Biggest Challenges to Learning Dutch

What is the hardest thing about learning Dutch expats struggle with? Considering the language is often referenced as one of the toughest in which to acquire fluency, we figured there must be a long list of valid responses. Surprisingly this was not the case when we posed that question to several local Dutch language experts in The Hague area…

obstacles to expats learning Dutch language

Learning any new language comes with its own set of challenges. If the attainment of additional linguistics skills were easy, the world would have far more multi-lingual people in it. But what is it about Dutch in particular that gives it the reputation it has? Interestingly enough, what we found when we posed the question to professionals in the field of Dutch language training, is that it really comes down to just two or three common obstacles. Knowing what they are and acknowledging that the same issues have been experienced by many an expat before you will go a long way in avoiding the frustration that can derail your learning and make you want to throw in the towel.

Here is what we learned from the language experts we spoke with about the most common problem they see when a foreigner first attempts to learn Dutch…

In my experience students are really puzzled by a very small but important word in Dutch.. “er”. “Er” isn’t just the same as in English “there is”. To a learner it seems to appear at random in Dutch – which of course is not the case  😉  Mignon Saabeel, Director at iplus1

Learning any language, including Dutch, requires hard work, and it can be difficult to maintain motivation. It doesn’t help that Dutch people are so keen to speak English. We emphasise to students not to do it alone: find a group of like-minded individuals who have the same goals as you. Isobel Thorn Prikker, Director at TAALNETWERK

Dutch people generally speak English very well. Thus learning the Dutch language is not a question of survival for a foreigner in the Netherlands, but this makes it more difficult to practice and, in fact, to learn the Dutch language. Martin Beyer, Director at ALLIANCE FRANCAISE DE LA HAYE

One of the most challenging concepts is the ‘filler word’ like hoor, wel, nou and er… those simple words can mean wildly different things depending on context. Sometimes they can be left out entirely without changing the meaning too much and sometimes they are the meaning. Serhat Sakarya, Director at TAALTAAL

The application of the rule of the inverted word order is the most complicated part when you are just starting to learn the Dutch language. Josien Deknatel, Director at KICKSTART SCHOOL

Confidence! All challenges regarding learning the correct Dutch pronunciation and jumbled-up grammar will be conquered once you have the confidence to speak, speak, speak – without fear of making mistakes. Marije Battjes, Director at ABC DUTCH

The biggest challenge for students of the Dutch language is to convince the Dutch that they really want to practice, that practicing helps them to acquire the Dutch language. They will learn the Dutch language much faster if the Dutch stop speaking English to them. They think they help, but actually they don’t. And for some it is even very frustrating that they do the effort to learn the language of the Dutch, and their effort is not ‘seen’ or in their eyes ‘appreciated’ by the Dutch. Anneke Siemons, Director at DNA LANGUAGES

The pronunciation of the “g” and “ij” sounds is a challenge for many students, but practice is ultimately the key. Cynthia Mulder, Director at DUTCH FOR EXPATS®


If you are about to start a beginner Dutch language class, keep in mind the common challenges mentioned above. This will help alleviate some of frustration you might otherwise experience from thinking your language-learning skills are not on par with others trying to learn Dutch as well. Knowing where hurdles lie before a race starts helps one’s chances of reaching the finish line rather than having to navigate the hurdles while running the course the first time.


Dutch classes at Taal Taal The Hague



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