If you want a learn a language but don’t know which one to pick I’ve got a whole section of this site dedicated to helping you make a decision. However, if you want my advice you can’t go wrong with Dutch! This blog is all about helping to explain why this seemingly crazy choice is actually an amazing choice for your first foray into language learning.
Firstly, why is it a ‘seemingly crazy choice’? Well, the simple fact is that nearly 90% of Dutch people speak English. This means that you are embarking on a language learning journey into a language where it is going to take you months to get to a level in the language where it won’t be far easier for you and the Dutch person you’re speaking to to converse in English. It also means that Dutch people will almost certainly answer you in English even if you’re trying to speak Dutch especially if you it is important that the correct message is conveyed or if time is of the essence. It is for these reasons that I always get absolutely bamboozled looks when I mention that I’ve got to a pretty good level in Dutch and why most people say things like ‘God, what a waste of time!’ So, given these reactions why have I pursued learning Dutch and why do I recommend you do the same?
The first reason why I love Dutch is precisely because I love doing things that are out of the ordinary and there isn’t much more out of the ordinary than an English person learning Dutch. I also love doing things that other people think are ridiculous. I revel in the supposed stupidity of my endeavors and the more people tell me it’s a waste of time the more I dig in. If you are like me in either of these respects I guarantee you that learning Dutch will give you plenty of opportunities for developing the ‘I’m doing it anyway!’ attitude! However, on a more important note, I do genuinely believe that people’s claims to the ‘pointlessness’ of learning Dutch betray what is actually a really shallow approach to the meaningfulness of language learning. What they are implicitly saying is that learning a language is solely about communicating with people who you couldn’t have communicated with prior to you learning the language. Whilst this is undoubtedly a really ‘useful’ and highly rewarding situation (having proper conversations in German with German people who can’t speak English is one of my favourite things to do on this planet) it is by no means the only reason for learning a language. This attitude removes all reference to personal challenge and personal growth and ignores the fact that if you learn Dutch you will be able to understand Dutch people who are speaking to each other in Dutch. It is incredibly arrogant to assume that if you are in a room full of Dutch people all of them should have to switch to English just because you are there. Even if nearly all Dutch people can speak English most of them aren’t at a full ‘native’ level so you are limiting (even if very slightly) their communications because you are there. You can also watch Dutch TV online and there are some amazing programmes online without subs which you can tune into once you’re at a good enough level (I’m not quite there yet!).
The next big reason why I would say Dutch is such an awesome choice is because in so many ways it is so similar to English. If you heard somebody saying “Zorry, excoooser me, waaar is het toilett” or “Open de duur” (not correct Dutch spellings!!!) there is absolutely no way you wouldn’t understand them and yet they are speaking Dutch not English. There are hundreds of words and sentences like this because English and Dutch are incredibly closely related. Indeed up until the 1400s the English spoken in Kent and Dutch were apparently mutually intelligible! How cool is that! Apparently in some parts of Kent older people still refer to an egg as an ‘eye’ which is how the Dutch pronounce their word for egg (the Old English for egg was ei too and the current word ‘egg’ is a loan word from Old Norsk after the Viking invasions in the 800s – isn’t language amazing!). This means that by learning Dutch you are in many ways gaining an insight into the history of English prior to the Viking invasions and the Norman French conquest. Dutch is what English probably would sound like now if it wasn’t for those two key linguistic events! Plus, if you learn Dutch you also have a brilliant gateway to German as they are incredibly closely related but German grammar is far harder so starting with Dutch gives you a lovely little pathway into German.
The next awesome reason to learn Dutch is because it is by far the best taught language on the internet. This is largely thanks to one man by the name of Bart de Pau. His website is an absolute dream for every type of language learner as it features everything from complex grammar lessons to videos about Dutch culture and idioms. He is an absolute force of nature. Plus his Youtube series ‘Heb je zin’ is, in my view, the best Youtube series for language learning in any language. Here’s the first episode:
What’s not to love?!
Finally, as I’ve said in various places on my site the look you get off Dutch people when you can speak Dutch is just amazing. Dutch people are resigned to the fact that nobody learns Dutch so if you can make the effort you’ll be looked on with a mixture of absolute intrigue and delight. You won’t know what this feels like until it happens but it is worth all of the effort – especially when the ‘effort’ is so much fun thanks to the phenomenal Bart de Pau!
Oh, and if you learn Dutch you will have picked up Flemish for free and are 90% of the way to speaking Afrikaans – and there are plenty of people in South Africa who speak Afrikaans and no English. So Dutch is pointless? I think not my friends! Get on it!
If you’re STILL not convinced here’s a few more reasons from one of Youtube’s polyglot legends Lindsey Williams…
Leave a comment to let me know what you reckon! Have I persuaded you? Do you already speak Dutch? Are you going to give it a go? Let me know in the comments section and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @kslanguages!