Dutch/Introduction

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Inleiding ~ Introduction

Hoe Nederlands leren met dit lesboek ~ How to Study Dutch using this Textbook


Les 1 >>


The Dutch Language[edit]

Dutch (Nederlands) is a member of the western group of the Germanic languages. It is spoken primarily in the Netherlands, and in a major part of both Belgium and Surinam. Continue reading about the Dutch language and its history at Wikipedia.

There are many sound files embedded in the course, so make sure your computer can play them. Listening and speaking yourself are an important part of language acquisition.

Dutch and English[edit]

If you are an English speaker unfamiliar with Dutch, you may be surprised to learn that English and Dutch are closely related languages and share many words that are very similar. This is particularly true for everyday words in English that are Anglo-Saxon (i.e. Germanic) in origin. After 1066 English has absorbed a lot of (Norman) French. Dutch also has been exposed to contact with first vulgar Latin and then French, but the French influence has been less pervasive.

Consider the following list of English words followed by their Dutch counterparts:

arm ~ arm
book ~ boek
cat ~ kat
father ~ vader
finger ~ vinger
house ~ huis
hand ~ hand
man ~ man
mother ~ moeder
mouse ~ muis
name ~ naam
son ~ zoon
begin! ~ begin!

Many words of French origin have entered both languages and are quite recognizable:

communication ~ communicatie
proclaim ~ proclameren

But in many cases Dutch retains a Germanic word, sometimes aside the Latin one:

proclaim ~ uitroepen

English spelling has conserved many now silent consonants, e.g. gh in light. This may have been an obstacle when learning to write English but when learning Dutch the investment pays off. Dutch has licht and the ch is very much still pronounced as a guttural fricative /x/ like in German Bach or Scottish Loch.

Of course, even words whose spelling is no different in English and Dutch may be pronounced quite differently or mean something different (false friends):

door ~ deur
through, by ~ door
worst ~ ergst, slechtst
sausage ~ worst

Nevertheless, when reading Dutch you will see the kinship between the languages, even in many short words, common or not. For example compare:

This week, my father is on the wharf with my brother and his daughter.
Deze week is mijn vader op de werf met mijn broer en zijn dochter.

These sentences consist almost entirely of cognates: words that evolved from the same source. Notice however the position of the verb is in these two phrases. In Dutch it stands in front of the father. This is because Dutch has retained something that English has lost: the rather complicated word order (syntax) of the West-Germanic languages. Many English speakers who learn Dutch find that one of the most difficult aspects to learn to do correctly, but it hardly ever leads to miscommunication.

Dialects[edit]

As a standard language Dutch is relatively young phenomenon. The standard is based on a variety of dialects that are much older and show considerable differences not only in pronunciation but even in grammar and syntax. This holds for many languages, including for English as spoken in the UK.

By urbanization, suburbanization and the influence of the mass media the standard language has been gaining ground at the cost of the dialects for over a century, so that it is now the mother tongue of most. But even in the way that it is spoken there are many regional differences in pronunciation but even in syntax and grammar. This course aims at teaching Dutch that would be received by most if not all speakers but will point out a number of important differences that a non-native speaker is likely to encounter in his/her interaction with native speakers.

In Bruges (Flanders), Rotterdam (Netherlands) or Paramaribo (Surinam) Dutch will sound as different as English does in Edinburgh, London or Indianapolis.

A dynamic language[edit]

Dutch has undergone far more sweeping changes in grammar and syntax in the last century or two than either English or German. It has lost most of its case endings and much of one of the three original genders (feminine). This has led to some interesting shifts in its grammar and syntax. Some of these developments are still taking place today. This means that Dutch grammar is less set in stone than the reader may be familiar with from other grammars. Occasionally we will have to discuss the evolution rather than the creature to explain modern Dutch usage.

Dutch and German[edit]

Both Dutch and German are West-Germanic languages and this means that there are many resemblances. However, Dutch is easier to learn for a speaker of English for a number of reasons. First of all, (High-) German underwent a major shift of almost all its consonants in the early Middle Ages. In term of its consonants Dutch has been pretty conservative. Compare:

English Dutch German
water water Wasser
make! maak! mache!
pepper peper Pfeffer

This makes a major part of Dutch vocabulary easier to memorize. Secondly, German retained its system of case endings in contrast to Dutch and English. It is not easy to master that system if your mother-tongue does not have it. Compare:

English Dutch German
the old man sees the pretty woman de oude man ziet de mooie vrouw der alte Mann sieht die hübsche Frau
the pretty woman sees the old man de mooie vrouw ziet de oude man die hübsche Frau sieht den alten Mann

Knowledge of German can certainly help in learning Dutch, but it can also be a source of confusion. A good example is the letter combination sch. In German it denotes the same consonant as sh in English (in IPA: [ʃ]), in Dutch this sound is relatively rare. It only occurs in loans from languages like Frisian, English, French etc.

In Dutch 'sch' can either denote and [s] followed by a velar spirant [x], like in schip. In the ending -isch the 'ch' is mute and it is pronounced as [-is] as in English 'fleece'.

A topic where knowledge of German is a great help is syntax (word order).

