2 highly effective ways to get your Dutch sounds right

To learn Dutch well, you need massive amounts of input. All this input helps you better understand the language and to imitate sounds. Wouldn’t it be great if you could deal with Dutch tongue twisters and no longer be asked Where are you from? Wouldn’t it be impressive if you could say something like

De zon schijnt! Terrasje pakken?

Being in the Netherlands makes it easy to expose yourself to spoken language. But what if you’re immersed in a cacophony of strange words, phrases, sentences? What if that feels like drowning? Take a few steps back and forget the talking and understanding. Start studying sounds only.  Listening to Dutch songs and spoken Dutch in the media are 2 highly effective ways to deal with impossible Dutch sounds.

What makes spoken Dutch so hard?

If you don’t manage to decipher what you hear, spoken Dutch wil be hard to understand and even harder to speak. You are dealing with new

  • sounds: 
how can you recognize sounds that don’t exist in your mother tongue,
  • words: 
how can you tell where they start / end,
  • sentences: 
how can you tell where they start / end,
  • melody: 
what kind of inflections do you hear in people’s voices,
  • rhythm: 
what is the stress pattern in Dutch words / sentences?

Don’t let those questions scare you off. Have a little patience, everything is hard before it is easy. Accept this as a part of your learning process. Your failure will definitely lead to successful outcomes. There are many language learners who radically improved their listening skills with a little effort and love for the language. You can do that too!

What can you do to turn the cacophony into tantalizing music?

Learning Dutch starts with listening without straining yourself to understand. Learn what new sounds are like and accept them the way they are. Learn to listen before you speak. Bit by bit you’ll gain confidence when you experience the benefits of exposure.

Why listening without understanding?

1. You’ll get used to the flow of words.
Hearing Dutch for the first time is overwhelming the way a new music genre can be. Go with the flow and gradually get used to the musicality. Familiarize yourself with the sounds you hear and try to appreciate what you hear.

2. You’ll experience what the language sounds like.
When you go with the flow, what do you hear? Language that sounds melodic, monotone, choppy? Can you figure out where words and sentences start and where they end? What do the speakers sound like, articulate, sloppy, neutral? How do they express emotions? There’s so much you can learn from a language just by straining your ears and listening! Want to know what that’s like? Check this out:

How English sounds to non-English speakers:

Look for Dutch input, start listening and figure out what you hear.


2 highly effective ways to get your Dutch sounds right

The moment you enter a store, visit a restaurant or join your colleagues around the coffee machine you expose yourself to spoken Dutch. This way you benefit from being in the country of your target language, which is great of course. But exposure can be overwhelming. So how can music and spoken Dutch help you get your sounds right? Here’s what you can expect:


1. Music

In her beautiful book Language is music American polyglot Susanna Zaraysky explains how the secret to her talent was solved when she read Musicophilia: Tales of music and the brain. According to the author, neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks, music activates more parts of our brains than written or spoken language does. While reading his book Susanna became inspired to write about how music helped her learn foreign languages.

Why listening to songs? Here are five of Susanna’s findings that will encourage you to do so:

  • Songs can ingrain the natural intonation pattern of the language into your memory, which enables you to easily learn the language and have a good accent.
  • In time you’ll hear familiar words repeated and you will learn to distinguish them.
  • It’s easier to remember something when you hear it to a tune.
  • Songs reinforce grammatical rules, boring grammar lessons come alive in catchy tunes.
  • Once you understand the song’s story line and the meaning of the lyrics, complex grammar will become easier for you.

Find Dutch songs you like. Listen to them whenever and wherever you can and sing along. Read the lyrics, also try listening without them. Even passively listening while driving, cooking, cleaning will help you become familiar with Dutch. The following websites may help you find your way to Dutch songs:


2. Spoken Dutch in the media

Once you’re able to decipher and imitate difficult Dutch sounds, you’re ready for a new step. Expose yourself to spoken Dutch in the media: start listening to talk, music, news, political, sports and comedy shows. Anything goes, as long as you’re eager to practice.

The most important part is integrating all this into your daily life. Embrace new sounds, phrases and expressions. Make your language learning fun. So much so that you want to talk about it. In Dutch, op een terrasje obviously.

More information? Check the Language learning tools section on this website and start integrating Dutch into your life.

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