Dutch Project Notes #1

my little handmade dictionary
my little handmade dictionary

As I said in my first post, I’ve been learning Dutch recently. I have a bit of a history with Dutch, and for some reason, it has always been particularly interesting to me. I’ll write later on the importance of a personal connection with whatever language you’re studying– believe me, it helps!

For me, my interest in Dutch started when I was about six years old. My dad went to Amsterdam for a conference (he’s a speech language pathologist), and stayed with some Dutch friends. That couple also had a six or seven year old daughter, and she wrote me a little letter all in Dutch. It was about how she’d seen a picture of me, and she commented that I’d recently lost a tooth! She told me how she had gotten a new bike. Her mother translated it into English for me, so I had two little postcards, one with Dutch and one with English. Needless to say, I was beyond fascinated. I’ve stared at the Dutch letter more times than I can count, and I’ve periodically read it throughout my life! Perhaps that was one of many events that sparked my love of languages early on?

Anyways, I spent most of my childhood dabbling with languages off and on. I remember getting children’s Spanish books out of the library in elementary school but being discouraged that the introduction to the book stated that children can only learn a language to fluency if they start around the same time that they’re learning the English alphabet. This is not true whatsoever, but I was eight or nine by that time, so I’ll give myself a break. I did bits of Spanish, French, Russian, and (most of all!) Japanese by the time I was fifteen. After fifteen, I took a break from languages to focus on other pursuits, and didn’t come back to it until winter break of my freshman year of university.

At that time, I was bored, and I wondered what happened to my interest in languages. So I picked a random one– Dutch!– and got to it with an antiquated Teach Yourself book and its old cassette tapes. Ik ben Hannie Pieters and all that. I painstakingly worked through the exercises (most of the time I skip them), and I posted often on Lang-8.com. Lang-8 is a fantastic resource that allows you to post journal entries in your target language while native speakers correct your errors. The Dutch folks who were on there circa 2009 were really excited a foreigner was so interested in their language that they were incredibly encouraging. Lang-8 was also more of a community back then, whereas now it’s a bit harder to get people to comment on your posts (though they still correct them. It’s a little bit lonely on there….). I also watched Spongebob Squarepants on nickelodeon.nl which was greatly entertaining. Once I got back to school, the city library even had books in Dutch, like De Kleine Prins! Sadly, however, the semester started up and I abandoned Dutch. Later that semester, I decided to transfer schools and switch to a French major. At the same time, I discovered All Japanese All The Time, and used immersion (basically listening to podcasts and music and reading books NONSTOP) and Anki sentences to learn French.

So, yeah, I got decent at French, and then in 2013 I started Dutch again. This was a briefer stint, and I used Anki sentences. This involves finding sentences from books or articles and putting them on the front of the Anki flashcards. I always either put a translation of the sentence (if the sentence came from a textbook or something) on the back or just defintitions of the words I didn’t recognize. That got a tad bit boring though, and I abandoned Dutch at the beginning of 2014 for Japanese (which I could never stick with, either, but that’s another story).

Now, after getting good at Spanish, I’ve really wanted to start a non-Romance language. I’ve bounced back and forth between German, Yiddish, and Dutch, but Dutch still seems to be the most intriguing. German would be the wise choice, but, AJATT’s Khatzumoto says in this article, picking the less “useful” but more intriguing language tends to lead to extended study and more success. Simply liking a language, for whatever reason, counts for a lot!

As for the present, I’ve been at Dutch for a couple of months now, since the beginning of September 2015 or so. I’m planning to work on it through January 1st, and then reevaluate if I want to stick with this one long-term or not. I started with Anki again, using sentences from Het Achterhuis, the original Dutch version of Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl (a little depressing, I know. But because it’s a diary, it uses a lot of casual talk-y sort of language). However, that method hasn’t been working for me for awhile, so I just decided to commit to reading half a chapter of Harry Potter en De Steen der Wijzen everyday, and that’s been helpful. My computer is also set to Dutch– Windows 8 and 10 FINALLY let you switch languages as you please. And I switch a lot. But, yeah….

A couple of days ago, I made a breakthrough! This study technique will seem boring to some, but boy, did it help with Dutch. I found a Memrise deck with 1,001 of the most common Dutch words. Now, Memrise is a cool resource, but it moves a little slow for me and gets boring, so I decided to simply copy out by hand the words I didn’t recognize from each lesson. Since these are common words, I recognize them in Harry Potter. I think this is a really useful way to learn vocabulary– because I’ve read quite a bit of Dutch with minimal dictionary usage, I’ve riddled out the meanings of some words, and others I just ignored. But with the vocabulary list, the common words are brought to my attention, and I memorize them much easier than if I had just sat down with the word list before reading any Dutch. And best of all, consistent reading and listening still allows for plenty of context for all of these new words, so it’s not cold memorization. I like that it’s an antiquated study method mixed with newer ideas about immersion and native sources. It’s working well for me right now, and I thought I’d share! It does make your hand hurt a bit though from all the writing, but I think the act of writing it out really helps, so be forewarned. Or suck it up. Your call. 🙂

I think this might be best for languages that are closely related to one you already know, like Dutch is to English. I have a good idea of how words and vocabulary work in context, and it kind of just comes down to learning meanings of new words. I don’t know how it would work with languages less related to English, but I’m excited to try it out with Polish and/or Japanese, two languages in which I’ve done a lot of reading and immersion. I got bored of Anki with both of them and was left without a surefire way to come into consistent contact with basic vocabulary. Hopefully my background in each will give me some level of familiarity with common words and make them easier to remember, like with Dutch. Still, I’m concentrating on Dutch right now, and my experimentation with Polish and Japanese will probably have to wait.

Here is the Memrise deck for 1,001 of the most common Dutch words if you’re interested!


3 thoughts on “Dutch Project Notes #1

  1. Beware that “Het Achterhuis” is written along time ago and the Dutch tend to change their spelling every 15 years or so.
    The book was obligatory for me at highschool and the spelling is like super weird.
    At university we use ‘Het Groene Boekje’ which contains the most updated spelling.

    Fun fact, somewhere around 2005 when there was another change in spelling, the media and a few authors neglected it because they got sick of the spelling continuously changing (paddestoel became paddenstoel, ideeënloos became ideeëloos etc.) and published “Het Witte Boekje”.


    1. Thanks for commenting! Yeah, I’ve gotten familiar with the spelling changes, but Dutch books are hard to come by in the US, so I just settle for what I have access to and what looks interesting, even if the spelling is weird 🙂


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