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Beginner level    Intermediate level    Advanced level
Cycle 1 Cycle 2 Cycle 3 Cycle 4 Cycle 5 Cycle 6
Main Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 3 Lesson 4 Lesson 5 Lesson 6 Lesson 7 Lesson 8 Lesson 9 Lesson 10 Lesson 11 Lesson 12 Lesson 13 Lesson 14 Lesson 15 Lesson 16 Lesson 17 Lesson 18 Lesson 19 Lesson 20 Lesson 21 Lesson 22 Lesson 23 Main
Practice Lesson 1A Lesson 2A Lesson 3A Lesson 4A Lesson 5A Lesson 6A Lesson 7A Lesson 8A Lesson 9A Lesson 10A Lesson 11A Lesson 12A Lesson 13A Lesson 14A Lesson 15A Lesson 16A Practice
Examples Vb. 1 Vb. 2 Vb. 3 Vb. 4 Vb. 5 Vb. 6 Vb. 7 Vb. 8 Vb. 9 Vb. 10 Vb. 11 Vb. 12 Vb. 13 Vb. 14 Vb. 15 Vb. 16 Examples
Quiz Quiz
Main page Introduction Pronunciation Vocabulary Index News

Inleiding ~ Introduction

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

Layout of lesson; possible learning strategies
Dialects and standard Dutch
Dutch versus: English, German, Romance/Slavic languages, Mandarin
Grammar and vocabulary: the learning process

Layout of the Course

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This textbook is intended to be a comprehensive course in the Dutch language for English speakers, but of course people who speak English as a second language are most welcome as well.

Being an Afrikaans speaker is a huge help too, as it is a daughter language of Dutch, though Afrikaans has its differences and words can have different meanings from the same ones in Dutch, and about 95% of Afrikaans vocabulary comes from Dutch. If you are an Afrikaans speaker, this course shall be significantly easier. Just remember the different dialects etc. when speaking Dutch.

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

Requirements for the course

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Financial: This course does not cost you a dime.
Audio: Listening and speaking yourself are an important part of language acquisition. Therefore there are many sound files embedded in the course, so do make sure your computer or other device can play them. This includes using an appropriate browser. The author is using Firefox. Chrome might work too, but Internet Explorer does not always show the sound buttons.
Flashcards: We have added links to Quizlet data sets in parallel with each lesson through lesson10. Thus, all 24 lessons of the Beginner Level have Quizlet links. Registration for Quizlet is recommended (It is for free).
Keyboard: We also recommend that you install an international keyboard to deal more easily with the -rather few- diacritics that Dutch uses. For Microsoft operating systems this will tell you how to proceed.

Structure of the course

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The course is divided in three levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Each level consists of two cycles of 4 lessons each. At the beginner and intermediate level each lesson is accompanied by two parallel lessons: a practice lesson and a cultural lesson. That means that the beginner level comprises 2*4*3= 24 lessons in total.

At the advanced level there are no parallel lessons. Starting from scratch, expect to arrive there in a year, depending on how intensively you study. By that time you should be able to start picking your own things to read, newspapers, Wikipedia articles, what have you.

Parallel lessons

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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 practice lesson 1⇒1A that elaborates the material further in conversations, reading material, fill in the blank exercises, small quizzes, pronunciation drills etc., to practice the material in the main lesson and build up vocabulary.
A parallel example lesson 1⇒Vb. 1 that uses pieces of literature, songs, nursery rhymes at times linked to YouTube videos to expose the reader to some Dutch cultural phenomena. In the earlier lessons the material is originally mostly intended for children who are acquiring the language in their playful way. In later lessons the material becomes a bit more adult and involves poetry and other forms of literature and some cultural and historical background information.

In addition there are pages intended to help build up vocabulary, some of which are interwoven in the practice lessons. Other ones are stand alone.

Possible strategies

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Which way the reader wishes to use the book may vary. The recommended strategy for a beginner with no experience is:

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

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 may want to start tackling the language in context of a situation and worry about grammar later might want to start with Lesson 1A or Example 1 and check back for the grammar in Lesson 1 later. But readers are encouraged to revisit pages they have worked on again and again, so the order may be more complicated than this.

