Mechanical

Dutch, Reloaded

What surprises many people visiting Amsterdam is the ubiquity of the English language. As you get get further away from large cities in the Netherlands, you'll find fewer and fewer people who speak English, but for Amsterdam, speaking English is the rule rather than the exception. Frankly, there simply aren't enough Dutch speakers in the world for them to try and fight this. In fact, many Dutch cinemas have films in English with Dutch subtitles — there's not a large enough market to dub the films.

As a result, when you get a job here, you're often told "you just need English". I work for a Dutch company, but our working language is English as we pull people in from all over the world. I'm told we even offer language assistance to help people learn English, but not Dutch. That's frustrating because while you may not need Dutch, it's still a huge advantage. Many smaller shopkeepers (particularly those further from the center) don't speak English. More and more I'm finding people answering spreekt u Engels with nee (no). In fact, even if it weren't for the handful of people here who don't speak English, you simply cannot appreciate a culture (or read your bank statements!) if you don't speak the native language. Thus, I've started to learn Dutch.

Having started with the Pimsleur Dutch program, all I can say is "yuck!". It does a great job of helping you with pronunciation and grammar, but it's almost exclusively spoken material. Thus, while I know that hoe gaat het met u?¹ means "how are you doing?", I wouldn't be able to read or write that with the Pimsleur method. Thus, on the advice of one of my colleagues, I've decided to try Dutch With Ease, based on Assimil's 80 year old system of teaching languages which my colleague claims can take one all the way to level B2 of Dutch proficiency:

Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

In theory I can do this in only about three months or so, but in practice, from what I've read online, it takes folks at minimum half a year. Hopefully living here will give me an advantage. Regardless, I am looking forward to diving in and seeing how well this works.

Tot ziens!


1. Literally, "how goes it with you". It's sort of pronounced as "who hot et met oo", with the final word being the "oo" in "room", not "book".

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Good luck
Hi Ovid,

Points for you for attempting to learn our guttural speech. It's not the easiest of languages and some things won't make sense. My wife is from the US (Michigan) and it took her about a year to achieve decent proficiency (this was part of her integration course back then, I bet studying on your own is more efficient).

Veel succes!
Re: Good luck
Thank you. I'm getting a bit better in some of the guttural pronunciations, but it's quite a trial on my throat.
How does the pronunciation of oo in pool differ from that in book? To me it is the same sound, albeit slightly shorter in book than in pool.
I changed it form "pool" to "room". I suspect there's less variation in pronunciation there. Thanks for catching that.
If we go by the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary or Merriam-Webster, "book" vs "pool" would have been better – unambiguosly /ʊ/ vs /u:/ (OALD) or \u̇\ vs \ü\ (M-W) – while both works allow either vowel for "room".

But given the mess of English vowels all over the world, I'm not even sure if either of these norms coincides with what you intended ... and, not being a native speaker, probably couldn't reproduce it even if. :-P
Sigh. So moving from "pool" to "room" was a bad choice. I'll be more careful about my vowel movements in the future.
I recently discovered http://www.rosettastone.com
Going through the demo impressed me incredibly. I don't know how it fares when it gets more advanced but I think the idea is pretty revolutionary.

I'm going to try it with either Japanese or Mandarin next year.
The language geek I linked to above, Damian, asked me to name the language courses I knew about. I could name Rosetta, Pimsleur and Barron's. He pointed out that the reason I knew about those was largely due to marketing. You know who they are because they tell you who they are, but it's worth checking out what others have to say.

Apparently a lot of site which have great reviews of their product are affiliates of Rosetta Stone, but language forums are filled with people saying that it didn't do much for them and less heavily marketed courses have actually been much better for them. I personally don't know if this is true, but I'm now seeing some of this as I dig into languages.
Dubbing
(Anonymous)
In fact, many Dutch cinemas have films in English with Dutch subtitles — there's not a large enough market to dub the films.

Cost isn't the only reason most movies aren't dubbed - probably not even the main reason. People aren't used to movies being dubbed, and in general don't like it. People old enough to remember the time one could first receive German television are scarred for life hearing bad German dubbing (after hearing John Wayne say "Hande Hoch, Mister", you never want to hear any dubbing again). About the only dubbing done in the Netherlands are movies and television series aimed at children. With the children voices dubbed by adults imitating a child's voice. Which makes most adults cringe when watching a movie or series that has been dubbed, putting them even further off dubbing.

Good luck! I'm jealous. I love languages and wouldn't mind learning another, especially if I had the chance to be immersed in it while learning it! :)