The real key to successfully learning Dutch? Confidence.
Learning Dutch is (pretty much as mastering any other skill) built on top of three pilars: Motivation, Attitude and Confidence. Together with a few materials, learning tricks and a little feedback, these three characteristics can quantitatively and qualitatively boost your Dutch speaking and interaction skills.
A famous quote made by Theodore Roosevelt is: "Believe you can and you're halfway there." Theodor Roosevelt's wife Eleanor once said: "Confidence comes not from always being right, but from not fearing to be wrong." Both quotes are very important and relevant even to such a thing as the study of Dutch language!
Learning a language is all about expanding your comfort zone in which your inner voice comes up with negative thoughts like "I can't have a proper conversation in Dutch unless I finish this grammar book and learn at least 5000 words." "Noone will understand me." "I'll look like an idiot, they'll laugh at me." Many Dutch learners are used to learn from books, filling in words in gap-fill exercises and, afraid to make mistakes and to look silly, they never actually use the language in real life situations, unless they are really forced to do so. But seeing the language learning proces as an exciting expansion of your comfort zone can make things take a quick 180 degree turn. It will give you energy and a good feeling of new experience. In fact, most of the most succesful Dutch language learners I know are addicted to expanding their comfort zone, when it comes to using the language in new and challenging real life situations.
Many students know a great deal of vocabulary, much more grammar rules than the average Dutch native speaker, the use of all possible verb tenses and prepositional phrases, but there is quite a big discrepancy in these students' minds when it comes to how they view and perceive their own competence. No matter how much vocabulary and grammar they know, they always have the feeling that they "can't talk' and "will look stupid". Many of these students' Dutch is in fact much better than they believe it to be. I can see this very often in Dutch lessons, when they, once they feel good, forget about their own set limits and go in the flow of TELLING you what's on their mind or what they think about a particular issue. Afterwards, they are surprised about their own language performance, realizing that they've just been talking for 20 minutes or longer about deep philosophical or psychological issues, nuclear physics or a complicated movie plot - all in Dutch! For a moment, they forget about their speaking fear and use the language to communicate ideas without limiting self-judgemental thoughts.
And now just a few tips to beat that speaking fear and increase your confidence when speaking Dutch:
- If you make a funny mistake, laugh at yourself! Don't take it (and yourself!) too seriously. The sky is not going to fall because you said hoer instead of huur once again. :)
- Don't feel under pressure when you're speaking Dutch and they are listening and looking at you. They don't wanna judge you, they want to understand what you're saying. You can put this across!
- Have a few phrases guaranteed to spark a small talk. Those little phrases like Hoe gaat het met je? Waar kom je vandaan? or Wat denk jij ervan? said with a good pronunciation and sentence melody will increase your confidence levels for the rest of the conversation.
- Focus on WHAT you want to say and how to express it, not on how they look at you, if they're judging your pronunciation or can hear your accent.
- Speak loud, as sometimes they switch to English just because they couldn't hear you well and can see you're having a little shyness issue there. Not becuase your sentence wasn't correct or your pronunciation was bad.
- Don't take it personally if you speak Dutch and they switch to English. They just want to help you because you look insecure or see a nice opportunity to practice their English. Don't get discouraged, smile and keep answering in Dutch!
We are with you!!! :)