I’ve lived 4 years in the Netherlands with only knowing “dank je wel” and “gezellig”. I even got a bike only after the first year (it was a big mistake not getting it on day one), so the desire not to integrate was quite strong. And I’m not embarrassed to admit that the ultimate motivation to start learning the language was the requirement for permanent residence.
I am not a fan of group courses. I like to do everything at my own pace. Even though my workplace had Dutch courses, I felt quite lazy to sign up and actually keep going to one. So I’ve embarked on my own journey in learning Dutch.
After spending about a year doing nothing more than learning words with flashcards and a couple of months preparing specifically for exams, I was able to pass the Inburgering. I’ve written down some tips that helped me along the way.
I am convinced it is impossible or just unnecessarily hard to learn words without flashcards.
In short, brain scientists found that if you repeat the same thing in increasing intervals (today, then tomorrow, then in 3 days, then in a week, etc.) you’ll get a very solid memory. I use an app called Anki, it is available on all platforms and syncs between desktop and mobile. You add your words, it creates a schedule for you.
- The key here is to make a habit of doing the cards every day. If you already use some to-do list app, create a repeating task to do your flashcards to remind yourself.
- Make sure to create cards in both directions. I’ve made the mistake of creating only Dutch → English and that was enough to start reading texts and pass the reading exam, but after I’ve realized I couldn’t do any writing on my own because I needed English → Dutch for that.
- Since it is impossible to remember the correct “het” or “de”, for all the nouns create a card with the article, so not “hoofd”, but “het hoofd”. Use Welk Lidwoord website to find out the correct one.
- There are many existing Dutch decks for Anki, but I strongly suggest making your own. It is nicer to learn words that you know the source of and the process of adding a word already kickstarts remembering.
If you want more inspiration around spaced repetition, check the great article “Augmenting Long-term Memory” by Michael Nielsen.
Read some books for children
Learning a new language is a great opportunity to read some classic goofy stories. I’ve enjoyed the following:
- “De kat met de hoed” (“The Cat in the Hat”) by Dr. Seuss.
- “Alle verhalen van Kikker & Pad” (“Frog and Toad Are Friends”) by Arnold Lobel.
- “De Kleine Prins” (“The Little Prince”) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Lots of hidden wisdom in those. Add new unknown words to your flashcards and keep reading!
Pick a self-study book
Children’s books are great, but unfortunately, you also need to read some boring texts about ordering a coffee, asking for the direction in the city, or water cooler small talk about the weather.
I’ve used “Nederlands in gang” for the words and grammar and “Welkom in Nederland” to pass KNM (society and culture exam). Those 2 books should be enough.
Remember to add full phrases and KNM facts (“What the hell is muisjes?”) to the flashcards!
Read some news websites
I live in Amsterdam, so reading the Amsterdam section on “Het Parool” or AT5 helped me to pick up some new words and get to know about some cool events around me (but also some gruesome stories about dead bodies in the canal, so beware).
Try YouTube shows with subtitles
- NPO3, watch for the “CC” icon under the video.
- Het Klokhuis, no subtitles, but videos are quite short and most of the time auto-generated subtitles work well.
- Zondag met Lubach, some older videos have subtitles. Slowing down the playback speed also helps.
I’ve also tried a Dutch TV show on Netflix (“Toon”), but it was too complex for me to watch more than a couple of episodes.
Keeping the owl happy probably helped, but I didn’t do it when preparing for exams at all.
Practice test exams
To get familiar with the system, make sure to go through at least a couple of test exams for each section (reading, writing, etc.) on the official inburgeren.nl website.
I also found test exams from Ad Appel helpful, because they have examples of good answers.
What I didn’t do, but probably should’ve
I didn’t have any native speakers to practice with. I’ve tried ordering food and coffee in Dutch, but most of the time I gave up by the time I heard a first response I could not understand. Speaking practice is the one thing that group courses give you from the beginning.
Sign up for exams early
This is the ultimate motivation to actually go through with the exams. It also can be quite busy, so if you try to search for available dates today you’ll probably be only able to actually do exams in 2 months.