Why it's worth it to study Dutch

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Dutch-speaking world (including related languages like Afrikaans and regions where it is spoken by a minority).

I just noticed that Berkeley has an interesting page here with testaments by students that have studied the language on why it was worth it to do so, with quite a few of them remarking on how much easier the language turned out to be than expected. I've written before that I believe Norwegian to be the easiest language for English people to learn, but this is only in comparison to other languages, and Dutch, Afrikaans, and the other Scandinavian languages are still much easier to master than a lot of other languages out there.

One person on the page writes:
Dutch is an interesting and remarkably simple language. I took Dutch to satisfy breadth requirements and also because I wanted to learn a European language. I was intimidated the first day I went to class, as we began to learn/speak Dutch ten minutes into the class. But after a few classes I realized Dutch is easy. Many words are phonetically similar or the same as in English, and the conjugations of verbs are rather simple. I also learned Spanish, but Dutch is much easier!
and another one writes:
So, if you’re wondering, “are there any Dutch people around,” you might be surprised by the numbers: Dutch is spoken by nearly 40 million people worldwide. In California alone, nearly half a million people responded to the US Census saying they have Dutch ancestry. In fact, more than twenty-seven thousand Californians speak Dutch at home...Dutch may be the easiest language for English speakers to learn. With simple grammar rules and the same alphabet, you’ll be reading, writing and speaking in Dutch faster than any other language. Make it easy on yourself to meet the language requirement.

The strategy that a student needs to adopt when learning languages like these is pretty much the same for each one, because:

1) They are relatively easy to learn, but
2) That means that English is also very easy for them to learn, and so:

that means that as a student of the language you are probably going to need one of two things:

1) A lot of motivation to get really good at the language through listening to and using it online (where nobody knows you're not Dutch at first; you can even pretend to be from somewhere like Kazakhstan or Iran to make sure people don't switch to English right away when chatting), or
2) A structured university course for a number of years before you go abroad, because in the beginning it's only in a situation like that where you'll be able to practice the language without the person you're talking to becoming exasperated and switching to English.

There are also some interesting hidden benefits, like the similarity to Afrikaans and the large amount of Dutch loanwords in Indonesian:
People can sometimes use Dutch to get by in unexpected places. One of those places is Indonesia. Some older Indonesians still speak Dutch, but even the younger generation is interested in the language. University students, for example law students, are often required to study Dutch texts. Many universities in Indonesia therefore offer courses in Dutch as a source or occupational language. Students and other interested parties can enrol in general Dutch courses at various educational centres, the most important of which is the Erasmus Language Centre (ETC) in Jakarta. Each year, some 1500 to 2000 students take Dutch courses there.
Plus making German much easier to learn of course.


Anonymous said...

I agree. Dutch is very easy to learn. There are strong verbs, of course, but once you've repeated them a few times, you remember them. There are conjugations too, but they represent really no problem (like sambahsa's ones...). The only little impediment I see is about the gender and the determinant ("het" for singular neutral; "de" for the rest) and, within the "rest", to decide between "hij" (he) or "zij/ze" (she)... The question of long or short vowels (the famous double vowels of Dutch) can be obscure for foreigners, but this represents no problem for the understanding of the language. Finally, and more subjective, is the pronounciation itself, which is nearly always regular, but sounds sometimes strange and can vary from region to region.
It is true that there are a huge number of Dutch loanwords in Indonesian, but you can understand a lot of them without knowing Dutch, since they belong to the "internasional" vocabulary. And some other loanwords are so debased that it's hard to guess what they mean: ex "losmen" from "logement".


Voix Intérieure said...

I also think Dutch is an interesting language and its pronunication sounds kind of awkward. And I think its wordbuilding is more closer to German at some extent.

Anonymous said...

Noway is de Nederlands spoken by 40 million! But it is easy if you've done German (Duits) in school.


Anonymous said...

A nice language to learn probably, but the Netherlands is an ugly country and it'll be under water by 2050 if global warming coninues - not very useful afterall!

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