Learning Dutch

10 minute read


By Sina Hazratpour

De stenen brug, Landschap met een stenen brug over een rivier of vaart. Op het water bevinden zich twee bootjes met figuren. Op de weg lopen verschillende personen, links een wagen. In het midden een hooischuur tussen bomen, rechts in de verte een kerktoren. More at rijksmuseum.nl Landscape with a Stone Bridge, Rembrandt van Rijn, c. 1638

A bit of context

It was nearly a year ago when I decided to learn Dutch or NederlandsFor instance: kan je nederlands spreken?. Nether means situated down or below and lower, and the word Nederland literally refers to the Low Countries. Koninkrijk der Nederlanden (Kingdom of the Netherlands) is used officially to refer to Dutch Kingdom, and Nederland (singular) is used for the modern nation. A bit of history helps: The term Low Countries was used particularly in the period 1515-1568 to refer to the entirety of (current) Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg and a part of Northern France. From 1515, Charles V and after 1555, his son, Philip II, bear the titles of the King of Spain and the King of the Netherlands. The rapacious expansions of Philip II is faced with the resistance from people of Low Countries, and they join, what has come to be called, the Protestants efforts of separation from the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). This double revolution turns into a bloody long civil war which in turn leads to the falling apart of Low Conturies. In 1609, a twelve-year truce is negotiated by both parties. At last, after an eventful, laborious, and excrutiating campaign, the peace is concluded in 1648 under the leadership of the king and stadthouder Maurice (the son of Willem van Oranje, the father of independence), and out of this peace the Kingdom of the Netherlands, as we know it today, is born. After independence, in the southern parts of the Netherlands, the relationships with RCC is restored but under very different terms than before. #Tachtigjarige Oorlog #Willem van Oranje #Count of Egmont #Beeldenstorm, a term Dutch use to refer to their own language. My efforts to learn Dutch was not concerted at all and I only did it in my spare time and occasionally, whenever I travelled to the Netherlands. At the moment, I would describe my Dutch efficiency as modest. I can read easier parts of the newspapers articles and columns, speak at a basic level and write some of the weird Dutch words without a mistake.

In my opinion, one of the difficulties to learn the language by yourself is to find approporiate and interesting learning resources you can stick too. The ones that are entertaining and make you curious so that you forget about the pain of learning a new language and get absorbed in the entertainment itself. The learning would then ideally occur at the subconcious level. In this post I am going to introduce some of the resources I have found useful so far. Hopefully, there will be some Dutch learners and others out there who find this article interesting and helpful. I divide the list of resources into three categories: beginner, intermediate, and more challenging.

Useful dictionaries

I also mention a few good dictionaries you may like to use consistently. Google Translate is an application that I frequently use. It fares particularly well for NL-EN translations comapared to say Persian-English translation.It is not perfect though: It has some downsides particularly when it comes to Dutch expresssions and proverbs and does offer few examples for entries. It can be best used in tandem with either of the following dictionaries:

For beginners

We start by listing the resources approporiate for the beginner level; it is a very heterogenuous list.

Dutch vocabulary: basic words


Well, you've probably heard of it already. Duo's Dutch lessons are well-prepared and they are great for absolute beginners. Remember that in addition to exercise lessons on your phone app, there are concise grammar tips for every lesson which are accessible via Duolingo website. Here is an exmaple from the first lesson:

Donald Duck Junior

Arguably the most popular comic strip magazines (stripverhal) for kids in Holland and beyond, it features Walt Disney comic characters. Check out Donald Duck Junior website.

Stuff Dutch people like

Learning a language is not just about words and grammar. Here is a somewhat accurate list of things Dutch people generally like (Leuk vinden). "Hagelslag", "Sinterklaas", "agenda", "Zwarte Piet", "konijntje" and "Swearing with diseases" are among the gezellige woorden. Treat it as an index of Dutchness.

Some Dutch expressions and idioms

Here is a list of few easy-to-remember and funny Dutch expressions you might like to learn.

