Have you ever noticed that knowing English is a great asset when you are learning to speak Dutch? Hopefully, you have already discovered that both English and Dutch are Germanic languages and that they have a lot in common. But… here comes the bad news… English can also get in the way sometimes. Albert Both from Talencoach explains.
You may be saying certain things that make perfect sense to your ears, but whether you like it or not, the meaning in Dutch is totally different. This is why it is time for this list of six little tiny mistakes and one massive error that many expats make when they speak Dutch.
1. You probably do not live in a language
How would you say, “I live in the Netherlands”? “Ik woon in Nederlands?” It looks right, but in Dutch, it would not make a lot of sense. The reason is very simple. Contrary to what you may believe, the Netherlands is just one country, just like Poland, England and Fantasyland. The plural of “land” is “landen,” because most plurals in Dutch end with “en”.
“Nederlands” literally means “of the Netherlands”, therefore the logical meaning is Dutch and it could also refer to the language. This is why you would say, “ik woon in Nederland” and hopefully, soon enough, you’ll be able to add, “ik spreek fantastisch Nederlands.”
2. Are you sure that you want to leave the Netherlands that quickly?
How would you interpret the following sentence? “Ik woon voor een jaar in Nederland.” It probably means that you have been living in the Netherlands for a year, right? Well… not exactly, there is a little catch. If you say “voor een jaar,” it means the maximum duration is a year. It implies that when this year is over, you’ll move to another place.
The solution is very simple, just drop the word “voor.” If you say “ik woon een jaar in Nederland,” it means that you have been living in a charming little country full of tulips for a year. By the way, you’ll often see the word “al,” which means already, and then you know that an action already started in the past. “Ik woon al een jaar in Nederland” therefore means “I have been living in the Netherlands for a year.”
By the way, don’t you love the simplicity of this Dutch construction? It took me a long time to learn the have-been-living part in English. I truly believe that the English construction looks quite complex.
3. Oh no! Did you already leave this country?
Another logical mistake could be: “ik heb een jaar in Nederland gewoond.” In Dutch, it always means that the action is already over. Just check it for yourself. If you say: “ik heb een stroopwafel gegeten,” you already ate the stroopwafel. You are not eating the stroopwafel anymore. Therefore make sure that you say: “ik woon al x jaar in Nederland,” and you can also say: “ik heb voor de rest van mijn leven in …gewoond” which means: “I lived in… for the rest of my life.”
4. Why would you question how tasty a stroopwafel is?
Imagine that you’re eating a stroopwafel and that you want to say: “how tasty!” You probably have heard the word “lekker” more than once, which means that something tastes or feels good. If you’d like to say, “how tasty!” you simply say “hoe lekker,” right?
To Dutch ears, this does not make sense. “Hoe lekker” sounds like a question, to what extent does it taste good? Therefore, if you say this, Dutch people may ask you what you are looking for…A score? A percentage? A rating with stars?
How tasty in Dutch is “wat lekker,” literally “what tasty.” If you only think in English, it does not make sense, but if you know Spanish, it’s different. “Qué?” means “what” and “qué rico” is the right way to say “how tasty!” If you speak a language other than English, you’ll probably notice that in your language, you wouldn’t say “hoe lekker” either.
5. Do you only drink coffee sometimes?
If you’d like to say “I’m drinking some coffee,” chances are high that you’ll come up with “ik drink soms koffie.” The sentence is perfect, and it could make sense, but it has another meaning. “Soms” is “sometimes” in Dutch, so if you say this it means that you drink coffee sometimes. If you’d like to say “some,” there are two ways to do it.
Probably, the most logical one for you is “een beetje,” which looks like “a bit”. Did you know that “beetje” means “little bite” in Dutch? A couple of things, however…with “beetje” you stress that the quantity is really low and you can only use it with singular, just like in English. “Een beetje zon” (sun), “een beetje rust” (rest), “een beetje humor” make perfect sense.
Another word that you can use is “wat.” “Ik drink wat koffie” means that you drink some coffee. Can you see that the word “wat” is multifunctional in Dutch? You can translate it as “what,” “how” and “some.” “Wat” is also a word that you can use in plural. “Wat vrienden,” “Wat boeken,” and “wat stroopwafels,” make perfect sense!
6. Ouch! That is why your pancakes are so crêpe!
As you might have figured out already, I love bad jokes and puns. What I mean with this sentence is that your pancakes are crap of course. It can happen before you know it. In English you can cook pancakes, right? Well… if you say “ik kook pannenkoeken,” then one thing is certain…They will be real crap!
“Kook” in Dutch means that you throw things in boiling water in many cases. It is okay if you say “ik kook soep” or “ik kook broccoli,” but when you do it with “pannenkoeken,” the result would be disgusting. However, if you say: “ik bak” or “ik maak pannenkoeken,” everything will be perfectly okay. The good thing is that “bak” looks like “bake” and “maak” looks like “make” anyway, so it should be easy to apply.
Did you make some of these mistakes? Good!
So…What do you think? How many mistakes have you made already? I sincerely hope that you have made all of them because that means that at least you have been practising your Dutch. Although it might not feel very encouraging to you when you make mistakes over and over again, I personally believe that you must make many more mistakes if you want to bring your Dutch to a whole new level fast!
That is why any time I work with my students, they always need to sign a contract in which they officially promise to make at least 65.000 thousand mistakes in my presence. Quite often, my students laugh about it, certainly in the beginning, but…once again, if you want to speak great Dutch, this is the way to go!
The six mistakes that you just saw are something that I would call little, tiny mistakes. When you say them, Dutch people will probably look at you weird. Luckily, you don’t need to doubt your own talents or abilities. Simply ask yourself: all right, Dutch is probably just different from what I expected, so what should I say instead?
The beautiful thing is that when you operate this way, you can improve your Dutch in a very natural way. Although Dutch has a lot in common with English, it must be different in many ways, otherwise, you would speak perfect Dutch already! So once again, if you make these mistakes, nothing bad is going to happen (probably). Just know that there is a good reason that Dutch people may not understand you, so make sure that you give them the information they need.
In a way, it can be a very gentle and natural process and it can be a lot of fun too, if you don’t mind that sometimes very bad things may come out of your mouth, unintentionally. It has happened to me many times when I wanted to learn another language and somehow, I really love it!
The biggest mistake of all
Now that we have taken a look at six little, tiny mistakes, could you guess what the biggest, massive error you could make would be? Actually, there are a couple of massive errors. One is: “it sounds perfect to me, so it must be right” but there is one mistake that is even worse. This is when you do not make any mistakes at all.
Of all the mistakes that you could make, only this one is the really unforgivable one! Make sure that you make all the mistakes in the world, except this last one, because this is the only mistake that you could really regret.