Improve Your Dutch by Answering Three Crucial Questions

I believe that you learn a language to use it, instead of just knowing it. However, the way that languages have been taught for decades shows quite the opposite. The different language course books that I have had the pleasure of studying in my school days, at university and later as an adult language learner, present the language learning process as a linear process. Grammar and vocabulary are taught in a well-structured manner and are dealt with in a specific order.

However, real life proves that there is nothing linear about using languages. It is for this reason that in my Dutch courses I also deal with language issues that may not yet be dealt with in your course books, but that you do come across in your daily life. But, in order to do this, I need one crucial thing, i.e. questions!

Not just all questions

With questions I do not mean questions about nasty grammatical issues or difficult words from course book texts. What I mean are questions about words, phrases and expressions that you are exposed to in daily life. Questions, that if you had the answers to them, would make your life at lot easier, because you would know what people around you are saying. Questions that would help you to give the right responses in the right situations.

What I have experienced in my years of teaching Dutch to speakers of other languages is that there are three crucial questions, or rather types of questions, that can help you to improve your Dutch very fast. To me, the power behind these questions is that vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and cultural aspects are intertwined and the answers to them are ready-to-use in daily life. These are the three types of questions I am talking about:

  1. What does it mean if someone says…?
  2. How do I say that…/How do I respond to…?
  3. What do I say when…?

In my experience, language learners ask these types of questions when they have been in situations in which they were expected to respond in a suitable way, but were not able to. And they would rather not be in such an awkward position again. So, compared to the neatly categorised course book phrases that need to be learnt by heart in order to stick to the brain, the words, phrases and expressions that language learners want clarified will be top of mind and of more immediate use. Getting the answers to their questions, my students feel a lot more at ease a lot faster in situations in which Dutch is widely spoken. And because they feel more comfortable using Dutch, their language learning will go even faster.

Improve your Dutch: The crucial questions

Here is a very modest selection of the three questions from my students, including the answers that helped them to improve their understanding and use of Dutch:

  1. “When, in the morning, I am in the elevator of the building I work, I hear people say this one word when they have reached their floor and leave the elevator. What is that word?”

The word is ‘werkze’, meaning so much as have a pleasant work day. These are the ways to respond to it:

  • ‘Werkze!’
  • ‘Jij ook!’ (you too)
  • ‘Hetzelfde!’ (likewise)

Knowing what people are saying now, my student feels more at ease standing in the elevator, being able to say ‘werkze’ to other people and being able to respond to it.

  1. I had this student once who used to say ‘eh?’ whenever she did not understand what someone was saying. Though this caused some hilarious moments in class, I also imagined that it might put her in some awkward situations.

When she asked me how to respond to someone she does not understand, these are the options I gave her:

  • ‘Sorry, wat zeg je?’ (Sorry, what did you say?)
  • ‘Sorry, ik versta/verstond je niet, kun je dat herhalen?’ (Sorry, I do not/did not understand you,  could you repeat that?)
  1. When something bad happens (death, illness, accident, failing an exam, etc.), Dutch language learners tend to say ‘I am sorry’ in Dutch. However, ‘het spijt me’ is not quite what you would say in bad situations. ‘Het spijt me’ namely implies that you are (to some extent) to blame for what has happened. “Then, what do I say when something bad happens to someone I know?”, one of my students recently asked me.

And this is what I told her to say:

  • ‘Gecondoleerd!’ (death)
  • ‘Wat erg!’ (illness/accident)
  • ‘Wat vervelend!’ (failing an exam)

As soon and as much as possible

Of course, these are just a few examples of questions that you may ask in order to understand and use Dutch a lot faster. But when you ask these types of questions often enough, you will see how fast your Dutch will improve. Therefore, I strongly recommend you not to wait for your course books to finally deal with your burning questions. Instead, ask your questions as soon and as often as possible.

Do you want to experience the advantages of asking all of your practical language questions? Then sign up for one of our Free Dutch Courses and find out for yourself!

Free Dutch Course

Are your fairly new to Dutch and would like to become a basic user of Dutch? In order to help you find out whether our teaching method works for you, we offer you a free Dutch course.