Vocabulary and Grammar[edit]

In learning to read or speak any new language, two important aspects to be mastered are vocabulary and grammar (others are pronunciation and syntax, but they usually do not stop you from being understood). Acquiring vocabulary is a "simple" matter of memorization.

Learning by ear[edit]

Children do it all the time, but they are at an advantage: they memorize far easier than grown-ups. Age is a definite disadvantage in language learning. The child's learning process can be "reactivated" to some extent by immersion in a second language: a method of learning a new language by moving to a place where that language is spoken and having to get around and live without use of one's native tongue.

If you do not have the opportunity of residing in a Dutch speaking area an alternative is to listen to recordings and we are in process of adding bits and pieces as .ogg files so that you can learn by ear. Use them as much as you can. More than once.

These files take different forms

  1. Single words. They are useful when you are trying to memorize vocabulary
  2. Spoken text of the chapter. They should be used to study the conversations
  3. Drills. Here you need to repeat words or utterances in the pauses.
  4. Translation drills. Here you are told to say something in Dutch yourself.

Of course there is also a drawback to the by-ear method: You do not get much immersion into reading Dutch. You as an internet user, will most likely want to be literate in Dutch.

Learning by eye[edit]

This is why this course also tries to train your eyes, but this will not work without effort from your side. This is why we often say: Your turn! (Uw beurt!)

So what do you need to do? There are a variety of things. We are tackling the problem with a multi-pronged approach.

Be sure to "learn"—commit to memory—all of the vocabulary words in each lesson as they are presented. Early lessons have simple sentences because it is assumed that the student's vocabulary is limited.

To help you accumulate vocabulary there are a number of additional pages see: Dutch/Vocabulary. In part they are visual and there are exercises to go with them (still being created).

Throughout the text, more complex discourses (often as photo captions) are included to introduce the student to regular Dutch in use. It may be helpful to translate these using a Dutch-English dictionary (access to one is a must). Other sources of Dutch, such as newspapers, magazines, web sites, etc. can also be useful in building vocabulary and developing a sense of how Dutch words are put together. The Dutch Wikipediaprovides an ever expanding source of Dutch language articles that can be used for this purpose. Further, a Dutch version of the English Wikibooks project—a library of textbooks in Dutch — is available at Dutch Language Textbooks and there is a growing Dutch version of wiktionary to which a number of words in the text have been linked for direct reference.

Learning grammar and syntax[edit]

This is where as a grown up you are at an advantage, because you may already know how grammar works from your mother tongue or other languages you are proficient in to some extent.

Dutch grammar is sufficiently similar to English grammar that "reading" Dutch is possible with minimal vocabulary. The student should generally recognize the parts of a sentence. With a good dictionary, a sentence can usually be translated correctly. Of course there are some notable exceptions and false friends, e.g. in the way that the passive voice is formed:

hij wordt gezien - he is seen
hij is gezien - he has been seen.

To speak and write Dutch you do need to learn its grammar and syntax. Particularly the latter (word order) is rather different. We will gradually introduce it. Do not be daunted by it. Learning a language goes bit by bit, word for word, structure by structure. Just keep at it and look at what you have gained not at what you don't understand. Children don't always understand everything either, but they are not ashamed or humiliated by that.

Pronunciation[edit]

A guide to pronunciation of Dutch is provided as Appendix 1. You should become familiar with this page early on, and refer to it often. Nothing can replace learning a language from a native speaker, but the text is liberally sprinkled with audio files providing the student with valuable input from hearing spoken Dutch. Analyze the spoken words carefully. The pronunciation guide in Appendix 1 can only closely, not exactly, convey how Dutch words should be pronounced.

Layout of Lessons[edit]

This textbook is intended as a beginning course in the Dutch language for English speakers.

Early lessons emphasize conversational subjects and gradually introduce Dutch grammatical concepts and rules. In addition, sound files accompany appropriate parts of each lesson.

The main lessons aim at introducing grammatical topics by means of conversations, interspersed with some exercises. Of course that is not sufficient to actually start speaking the language. Therefore each lesson is accompanied by a parallel lesson 1⇒1A that elaborates the material further in conversations, reading material, fill in the blank exercises etc., rather than focussing on grammar. In addition there are pages intended to build up vocabulary.

Which way the reader wishes to use the book may vary. People who have experience with other languages, grammars etc. might want to follow the order Lesson 1 > 2 > 3 > 4 > and on to the end of the basic text

Others that want to start tackling the language in context of a situation and worry about grammar later might want to start with

Lesson 1A and then check 1 to understand some of the grammatical details

Another strategy is

Lesson 1 > 1A > 2 > 2A > 3 > 3A >, etc.

The Student and the Lesson[edit]

The text is designed to constitute a course of study in the Dutch language. Each lesson should be read thoroughly and mastered before moving on. Substantial text in Dutch is included and the student should read all of it, not once, but multiple times. Complete translations into English are included only in selected places. Most of the text must be translated by the student using his or her acquired vocabulary and the vocabulary presented at the bottom of each lesson. As the Dutch is read (out loud is better), the student must succeed in gaining an understanding of the meaning of each sentence, and the role each word plays in establishing that meaning. To the beginner, there will seem to be many words in a Dutch sentence that are out of place or even redundant or unnecessary. These add subtleties to the language that will make sense eventually. But it is important to experience these subtleties from the very beginning.