Dutch listening skille

What is most important for learning Dutch?

Some people learn Dutch faster than others. This is a fact. But why? Of course this has to do with motherland, background and education. But even more important is your overall skill set.

There is one skill that is most important for learning Dutch, and that skill is listening.

Forget about the meaning of the words, but start to listen to intonation and rhythm. Start with getting the feel of the Dutch language.

THE BENEFITS OF LISTENING WELL

By listening well, you’ll also learn to speak Dutch well. Improve therefore your listening skills, because:

  • You can get a nice, even near native Dutch accent
  • You’ll learn Dutch in a natural way
  • You’ll learn to correct yourself, because you’ll hear it when you make a mistake.

MOST IMPORTANT FOR LEARNING DUTCH – WHERE TO PAY ATTENTION TO?

Even before knowing any Dutch, you can start to listen. It doesn’t matter that you do not know the words. Just listen to the sound and tone of the language, not to the meaning. At first you’ll notice weird sounds that are unknown to your native language. Those are details. First of all you have to get the global soundscape of Dutch. Listen to:

  • Intonation. How does the tone rise and fall in the sentence? This can happen more then once in a sentence or even in a word and it is important. Someone can e.g. say ‘ja’ in different ways. It can be short and crisp, but the word can also go up or down at the end. Intonation adds a whole layer of meaning to the spoken language.
  • Rhythm. Dutch is a rhythmic language. It is not spoken very fast, especially not compared with Asian languages. Get used to this if you come from those parts of the world. Pay also attention to short and long vowels and to the overall staccato feel.
  • Emphasis. Every Dutch word has its own, fixed emphasis (de klemtoon). This is the part of the word that you give more weight with your voice than the rest of the word. When the word has e.g. six syllables, only one syllable gets this emphasis. In Dutch it is very important to place the klemtoon right, because otherwise we will not understand you; the word will sound like a completely different word to us. So note the emphasis of a word, when you’re working on your Dutch vocabulary.
Read this article in Dutch

DUTCH LISTENING EXERCISES

Listening well is a skill you can learn and improve upon. It is quite likely that your listening skills are not so good as you think they are. This is why the next exercise looks quite easy, but is in fact very hard.

Repeating after a native speaker
Ask a native speaker such as your Dutch partner, a friend or a language coach to read a (short) Dutch sentence. Close your eyes and listen as good as you can. Repeat the words exact as you hear them – not as you think they are. Don’t think, just imitate the words as accurate as possible. Focus on pronunciation, intonation, rhythm and emphasis.
This is not a memory training, so ask the speaker to repeat if necessary. Ask the native speaker to not correct you right away, but rather to try again. Listen even more mindful and try to capture all modalities. This exercise is suitable for all levels.

TIP: No native speaker at hand? Then use one of the many language apps.

Recording yourself in an app
Download an app like 50Languages to record yourself. In this app you hear two native speakers pronounce a short sentence. After this, you press a red button to speak and record the sentence. When you press replay, you hear yourself and both native speakers again. Listen carefully. Where do you sound different to them and how can you correct this? Try and experiment until you are happy with your recording. Most important here is that you listen very carefully to yourself and the native speakers. Do not read the text and pronounce it like you think it is. This is almost always wrong.
Listening to different accents
The native speakers in class or in an app, mostly speak slow and clearly. The Dutch don’t speak like that in real life. They speak with an accent and swallow vowels and consonants. Check the Forvo website to listen to countless Dutch words, pronounced by native Dutch speakers. A real must go!
Listening to yourself
This exercise reminds you that speaking Dutch is not the same as speaking e.g. English with Dutch words. You have to change more modalities. Do this very helpful exercise when you read the newspaper or when you do your homework. Read everything out loud and listen carefully to yourself. Does it sound Dutch enough or do you need to correct yourself? Check Forvo if you’re not sure about it.

BETTER LISTENING MEANS BETTER SPEAKING DUTCH

Listening is most important for learning Dutch. Your spoken Dutch will soon flow easy and pleasant to the ears of the natives. There are some minor drawbacks though:

Read this article in Dutch

DISADVANTAGES OF HAVING A GREAT DUTCH ACCENT

  • The natives will assume that your Dutch is much better than it actually is. Maybe your vocabulary is just 200 words, but if you sound so good, we’ll immediately get you involved in a conversation you cannot yet keep up with. Just keep working on your vocabulary and learn to say: Kan je wat langzamer praten? or Ik spreek nog niet zo goed Nederlands, maar ik wil het graag leren.
  • Some people like accents. Maybe your Dutch boyfriend thought your French accent was cute and threatens to leave you when you improve your Dutch. Oops!
  • Your expat friends will get jealous of your Dutch language skills. This one is easy: just tell them the trick!
If you can live with previous drawbacks, then it’s time to work on your listening skills. Do not get frustrated if you do not reach the near perfect level of pronunciation you desire. Dutch natives have all different accents as well, and only few of us have perfect diction.

Do you have tips or exercises you can recommend for fellow students? Please share in the comments.

Roelien Reinders
Taaltraining Trancemissie

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