards.
That means that you can focus on communicating what you want to say. And not be overly concerned with using perfect grammar or saying the exact right word (and still be understood).
How long does it take to learn Dutch?
As we already mentioned, Dutch is one of the easier languages to learn for English speakers. The Foreign Service Institute says you only need around 600 hours of study time to become fluent in Dutch (if you know English already).
These numbers are subjective to many other factors, such as your previous language learning experience, general intelligence, motivation, and exposure to Dutch outside of study hours. But in general, you should have no problem getting to a reasonable conversational level within 6 months to 1 year after starting learning Dutch.
The best free resources to learn Dutch
Since Dutch is not a very popular language to learn, there isn’t a huge amount of free resources available, unfortunately.
The best paid resources to learn Dutch
One of the best paid resources for learning Dutch is Dutchpod101. Their audio lessons start from $4 per month, and you get access to over 50 hours of Dutch learning lessons. Their program covers all aspects of learning Dutch:
They also offer a wide variety of other tools, such as video lessons, quizzes, PDF’s and common word lists, but their audio lessons are the most valuable.
If you’re serious about learning Dutch, try the free trial of Dutchpod101 here.
So, is Dutch hard to learn? Conclusion
Yes, and no. From an objective point of view Dutch shouldn’t be hard to learn if you already know English. You already know plenty of Dutch words, and the grammar also is similar. However, the pronunciation is tough. And it can be difficult to get native speakers to talk in Dutch with you instead of English.
Arie Helderman is a native Dutch speaker who became fluent in Russian. Because his girlfriend is learning Dutch, he has a good overview of what aspects of learning Dutch are easy and which ones are difficult. He writes about learning Russian at learntherussianlanguage.com