For people who have been learning Dutch in other ways and want to revisit a certain topic there is an Index of grammatical and syntactic topics covered.

Layout within main Lessons

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The following topics can typically be found in one of the main lessons:

  1. One or more conversations (Gesprek) or stories (Verhaal) in a colored box, usually with a sound button
    The translation of these textual pieces is given in a drop down box. Words can also be underlined, and the reader can hover the mouse over such a underlined item.
    A vocabulary box on the right hand side that can be opened for easy access to pronunciation, translation and links to WikiWoordenboek
  2. One or more grammar (Grammatica) lessons covering elements of Dutch grammar, with examples often drawn from the conversation, story, or study materials.
  3. Sections (Uw beurt - Your turn) with exercises pertaining to the material of various kinds:
    Fill in the blank
    Pronunciation drills
    Translation assignments
    Modifying sentences
  4. Illustrations of concepts related to the story usually with a sound button
  5. A list of words (Woordenschat) and phrases introduced in the lesson, usually in the conversation, story, or study presentations. including sound files
  6. A link to Quizlet with the vocabulary taught (under construction)
  7. A synopsis of what the reader should have gained, including a cumulative vocabulary count (under construction)

Layout in the practice lessons

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There are often additional texts, many exercises of various sorts and short quizzes to practice what was taught in the main lesson or to repeat what was taught in the lessons before. To further expand vocabulary students may be asked to go to one of the vocabulary pages to study words related to a certain topic. Quizlet links provide another way to brush up on vocabulary

Layout in the example lessons

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In these lessons we will have a look at rhymes, poems, songs etc. Often the student is referred to a YouTube video to watch in order to practice oral understanding and expand vocabulary in the context of Dutch culture. Quizlet links provide another way to brush up on vocabulary.


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Short quizzes are integrated into the practice lessons, but there are also longer quizzes at the end of the two cycles of the Beginner Level.

Rate of acquisition of vocabulary

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Each lesson -its two parallel lessons included- contains on average about 120 new terms. At the end of the Beginner Level the student should know a little over one thousand terms.

The Student and the Lesson

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The text is designed to constitute a comprehensive 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. In most cases sound files are given as an arrow button; they should be listened to multiple times as well, both while reading the text simultaneously, and -once the content is understood- with eyes closed. Complete translations into English are included only in selected places or they are hidden in a drop down box. Most of the text should first be translated by the student using his or her acquired vocabulary and the vocabulary presented at the bottom of each lesson and/or in collapsed boxes in the right hand margin of the text. Hints about the meaning of new, underlined words can also be obtained by the hover method.

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.

There are exercises interspersed throughout the main lesson with additional ones in the practice lessons. They are of various nature. Translation exercises, pronunciation drills, fill-in-the-blanks, adapt a word form, swap to items etc.

The Dutch Language

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Language area in Europe

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. It has about 23 million mother tongue speakers and another 5 million second language speakers. Continue reading about the Dutch language and its history at Wikipedia.


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As a standard language Dutch is a 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.

De grote rivieren

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 speakers. Others are typically perfectly bilingual in their regional tongue and the standard language. But in the way that the standard is spoken there are many regional and social differences in pronunciation or even in syntax and grammar. In Bruges (Flanders), Rotterdam (Netherlands) or Paramaribo (Suriname) Dutch will sound as different as English does in Edinburgh, London or Indianapolis. This course aims at teaching Dutch that would be acceptable to most if not all speakers but will point out a number of important differences that non-native speakers are likely to encounter in their interaction with native speakers.

A major division in the dialects is formed by de grote rivieren the great rivers that run through the Netherlands from east to west on their way to the North Sea as shown in the map. The course is mostly based on Northern standard Dutch, because that is most readily accepted under all speakers, but it will point out some important differences at times and also give examples of other varieties.

A dynamic language

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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 English

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

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.

Some words are even completely the same. (true friends)

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. Dutch is indeed one of easiest languages to learn for an Anglophone. 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. In the course it is introduced bit by bit. The full picture is only described in one of the last lessons (21).

Dutch and German

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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' usually denotes [sx]: an [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), but on the other hand there are differences in how the verb tenses are used. In German the imperfect past tense, like du gabst, sprachst, rettettest is on its way out. In Dutch forms like jij gaf, sprak, redde are alive and kicking and in every day use.

