Three Times Ten Steps To Learn Dutch

Adrianus Van den End

Ten Steps To Understand Dutch Grammar And Learn To Read Dutch

Here we'll list ten steps you can take to read Dutch and to understand what you're reading. It comes down to understanding the language and then consuming it. You don't have to rote learn all the grammar, but it is a good idea to get a comparative understanding of Dutch grammar before you start to read.

  1. Understand in general what grammar is and learn basic concepts - What are nouns, verbs, pronouns, articles? If you don't know, check out our Blog item on generic grammar concepts here! If you do know already, go to step 2.
  2. Find Dutch grammatic components in a Dutch text - Check out the the third part of this article, containing a text in Dutch with pop-up translation, and find examples of verbs, nouns, pronouns, articles and coordinating conjunctions to learn the main components that you'll encounter. This step is about getting a basic understanding of Dutch grammatical components. In the third step you will be asked to read the second paragraph of this article and try to understand most of the possible Dutch grammar components and peculiarities. 
  3. Understand Dutch words and root words and their forms - If you know only a few hundred Dutch root words, especially verbs, you can deduce the meanings of thousands of other words. Learning one verb stem while knowing verb grammar teaches you dozens of verb forms. Read our "Ten Components Or Peculiarities Of Dutch Grammar" below. They're just to give an indication of the generic grammatical components or specific Dutch grammar usages that you might encounter.
  4. Find the roots in Dutch words in actual texts - Look at the third chapter of this Blog, where we display ten paragraphs of a Dutch text, and try find the forms of "hebben (to have)" or "zijn (to be)". It will still be difficult but your skills will grow once you read a lot of pop-up translated text enabling you to quickly see the meaning of a word and grasp the connection to existing words you know. In the end you should understand a lot of new words without even looking them up. Just see this step as learning to recognize that Dutch roots and words formed from those roots actually exist, don't try to learn anything. Once you start reading pop-up translated Dutch this is a skill you will automatically acquire. If you're fine with reading Dutch and recognizing verb forms, go to step 6 immediately instead of playing around with single words.
  5. Try to read a Dutch sentence and make out what is meant by it - When reading pop-up translated Dutch you can see the meaning of every word in an instant because of the mouse-over pop-up correct translation. However, since word order might be difficult from English, it can still be a chore to puzzle together its meaning. When you're reading a Bermuda Word e-book there will be a translation of the whole sentence given as well, for example: hij (he) gaf (gave) hem (him) een (a) hand (hand) [hij gaf hem een hand; they shook hands]. In general once you know the story it is much easier to understand the meaning of a sentence even if Dutch might use different words to express something. This shows that it is much easier to learn and remember words that are shown as part of a story. Words are part of sentences, and sentences are part of a story, and stories are what language and culture is made up from. So reading stories is just by far the best way to learn a foreign language. If you are pretty ok with puzzling together the meaning of Dutch sentences, continue to paragraph 6.
  6. Read a Dutch page with pop-up translation - re-read it until you feel you can read it without having to look up too many words anymore. If you want to read more pages before committing yourself to a whole e-book, download the free Dutch demo product of Bermuda Word. There should be almost 20 free pages in there with pop-up translation and audio for you to study. However, it's more fun to read the whole story of course than just the first two pages, and by buying Dutch Fairytales and/or Short Stories you also support us in the end to create e-books for obscure languages that will never be commercially viable.
  7. Get the Bermuda Word e-book Dutch Fairytales and start practicing - Just by reading and looking up words with the immediate mouse-over you will be memorizing the most frequent words in Dutch like "in (in)", de (the)", "het (the)", "een (a)", "naar (to)", "op (on)" etc and dozens and dozens more.You can also use the Easy Test in the e-book software to see and practice all high frequency words, by setting "Easy Level" to more than 10 or 15 number of occurrences, for example, depending on how frequent the Dutch words should be.
  8. Read a Dutch story from one of Bermuda Word's e-books - read a chapter of the Dutch Fairytales (and not just the title & contents chapter), for starters, try to reread it until you understand it, and let yourself be tested by the built-in software on your vocabulary knowledge of the chapter.
  9. Practice medium frequency words - Set the Easy level to a lower number or use the Average level and tests to test words that occur between 5 and 18 times to learn other words that occur often in Dutch. With only a small amount of words (relatively to the total Dutch vocabulary) you can read 95% of texts. By the way, you can also skip this step and just reread the first chapter(s) of the e-book, as medium frequency words will often occur enough in the first chapters to make you remember them (you'll look them up just hovering over the word until you know the word and don't need to look it up anymore).
  10. Read the Dutch e-books - Reread the chapters until you're confident you know the words. Click any words you don't know, which may still be dozens or even hundreds, and use the built-in spaced repetition software to test them until you know them. Simply put, the software will calculate how often you have to test the words until they're permanently memorized. When you have finished our two Bermuda Word Dutch e-books you can probably read up to 95% of an average Dutch bestseller.


