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15 Tips on how to expand your Dutch vocabulary

What is more important when learning a language; knowledge of grammar or acquisition of vocabulary? Well, you do need words to form your very first sentences. Putting them in the right form and order, has to do with grammar. That’s why knowledge of grammar and acquisition of vocabulary are close friends. Of course, you all know Duolingo and flashcards, so we like to share some other ideas that may help you expand your vocabulary.

1. Use your mobile phone

Use your mobile phone to take pictures of anything you come across that you do not understand. This can be a headline in a newspaper, or a word in a text, or a sign or text in the street, in a shop or restaurant. Snap it!

2. Create your own dictionary

What to do with all those pictures? Create your own dictionary, in paper form or online. Write down all words that are unknown to you in your little booklet or online document. Look up the meaning and write it down or make small drawings.

3. Getting familiar

Just writing and reading is not enough. Form simple sentences in which you use your new words, that’s how you will remember them. You can conduct a reality test on yourself, by implementing phrases in conversations with your Dutch colleagues and neighbors.

4. Television & subtitles

When you watch an English-spoken movie on tv, switch on Dutch subtitles or when it is a Dutch movie, switch on English subtitles. That is how Dutch children learn English easily, it might work for you as well.

5. Watch the Dutch newscast

Watch Dutch newscast, for kids Jeugdjournaal and for adults Journaal. Watching the news in Dutch might be a bit challenging. No worries, on UitzendingGemist you can watch each item over and over again, until you get the complete picture. You can start with just one news item first.

6. Watch video’s

Watch video’s together with your tutor, discuss the subject, and test your skills by writing a summary of what you have seen.

7. Label objects

A traditional way to familiarize yourself with the names of daily possessions is to simply label step by step your kitchen, living room, bathroom , bedroom, wardrobe, your drawer, your friend, office etc.

8. Know your false friends

Especially for those who are afraid to make mistakes, you can create a special ‘Danger Category’ in your personal vocab list. Check it out on Wikipedia´s Lijst van Valse Vrienden

9. Practice synonyms

Waiting for the bus or tram? Instead of checking your email, check and play around with some words that are new to you.

10. Dutch sayings & expressions

Lost in the jungle of Dutch expressions and sayings? You can check the meaning at and sometimes find the equivalent in English or French as well.

11. Abbreviations

The Dutch love it! Welcome to the world of Dutch abbreviations. Research the abbreviations at

12. Sing a song

While cooking or working out, put on one of your favorite Dutch songs, and sing along.

13. Unconscious learning

Put on the radio, a podcast, Dutch music or tv, when you’re travelling, waiting, cooking or cleaning. At a certain point you will notice that you understood what was said! Geweldig! (Great!)

14. Dutch theatre

In a number of theaters in The Netherlands you can watch Dutch performances with English subtitles.

15. The weather

Last but not least, watch and study the Dutch weather forecast, and practice your weather chit-chat with any Dutch local you meet in the elevator, in the bus, at the coffee machine at work etc.

What else?

Do you have funny tips on expanding vocabulary, that you like to share with us? You can send your contribution to

Go with the flow

On our new website, that we hope to launch in September, you will find on the homepage ‘The magic phrase of the day’. This hot sauce for your Dutch conversations will help you sound like a local. Coming soon!


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This is an article for native Dutch speakers, who were used to speak Dutch at work, but because of international colleagues, need to speak English, at least at all team meetings. Although most of the Dutch have a rather good understanding of English, using this language for professional purposes needs a little more attention. You might think, ‘Why is this so important? Isn’t it great that ‘we’ are flexible and able to have all meetings in Dutch now?’


Yes, it is important! There is something very interesting about the Dutch language and all languages in general. It is like when you were born near Table Mountain in Cape Town. Ask a person who has been living there his whole life, ‘Did you ever go to the top?’ 99% of all encounters, the person will respond; ‘No, why should I? Would you ever climb a mountain or take a tour to the top and enjoy the view, when you were born next to it? No! Never been there, the idea never came up.’ The mountain always was, is and always will be there, no questions. It is as normal as the air you breathe. That is how most people feel about their own language, it is a natural state of mind and knowledge. Only when you start learning another language or when you start teaching your language, you’ll come across some very interesting issues. How does that work for the Dutch and their language? And how can others perceive that?

Just a few quotes from internationals;
‘When the Dutch need something from you, they can be very straightforward, which gives the impression that they are rude or agitated.’
‘When the Dutch ask you something, it feels like an order, there is no politeness, softness, kindness.’
‘Now and then, I feel deeply offended by the way the Dutch speak to me. Taking my Dutch colleagues into consideration, this seems to be a normal way of communication. I do my best to get along with it.’


