Late last year, I had the pleasure of being in touch with Margreet Kwakernaak, author of Dutch for Dummies (2nd edition) and director of the language school, Suitcase Talen in Almere. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to review a copy, published recently by Pearson. After spending some time browsing through and trying it out for myself, I highly recommend it.
If you’re brand new to learning the Dutch language, this book is an excellent introduction. It offers a no-nonsense approach, where you can dive in immediately. Just like the Dutch culture, it’s very practical and is well organised. It starts with a clear explanation of the layout and then follows through in each section and chapter with a wealth of useful information and of course, language and grammar.
If you’re a little more experienced in speaking Dutch, I still think this book is worth buying. I already passed the NT2 exams (Nederlands als Tweede Taal – Dutch as a 2nd language) some time ago, but have found this book really useful and plan on taking even more time to read through it in more depth in the coming months. It will no doubt stay for many years on my bookshelf as a useful reference.
Cartoons are scattered throughout and provide both humour (useful in a learning environment) but also keen insights into the culture. On the same note, there are plenty of useful additional written cultural pointers – for example, five things you should never do in The Netherlands and ten favourite Dutch Expressions. From my own experiences of learning Dutch over the past decade, I’ve found that these cultural understandings are just as important as the actual words you are learning.
To get a bit of an idea of how useful this book is, you can find the Dutch for Dummies Cheat Sheet online, from which I find the phonetic english way of pronouncing the Dutch alphabet particularly useful.
This phonetic method is used throughout the book and though looks strange at first, is actually incredibly helpful for native english speakers trying to imitate dutch sounds. For example, try and make sense of this on first glance:
ik stuw-dayr nay-duhr-lants vilt uw nay-duhr-lants praa-tuhn
This might not mean much until you look carefully, sound it out in native english sounds and understand that what you are actually trying to say is this:
Ik studeer Nederlands, wilt u Nederlands praten?
(I’m studying Dutch, would you mind talking Dutch?)
Make more sense now?
This phonetic written method is a really insightful technique offered by the author as though I’ve personally read many books and taken several courses on learning the Dutch language, I’ve not yet seen this used. I find that it has really helped me connect in my mind what sounds I should be using based on my native English, rather than just trying to (often unsuccessfully) imitate what the native Dutch speaker is saying or what is written. As your Dutch improves, you may well find this a distraction you no longer need, but while you’re learning, it offers the potential to polish your pronunciation.
An audio CD is included with the book and has 34 tracks, all clearly laid out in the appendix with the relevant chapters and pages. Very handy – particularly if you don’t have easy access to a Dutch person who is willing to just repeat things over and over until you learn!
Another appendix – Grammar Terms Explained – is also really clever. I’ve found that many native Dutch speakers have learnt at least 2 or 3 other languages in school and are much more aware of grammatical terms and can tell you exactly what a past participle verb is. However myself, and many other native English speakers may have learnt grammar at a young age and then promptly forgotten the specifics once we mastered the language.
Overall, a really useful book for total beginners and even more intermediate students of the Dutch language and well worth the investment. Make sure you look out for the 2nd edition with the tulips on the front. You can order your copy through a number of outlets including:
It’s also available as an e-book if you prefer that, though personally I like the print copy.
If you buy a copy, come back and let us know how you went! Tot zo!
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