Ten Components Or Peculiarities Of Dutch Grammar

  1. Nouns - Can be single or plural, like in English. Dutch has some cognitives but not many (tennis, computer, cool) but there is an etymological semblance to many words (fantasie; fantasy, brood; bread, vader; father, koe; cow) so that might help your word learning. Another specific aspect of Dutch nouns is the diminutive (suffix -tje or -je): "Been (Leg)" and "Beentje (Little leg)" or "Fiets (Bicycle)" or "Fietsje (Little Bicycle)".
  2. Gender - Dutch grammar is similar to German grammar and to a lesser extent English grammar. For Dutch nouns, like with German, there are different definite articles ("de" and "het" both meaning "the") for which the correct article has to be learned by experience (it is "het dorp (the village)" but "de stad (the city)"). For this, extensive reading is perfect. Words and their articles are assimilated naturally. See some more info in this article on Dutch grammar.
  3. Verb first, second and third singular and plural persons - Instead of the simple "I come" and "We come" there is a difference in conjugations for verbs per first, second/third in singular and the plural person, for single second and third person, and for plural all the conjugations are the same: "ik kom (I come)", "jij komt (you come)", "hij/zij komt (he/she comes)", "wij komen (we come)", "jullie komen (you come)", "zij komen (they come)". See examples of all verb inflections here.
  4. Verb past tense - Past tense is more homogenous: "ik kwam (I came)", "jij kwam (you came)", "hij/zij kwam (he/she came)", "wij kwamen (we came)", "jullie kwamen (you came)", "zij kwamen (they came)". See examples of all verb inflections here.
  5. Verb future tense - Future tense is formed with "zal (shall/will)". "Ik zal komen (I will come)", "jij zult komen (you shall come)", "hij/zij zal komen (he/she will come)", "wij zullen komen (we shall come)", "jullie zullen komen (you will come)", "zij zullen komen (they will come)". See examples of all verb inflections here.
  6. Verb conditional tense - Conditional tense is formed with Dutch "zouden (should/would). "Hij zou toch komen? (He would come wouldn't he?)". See examples of all verb inflections here.
  7. Verb subjunctive tenseOne quaint verb rule specifies a different conjugation when the second person singular present tense is used in a question (removal of the standard -t suffix): Note the difference in "Jij bent Kees (You are Kees)" and "Ben jij Kees? (Are you Kees?)". The Dutch form "u" which is more polite than "jij" will use the conjugation of the 3rd person singular so stays the same: "U bent Kees (You are Kees)" and "Bent u Kees? (Are you Kees?)". See more examples here.
  8. Pronounciation I - Because there is no phonetic difference, a difficult aspect of Dutch verbs (even for Dutch people) is the spelling of before mentioned verbs with stem ending in "d" (ik word; become, jij wordt, you become, etc). See more examples here.
  9. Pronounciation II - Dutch has a lot more double vowels than English and the pronounciation may be a bit difficult for beginners. "Meer (lake, or more)" is pronounced like English "mere, a mere dozen". And "Maar (but)" is pronounced like a drawn out "Far faaaaaar away". There's also the -ie- sound similar to english -ee-: "Tien (ten)" is pronounced like a short version of English "teen" (say "teen" really fast and you've got the Dutch "tien"). The Bermuda Word Dutch e-books have audio so this makes learning the pronunciation very easy. Try to repeat listening to the audio without looking too much at the text and try to understand what is said...
  10. Adverbs and adjectives - Are used to describe nouns (adjective, beautiful SHE) or verbs (adverbs, she RUNS beautiful, or more difficult to see, she IS beautiful). They can differ when used as adverb or used as adjective. For example "ze is mooi (she is beautiful)" and "de mooie vrouw (the beautiful woman)". Or "hij is gek (he is crazy)" and "de gekke kerel (the crazy fellow)".


Learn To Read Ten Paragraphs Of Dutch Text

Components of the Dutch language are given as part of a Dutch text. If you are working on a Desktop PC, you can move your cursor over any word in the Dutch text to see its meaning. In our standalone e-books the translation is immediate (here there is a tiny lag because HTML title tags are used).


  1. Het   was   een   koude   winterdag. It {noun} was {verb} a {article} cold {adjective} winterday {noun}.
  2. Bij   de   haard   van   het   stadhuis   zaten   de   Kamper   raadslieden   samen. At the {article} fireplace {noun} of the {article} city-house (city hall) {noun} sat {verb} the  {article} from Kampen councillors {noun, plural} together. 
  3. Heel   gezellig   na   lange   en   wijze   debatten   over   diverse   resoluties,    welke   over   de   burgers   zouden   worden   uitgestort.
  4. Men   durfde   eigenlijk   niet   goed   naar   huis   te   gaan,   want   de   gure   Oostenwind   had   zelfs   voor   de   raadsleden   geen   genade,
  5. Men   besloot   nog   wat   te   redeneren   over   van   alles   en   nog   wat.   "Wat   een   storm!"   rilde   een   van   de   raadsheren.
  6. "Het   heeft   vannacht   harder   gevroren   dan   ik   ooit   heb   meegemaakt,   en   de   tante   van   mijn   vrouw   zegt,   dat   het   de   strengste   winter   is,   die   ze   ooit   heeft   meegemaaktEn   dat   wil   wat   zeggen,   want   ze   wordt   met   het   voorjaar   zevenennegentig   jaar."   
  7. "Hu,"   riep   de   burgemeester.   "Laten   we   de   bode   roepen,   om   hem   nog   wat   houtblokken   op   de   haard   te   laten   leggen."    De   bode   werd   geroepen.
  8. Hij   kwam,   en   groette   de   edelachtbare   heren   met   een   zeer   diepe   buiging,   waaraan   niemand   enige   aandacht   schonk.
  9. Met   een   stem   echter,   alsof   hij   een   veldheer   was,   die   bevel   geeft   een   lang   belegerde   vesting   te   bestormen,   riep   de   burgemeester :    "Wij   hebben   het   koud.   Leg   blokken   op   de   haard."   
  10. Toen   de   blokken   gebracht   waren,   en   naar   wens   op   de   vlammen   waren   gelegd,   om   hun   vonnis   te   ondergaan,   schikten   de   wijze   raadslieden   zich   nog   dichterbij   het   vuur   dan   tot   dusver.