How long does it take to learn Dutch?
Dutch is often described as one of the easiest languages to learn, for a multitude of reasons (we explain briefly here). Dutch lacks the more "complicated" features of many languages, such as the grammatical cases found in German, Russian, Finnish and others. This ease of learning makes Dutch very attractive for newcomers who enjoy the thought of rapid progress, particularly those who may have struggled to learn other languages.
In this article, we'll delve into the factors that can influence how quickly you can learn Dutch.
When it comes to learning a new language, some are undoubtedly harder to learn than others for adults. In the United States, the Foreign Service Institute is responsible for training diplomatic staff; this includes language learning. The FSI classify languages into various categories based on their difficulty for English speakers. Below you can see some of these rankings.
|Hours to proficiency
As you can see, Dutch is categorised as a Category 1 language alongside French and Spanish. This is the lowest level of difficulty among the rankings. According to FSI, Category 1 languages like Dutch are the "easiest" for English speakers to learn.
How long it will take to learn Dutch depends what level you are currently at, and what level you are aiming for. Do you already know a little Dutch? Do you want to be a basic user able to hold simple conversations, an independent user at an intermediate level, or conversationally fluent near the level of a native speaker?
In a classroom context, it will typically take around 24 weeks of study or 600 hours to achieve general professional proficiency in Dutch according to the FSI. This includes both speaking and reading.
To achieve basic fluency, the average is 480 hours according to research by the ACTFL.
So there's the answer, right? It'll take around 600 hours to be 'proficient'? Well, not quite.
Although the above figure is commonly cited, it isn't necessarily very useful. For starters, not everyone will learn in a class; you may never set foot in a classroom. At 600 hours over 24 weeks, that equals 25 hours of study per week. That is simply not feasible for the vast majority of learners. Even with this in mind, it's also worth noting that this is an average; everyone is different and people learn at their own pace in their own style.
If you're highly motivated and have high-quality resources, you might be able to become proficient in fewer than 600 hours.If you're learning part-time and don't have access to high-quality resources or native speakers, it might take you closer to 750 hours or more.(FSI)
Many other factors can influence the speed with which a learner progresses (which we explore a little below). It's also worth noting that these estimates don't account for the time it would take to become truly fluent in the language, which involves a deeper understanding of cultural nuances, idiomatic expressions, and specialised vocabulary.
De kat zat op de mat. Chances are, you already know what this sentence means. 😊
One of the reasons Dutch is relatively easy for English speakers to learn is the number of similarities between the two languages. Both languages belong to the Germanic language family, and this means they share quite a bit of vocabulary and grammatical structures. Here are some key similarities:
- Vocabulary — many Dutch words are almost identical to their English counterparts. For instance, 'brother' in English is 'broer' in Dutch, and 'house' is 'huis'. Sometimes no translation is needed at all: water, arm, glass, experiment, object, station, we, straight, and more.
- Grammar — while Dutch grammar has its peculiarities, the sentence structure is often similar to that of English, making it easier to form basic sentences. Dutch is an SVO (Subject-Verb-Object) language just like English: Ik zie je ("I see you").
- Phonetics — Dutch does have some sounds that aren't present in English (like the guttural 'g'), but the phonetic systems are still more similar than different, making pronunciation easier to grasp.
Factors that influence learning
Although Dutch has a lower degree of difficulty for English speakers, there are a number of factors that can influence how quickly you learn the language.
- Resources — the quality and quantity of learning resources you have at your disposal can make a significant difference. Effective textbooks, language apps, and teachers can speed up your learning process.
- Access to native speakers — immersing yourself in a Dutch-speaking environment or regularly conversing with native speakers can provide a real-world context to your studies, making it easier to grasp the language. Try to connect with native speakers online, over Skype or Discord for example.
- Motivation — as with learning anything new, your level of motivation will directly impact how quickly you progress. Setting achievable goals and celebrating milestones can keep you motivated. Find content you enjoy in Dutch, like music or games.
Dutch is not a difficult language to learn. Learning Dutch as an English speaker is certainly on the more accessible end of the language-learning spectrum. According to FSI's language difficulty rankings, you can expect to spend around 480 hours to achieve basic fluency, and somewhere between 600 and 750 hours to achieve general professional proficiency.
Your actual learning time may vary based on several factors such as the quality of your learning resources, your access to native speakers, and your level of motivation.
With the right combination of resources and dedication, learning Dutch will be no challenge at all. Veel succes! (Good luck!)