When moving to the Netherlands, we didn’t know any Dutch. In less than 3 years, we reached the level enough to pass the Inburgering exam (read the tips here), understand the incoming post without referring to a dictionary and have basic conversations (which is especially useful when talking to kids at playgrounds or communicating with schools and the authorities).
To learn the basics, we started with online resources and found the following ones very helpful.
DuoLingo and Memrise Apps – very useful to learn the words and grammar as well. Duolingo has even grammar rules tables in the web version. But even from the mobile app, you can learn a lot, there are short lessons for building vocabulary and practising grammar. A mobile app is a great way to learn and practise because the lessons are very short (about 2 min) and you can use it everywhere and at any time when you have a couple of minutes of free time, like waiting in line, on a bus etc. Having several short lessons throughout the day is easier to achieve than one but longer one.
Another great online resource is Youtube. We’ve enjoyed Heb je Zin, the ‘soap opera to learn Dutch’ by learndutch.org. This channel has videos on different topics, but this one is the most interesting.
Another great way to learn a language is an audio course. The ones by Michele Thomas: Start Dutch, Total Dutch Foundation Course, Perfect Dutch Intermediate Course we found particularly helpful. With this method, you can easily learn Dutch while going to/from work, walking your dog, ironing – anything which you cannot combine with reading but can easily do with listening.
It’s very important to have practice in order to maintain and develop language skills. Living in the country where you learn the community language, it is easy – you can practise the language at the market, schools etc. I found these places the most encouraging for us to speak Dutch. However, it can be hard to make yourself use the language you are not confident with if you and everybody around speak good English. It’s so much easier to switch back to the language you know better.
While studying at the university, we were practising foreign languages by talking it between ourselves, just for fun, and because nobody (or not many) could understand us in public, so we could discuss anything we wanted and have it in secret. Another option would be to go to speaking clubs, which are usually free, or take speaking lessons, for which you have to pay, of course.
Speaking clubs also offer an informal atmosphere and are not binding, that is you can easily skip a meeting when you cannot come without feeling guilty or missing a part of the course. I found 2 wonderful, gezellig, and free speaking clubs in Haarlem:
De Taalmaatjes is run by a teacher every Thursday morning at Badhuis Leidsebuurt. In addition to good quality time in practising Dutch, there is a nice atmosphere, good music and cheap coffee/ tea/ snacks. You can improve your Dutch even quicker by taking lessons with Ruud, the teacher leading these meetings.
Coffee and Dutch – people who learn Dutch and meet every Friday morning at 10:30 to practise their skills over a coffee or even breakfast, every time at a different cafe. Unlike De Taalmaatjes, there is no structure nor exercises, but the conversation is always lively and there are a couple of Dutch joining the meetings who are happy to answer any questions concerning the language or cultural differences.
Online Resources we haven’t used but considered:
Skype lessons and Italki – you can also learn a language with a teacher online, at a convenient time and in the comfort of your home, or even find a mate for (free) language exchange.
If you prefer in-person lessons, there is a wide range of them listed on the site of the Zuidkennemerland Library.
The only in-person course (well, 10 lessons out of one) I have taken was the one at the Schalkwijk library in Haarlem, which cost 30 Euro for 10 lessons, equaling the price of one lesson at a private school I tried once. The cheap lessons gave me much more than the private expensive one (of course, it’s a personal experience which will differ with every person and school, I’m giving this example as a perspective that price doesn’t always equal quality).
With all that said, it should be understood that not everybody is able to learn languages by themselves, some people need a teacher who will give instructions and answer the questions arising on the way. Others (like us), on the other hand, find it more productive and/ or easier and faster to learn by themselves, choosing the convenient time, place and pace. That is why we found all those resources helpful and didn’t go to a language school to learn Dutch. But! Maybe I should add that we speak several more languages, which also helps. Nevertheless, there are people who don’t have any degree at all and successfully learn online, from books and using other resources for self-learning, without anybody pushing them.
Good luck in finding your best way in learning Dutch!