Dutch and Scandinavian languages

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Although Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are North-Germanic languages, which means that the relationship is a bit more distant, speakers of these languages typically do not find Dutch very difficult, because many changes in the language such as the loss of the case endings and of feminine gender are quite similar. Some Scandinavians manage to speak Dutch so well without any discernible accent that people don't realize that they are not Dutch. Swedes may have to pay attention to their intonation, because that is rather different in Swedish.

Dutch and French / Italian and other romance languages

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For speakers of the Romance languages Dutch is by no means an easy language to learn, although if you already speak English some of the problems may already have been overcome.

Dutch is a stress language like English and German. That is: every word has one syllable that is high in pitch, a bit louder, and usually a bit longer than all the other ones. In French those three qualities are not coupled and spread more evenly over the syllables of the word. In Dutch, stressed syllables have either a full vowel (one of twelve) or a diphthong; the unstressed syllables all tend to have a schwa. Intonation is therefore difficult for Romance speakers because the contrasts between the syllables is much smaller in those languages.

Another problem is formed by the separable verbs. There often is no direct equivalent in French for the fine nuances imparted by the separable prefix in Dutch. Often an entirely different verb needs to be substituted, or there is none available.

French speakers usually have little problem with the vowels, but they do tend to speak much more in the front of the mouth than Dutch speakers do. The placement of the sounds is different. For other Romance languages a vowel like u [y] or eu [ø] the ui [ʌy] diphthong might be problematic, as well as the guttural spirants g and ch.

Dutch and Russian / other Slavic languages

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A main problem for Russian speakers lies in the vowel system of Dutch. The vowels a, e, i, o, u all occur in two different qualities. The differences are difficult to hear and reproduce for Russian speakers.

Another problem is the voiced consonants like b, v, d, z. In Dutch they all get devoiced at the end of the word, but that hold for Russian too. However, they often also get devoiced when they follow a voiceless consonant, even in assimilation from the previous word. E.g.

de vele autos - [v]
het vee - [f]

A grammatical problem is that Dutch is a tense language and Russian an aspect language. Dutch has perfect tenses, Russian perfective aspects. They cover the same territory, but one lengthwise the other in the other direction.

Dutch and Mandarin

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Of course the differences are very large and numerous, but one difficulty deserves mention, that of epenthesis. The syllables of Mandarin are either CV or CVn, i.e. they start with a single consonant and end in a vowel or a nasal. In Dutch they can end in other consonants and in fact multiple ones, like herfst is CVCCCC with no less than four consonants at the end. Mandarin speakers need to suppress the tendency to add epenthetic vowels, making it something like herefesete. Epenthetic (inserted) vowels are sometimes used by Dutch speakers too, e.g. werken may well be pronounced werreke, but this is considered dialectal and non-standard and is frowned upon by most speakers.

Vocabulary and Grammar

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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

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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.

In the Example lessons there are also links to YouTube videos where the text of a poem is recited or a song is sung.

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.

As with all languages: the written Dutch language and the spoken Dutch language are by no means identical. At times we will explain the distinction if necessary.

Learning by eye

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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. They are mostly both visual and audio in nature and there are exercises to go with them (still being created).

Throughout the text, more complex discourses (e.g. 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 (Wiktionary is usually on a click or two away). 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 Wikipedia provides 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 (WikiWoordenboek) to which a number of words in the text have been linked for direct reference. WikiWoordenboek usually has an example phrase to go with every dictionary entry to show the word in context. This too is a helpful tool for expanding your vocabulary, as context helps memorization.

Learning grammar and syntax

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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 properly 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.


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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. Descriptions of the pronunciation as in Appendix 1 can only closely, not exactly, convey how Dutch words should be pronounced. This is why there are quite a few buttons on that page that allow you hear what is meant. Do compare!

Of course there are variations in pronunciation. Dutch spoken in the country side of Brabant, in the cities of Amsterdam, Antwerpen or Paramaribo sound pretty different and the same thing can be said for the board room and the back alley. We do present pronunciations from different people and places in the sound files and even more so in the YouTube video links.


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If you have questions or want contact try the dutchgrammar forum. I often hang out there and correct people's stuff or do some exercises