Everyone knows this marvelous guy, who always can fix any problem, and on top of that, did you know that he is also extremely proficient in different languages. In Germany he speaks German, in France he speaks French, in Spain he speaks Spanish, in Italy he speaks Italian, but in The Netherlands, he speaks English. The Dutch, watching James Bond, Superman, and all contemporary English-speaking television heroes and role models, literally grow up hearing English every day. That’s why we speak English ‘so well’. Back to the mountain! The Dutch mountain is the huge mountain of little words, that makes speaking Dutch so difficult. The funny thing is, the Dutch are not aware – living in their flat country – of the huge impact these little words. By the way, how to translate them into English? No idea, just leave it out.


Contradictory to James, not everyone knows Margarita; she is an expat from Brazil, and she almost quit her job recently. The reason is ‘little words’, or more specifically, the missing of little words, correctly translated into the English language. What happened? Margarita works in a middle size company in The Netherlands, where all employees including the board are Dutch. Her team is in a meeting together and, because of Margarita, the meeting is not in Dutch, but in English. Which can be considered as very kind, since they are making an attempt to include Margarita to the meeting. When her manager asks her ‘Can you take notes?’, Margarita feels a sudden anger coming up, ‘why order/command me in such a rude way?’ There have been a few other small communication incidents earlier, and this really is the straw that breaks the camel’s back!

A Dutch will hardly understand what is going on, why Margarita feels upset. When we analyze this situation, what her manager would have said in Dutch is ‘Kun jij even notuleren?’ of ‘Zou jij even kunnen notuleren?’ of ‘Kun jij misschien even notuleren?’ ‘Even; ‘misschien,’ little words that soften the Dutch language and should be translated with the famous word ‘please’, because they actually mean ‘please’. The way Margarita was addressed, shocked her to her core, and it felt like a straightforward command that translated to: ‘Do it, hey!’ One of her colleague’s was able to interfere and explain the situation to her, that there was no bad intention at all. Finally, Margarita did not leave the meeting, nor the company, nor the country.


Margarita’s manager is a nice guy, who – like all Dutch natives – sprinkles little words like ‘even, eens, maar, hoor (!), misschien’ throughout their conversations all day. The Dutch, not aware that these words stand for ‘please’, will not translate these words with ‘please’ when they speak English, which makes their English sound rude. Nevertheless, if you leave these words out in Dutch conversations with native Dutch speakers, they will feel offended as well! For the Dutch; just give it a try, 24 hours without any ‘even, eens, maar, misschien, hoor’, and tell me how you feel.

Do internationals need to know this? It might be useful, to be able to reconsider your feelings and see it from a different perspective. Do the Dutch need to know this? As a native Dutch speaker, you better! You of course want to be polite and friendly in your communication. The last thing you want is for internationals who came to your company – with their specific qualities and experience – to leave, because of communication issues.


Tip for the Dutch: Watch your James Bond movies once again. Although he can be a bit rough, our James is a real English gentleman. Just analyze the dialogues on the word ‘please’, and imagine how you would say these phrases in natural Dutch.

Tip for Dutch companies; Make sure your employees speak the level of Dutch required for working in an international team. Flowently can help you and design an English course tailored to the needs of your company.

Tip for international and Dutch employees and HR teams; Flowently offers Intercultural Workshops, that will help you become aware of your unconscious cultural preferences. This will provide insight in Dutch history, culture and customs and can help you feel at home more easily.
Tip for internationals; Learn Dutch with Flowently and you will learn practical conversational Dutch, that cannot be provided by books solely.
Shaken or stirred? Geef mij maar een biertje!  (maar = please)


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„Why and how should you learn Polish?”


Come on, the reason to learn ANY language is to broaden our horizons, challenge our brains and talk to people representing different cultures. So let’s rephrase the questions thus: if you decide to learn Polish, will you be able to use it? I believe the answer is… tak (yes), because there are many people to practice with! 38 million inhabitants of Poland (almost double the number for Netherlands and Belgium counted together) make us the fifth largest nation of the European Union. Add another 20 million Poles scattered all around the Globe. High chances of meeting one of us even in the grocery store around the corner!