Dutch grammar books

Naar Nederland

An e-learning website designed to help people who take the basisexamen inburgering in het buitenland administered by De Dienst Uitvoering Onderwijs (DUO). The exam is comprised of three components:

  • Kennis van de Nederlandse Samenleving (KNS)
  • Leesvaardigheid
  • SpreekvaardigheidOn the e-learning section of Naar Nederland website you can find lots of interesting exercises on all of these components. Although the lessons are designed to help people who take the exam the material (including audio clips) are freely available to everyone and form a coherent and well-designed series of lessons.

Intermediate Stuff

De Canon van Nederland

A list of fifty topics that aims to provide a chronological summary of Dutch history, taught in primary schools, and the first two years of secondary school in the Netherlands. It was designed to provide an overview of "what everyone ought to know, at the very least, about the history and culture of the Netherlands", as well as providing a framework for the teaching of History in Dutch schools.

Also, check out the very cool website entoen.nu which hosts the canon material for use in schools and in society in general. You can create your own account and customize your learning chronological map according to your taste.

Donald Duck

A more seriousYou might like to check your grammars with this one. I recommend Intermediate Dutch: A Grammar and Workbook, by Jenneke Oosterhoff version of Donald Duck Junior and yes it is read avidly by adults as well as young childrend and teenagers. Compared to Donald Duck Junior the stories are way longer and more interesting and range of vocubalaries vastly greater. I like them a lot and I have a stack of them at home. Here is the website: donaldduck.nl

Children's books

Some children books have helped my learning process to be fun, faster and more interesting. Here are few of them:

  • Meneer Blijlevena Dutch translation of J.R.R.Tolkien's picture book Mr.Bliss. is a cool with Tolkien's own handwriting and illustrations on even pages and nice Dutch translation on odd pages which makes reading the book in Dutch much easier for learners of the language. Another edition of the book with a Dutch review is available at boekreviews.nl.Here is my plea to you: please share with me if you know any books of this style.

    Toon Tellegen's children books:

    So far I only looked at Maar niet uit het hart. Dierenverhalen over afscheid.You can find list of all his children books here: Toon Tellegen bibliografie

    Filosofie In Beeld

    An illustrated journey through the history of Western philosophy by Margreet de Heer. It is fun to read, and pictures help a lot to understand the contexts and sentences even if you do not understand every Dutch word in the text. Other books by the same author: Religie In Beeeld, Wetenschappen In Beeld, and Wereldschappij In Beeld.

More Challenging

  • Geschiedenis.nlis a website with historical and cultural articles for the interest of broad public. Moreover, Geschiedenis.nl advises, leads, and holds lectures on projects in the fields of history and culture.
  • EncyclopediaIf that is too much for you, just buy a pack of Het Spreekwoorden spel to play!of Dutch expressions, idioms, and proverbs: find them at spreekwoorden.nl
  • Kranten: among different Dutch newspapers and news sites, I recommend Trouw. It is thorough in their news coverage, and has interesting columns on society and culture, history, religion and philosophy, and green life. They also publsih review of books as well as interviews with book authors and other important figures.A more mainstream option is NRC Handelsblad, and another one with some socialist bend is Volkskrant.
  • Het Spreekwoorden spel

    Here's how you play Het Spreekwoorden spel: there are two sides to each card. The first side which is an image of Kaboontje, and the second side which is the proverb the image tries to address. Each card has either 1,2, or 3 points based on the difficulty of the proverb. The game is played with two persons (can also be played with one schizoid person!) and who guesses the most cards correctly (or collects the most points) wins the game. Players successively pick a card and have to guess the correct proverb based on the image they see in their turn within one minute. Make the game extra difficult by requiring the meaning of the proverb to be part of the answer. One gets the card by correctly answering and failing that means the card goes to the bottom of the pile. See more at scala's education website. For instance the proverb associated with the image below is Je hart vasthouden.

Of course I cannot finish this article without mentioning mathematics resources.

Mathematics in Dutch

Here is a list of mathematics (wiskunde) books in Dutch which I recommend.

For reading these texts, you may need a mathematical glossary I made while reading them.

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