How Hard Is It to Learn Dutch?

Dutch is a peculiar language. A fair few people seem to think it sounds like a mix of English and German muddled together. That’s is probably not a surprise, since Dutch does belong to the same, West Germanic, language group as both English and German. That also means that if you have previous experience with learning either of those languages (and you reading this blog post in English suggests you do), you’ll find at least something familiar in Dutch.

But, as with every language, Dutch also has its own quirks and aspects that are not so easily grasped for English-speakers. So, how hard is it to learn Dutch?

Let’s start answering that question with the basics.

A Quick Introduction to Dutch

As we already mentioned, Dutch is also a part of West Germanic languages, making it very closely related to both German and English. After those two languages, Dutch is also the third most spoken West Germanic language.

It is spoken by most of the people living in the Netherlands, and a majority of Belgians. Additionally, it is the second language to around 5 million people. But, despite the conquering activities of the colonial Dutch, the language has not gained much traction outside of Europe. The exception to that could be South Africa, where Dutch was widely spoken and then evolved into Afrikaans – a very closely related sister language whose speakers are able to understand (and be understood by the) Dutch.

What Makes Dutch Easy

The common origin and belonging to the same language group as English makes Dutch a fairly simple language to learn. The Foreign Service Institute estimates it should take the average learner around 600 hours of study to learn the language. This means that it belongs in the group of easiest languages to learn (compared to, for example, Arabic, which FSI estimates should require over 2000 hours).

You should, however, always take these types of estimates with a grain of salt, since a lot of the progress you will make with learning a language really comes down to your own motivation and devotion. It takes some people years (of non-serious study) what others achieve in a matter of weeks.

In any case, the good news for English speakers is that any learner will be coming across familiar words from day one of learning. Not only do a lot of the words have a similar origin and written form (compare water-water, late-laat, heart-hart, name-naam, etc.), some contemporary Dutch is also straight up borrowed from English. Additionally, you probably won’t have too much trouble (with some exceptions that we’ll get to later) speaking the words, since the sound systems of the languages are rather similar, matching even the natural stress and intonation of the language.
Grammatically speaking, Dutch has the same basic sentence structure as English – subject takes the first place, followed by the verb, and object. It’s the adverbials you must look out for since their positions do not at first seem natural to English speakers. In other good news, the verbs themselves function rather similarly as they do in English – verb tenses seem natural, and the verbs do not change to express grammatical functions (they are uninflected).

What You Might Struggle With

Before you think that you pretty much have Dutch in the bag, be aware that Dutch does also provide some rather interesting pronunciation curveballs. There are the dreaded guttural sounds (ch, g, sch, schr) that are famously difficult for foreigners to master.

There is also the messy business with the Dutch definitive articles de” and “het. These are assigned to words based on their genders, which are really not much used in the rest of the language, and notoriously difficult to guess. To make things more fun, using the wrong article can change the entire meaning of the noun.

Conclusion – With Right Motivation, Dutch Is a Simple Language

Although learning Dutch comes with its own sticking points, its similarity to English makes it a good second language to learn. As with all languages, the task really comes down to how you tackle it. You can spend years at your Dutch studies without getting much anywhere, or make great strides forward with the help of a professional language teacher.