Oczywiście [oh-chee-vish-tje] (of course)! Polish is an Indo-European language, hence a relative to English, German, Dutch, etc., and no relative to Hungarian, Arabic, or Chinese. The languages most similar to Polish are Czech and Slovak – with a bit of effort, we can understand our southern neighbors. However, their languages sound like children talk to us… and it’s exactly the same the other way round.
I see many Westerners taking up Russian if they want to learn a Slavic language. Unfortunately, Russian is quite different than Polish. It doesn’t even use the same method of writing. Polish is written with Latin alphabet (with a few tiny additions), which makes it a lot easier to learn than Russian with its own Cyrillic script.


Okay, sometimes it seems so. For example, chrząszcz may look quite terrifying indeed. But what if I tell you that these nine letters form only five sounds? Think of such examples as “sh”, “ch”, and “ph” in English or “tsch” in German. The latter is really extreme, as it uses four letters for a single sound! Even if chrząszcz [khshonshch] is still pretty tough to pronounce (even for us natives!), you won’t have to say it too often – it means… a beetle.


It’s not complicated at all! Some words (like the poor chrząszcz) may challenge your tongue, but they won’t challenge your brain. At least once you have learned the sound each letter stands for. Unlike English, whose pronunciation is anything but logical and coherent, in Polish the letters never abandon their fixed pronunciation. They show the same loyalty and persistence as the Polish people did during 123 years of non-independence (1795-1918). Despite all the hardships, the language and culture was never forgotten, which makes it even more interesting to explore.

Do you feel like learning Polish now? I hope your answer is tak!

Written by Natalia Wojnakowska

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“How can you remember so many words in so many languages?”

Remembering individual words is hard, especially in your fourth, sixth, or eighth language. That’s why I always try to make connections. When I look up a word in a dictionary, I examine its neighbors as well – are they related? Are they also worth learning?

As a result, instead of memorizing only the word for, let’s say, „clock“ (and putting myself in danger of forgetting it quite soon), I end up learning the whole „family“ encompassing also “alarm clock“, “clockwise“, and “counterclockwise”. Then, you have the abstract words. They are usually complex and hence easier to dismantle into parts.

Let’s take the Hindi word for “tolerance” – सहनशीलता ‘sahanśiltaa’.

There are three components here: सहन ’sahan’ – patience, endurance + adjective-forming शील ’śil’ + noun-forming ता ’ta’.

If you substract ता ’ta’, you have the adjective “tolerant”.

If you add the negative prefix अ ‘a’ – you have the noun with the opposite meaning, “intolerance”.

That’s how I also teach – pointing out similarities and connections to my students.


“Should I rather focus on writing or speaking?” This is a false alternative. That‘s not the point. The clue is to form sentences by yourself. And then expend those sentences over time. Depending on your personal traits, you may prefer to write things down (keeping a diary in a foreign language is a great idea!) or talk to yourself in a target language. Just don’t do it too loud when you’re outside!

A good tutor (like me and all of us at Flowently :)) will not stop at teaching you ready-made sentences, but will make you rephrase them to make sure you understood the concept. Once you’ve heard „I am wearing a shirt“, you will be asked to produce another sentence like „you are wearing shoes”. Unless it’s Hebrew, which expresses wearing clothes and wearing shoes with two different verbs…


“I’ve had some lessons but still I don’t feel like I really know the language.” Find the ways to use what you’ve learnt outside the classroom. Chat with real people. Listen to music. Maybe at first you will just get just a few basic words of the song (“that was a ‘no’ and I understood it, yay!”). After several weeks or months of learning, upon hearing it again you will be surprised to find out how much you understand now. Hardly anything beats this joy! And, yes, “joy” is the key word. If learning languages makes you happy, you will keep on doing it and adding more and more of them to your list!

By Flowently tutor: Natalia Wojnakowska

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‘Heb je je bagage? Ik neem de paraplu wel. Even mijn portemonnee pakken. De chauffeur wacht op ons!’ This is just an ordinary conversation in Dutch between two people travelling. Or isn’t it ? Taking a closer look, it is filled with ‘Dutchified’ French words: bagage (luggage), paraplu (umbrella), chauffeur (driver), portemonnee (wallet).

It all started with ‘the little corporal’ Napoleon Bonaparte, who annexed The Netherlands to the French kingdom. From the late Middle Ages the French language was spoken by the Dutch elite. From 1810 until 1813 The Netherlands belonged to France and French was, in addition to Dutch, the official language of The Netherlands. This can also be seen on the Dutch coat of arms  ‘Je maintiendrai!’ meaning ‘I will maintain!’


This is one of the reasons why we have adopted so many French words. And most likely why the Dutch are complete Francophiles. They adore the wines from Bordeaux and Bourgogne, the French cuisine and the summerhouses with a view onto the vineyards. Growing up in Amsterdam, you’d probably expect dishes like ‘stamppot’ on the menu at home(a typical Dutch stew, with mashed potatoes and kale, endive or carrots) but in my mum’s kitchen, French dishes dominated. ‘Quiche Lorraine’, ‘coq au vin’, ‘clafoutis’, French onion soup and escargots (snails). I was familiar with, and have enjoyed these dishes, since early childhood.


The Dutch language contains seventy five percent borrowed words. Even so, it’s not just French that dominates. Through the ages the Dutch language adopted Latin, Greek and German words. After 1945 there was an explosion of English words and the anglicization became the norm. Notice the amount of English words being used in Dutch advertisements. English is good for catchy slogans. ‘Bottomline, commitment, core competence’ are just a few examples of many words that are common in Dutch business jargon.


Anglicization and Frenchification also occurred under the influence of the music world, film and literature. In The Netherlands the dubbing of movies doesn’t exist, so appreciating English, American and French movies made it easier to get a taste of these languages. I remember looking forward to watching Leonardo DiCaprio on tv in Barcelona, but then feeling betrayed by the strange voice uttering words of Spanish. Nothing beats the real thing!


So, watching Dutch television, series and movies will definitely help to master the Dutch vocabulary. If you speak some  French, this will work to your advantage too. The same counts of course for your English vocabulary. Be aware of the snake in the grass though, it may be tempting to switch to English completely when the Dutch intend to be helpful by speaking English. Stick to the ‘Dutchified English’ when practicing Dutch. You will become more aware of the ‘Dutchified’ French and English words when you sign up for a customized, private language session with one of the Flowently tutors (, to conquer the genuine Dutch vocabulary. They’ll explain all grammar and vocabulary to you,  to help you master the Dutch language and encourage you to take part in Dutch social life in The Netherlands.

Written by Nathalie Ezendam Keller

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Dear language learners. This post is about fun in learning, for all of you out there studying a foreign language. Think about the long-term and stay strong in these difficult times of the Covid-19. Our national hero football player Johan Cruijf always said ‘Elk nadeel heb z’n voordeel / each disadvantage has it’s advantage, or the other way around? There are plenty of technological solutions and fun things to do while you are in retreat at home!


I myself have native fluency in Dutch, German and English and have above medium level of Portuguese and Spanish. At the moment I am learning mandarin Chinese. I can tell you that learning a language is a journey.

While at home in The Netherlands I would study Spanish by listening to audio and even using traditional Spanish textbooks. When I then went to Cadiz, Spain, I worked on preparing a camp site and would always try to chat with everyone in Spanish while on break and try to understand what everyone was saying in Spanish. I would write down all the shopping items on paper and repeat them and try to pronounce them. The people around me were very encouraging or just simply laughed at me. That is something I mostly did not mind because I would just start laughing too. Just persevering is the trick. Even when obnoxious. Try to find people that enjoy helping you!


It is important as a language learner to not be too hard on yourself and allow yourself to make mistakes openly, as I have found this the fastest way of becoming fluent in a language. The way to achieve this is to spend as much time being emerged in the foreign language of your choice as possible.

When I could not be in a target country of my targeted language, I would always try to google in the language that I was aiming to learn. This can be very hard for languages with another alphabet, but Google Translate is getting better and better. There are also nice movies or even series in the target language, which you will find enjoyable and helps you when you are in a more passive mood. I would even prohibit myself from watching YouTube in English but only see Spanish entertainment (like music videos and rap). That way your normal time spent on entertainment also becomes language learning. Even if it is not so fast, it all adds up.


The fastest way for learning a foreign language, is getting a tutor! This can be an experienced teacher who speaks the language natively and also knows how to explain grammar and word structures. Also, they can help translate some words which you find in an interesting article you have read or a music video, which is more clear than looking up a literal translation.
I have used Duolingo and audio books to get me to the basics of mandarin Chinese for the first one hundred days of learning, but from now on I use a Chinese tutor as this accelerates my learning and helps me find better strategies for learning! Good luck to you all, you can find a suitable private tutor on Flowently! The tutor will work with you via Skype, Zoom, or WhatsApp video. We all hope the Covid-19 crisis is over soon. We continue to offer digital learning and in the near future you will be able again to meet our local tutors in person. For now, I am confident that you will find a great match with one of our online language tutors or let us help you find a tutor! Hang in there!

Written by Ben Ziskoven