Fluent in TWO months: The Dutch mission!

It’s time for a new language mission! DUTCH!

I’ve just arrived in Amsterdam, and I plan to speak fluent Dutch by May 31st (so technically not even 2 months; actually in 8 weeks). There’s many ways to define fluency and I’m very precise about mine.

There are some obvious advantages I’ll have and some big challenges in this mission!!

Since Dutch is in the Germanic language family, actually about half way between English and German, I had to give myself less time if I was aiming for fluency! As it stands I can recognise quite a lot of words in the little Dutch I’ve been exposed to, mostly thanks to my German. So even though I’ve never studied this language before, I do indeed have more of a head-start than usual.

This would be a similar head-start as you would have moving from Spanish to Italian for example. Less work, but you are still taking on an entirely different language.

Saying that this will be easy is a huge exaggeration! Reaching fluency is an immense challenge no matter what the circumstances, and doing so in the ridiculously restrictive timespan of 8 weeks will put me under quite a lot of pressure!

As well as this, the Dutch have a reputation for having excellent English so I may have my work cut out for me (especially at the start) to simply even convince them to not speak English with me! These social challenges are way more important than recognising some vocabulary ever will be.

Luckily, I have plenty of tricks up my sleeve to make sure conversations will be in Dutch!

The core of speaking from day one explained in more detail

Readers of the blog have requested more day-to-day specific updates about how I am progressing in these missions. You would have seen me give such an example when I detailed my first week speaking German.

I’ll attempt to give a weekly update (the first one will likely be on the blog, but all other weekly updates will be sent only to the Language Hacking League, which you can sign up to on the right of the site or at the end of this post), as well as trying something much more revealing!

The core of Language Hacking in my eyes is not based on “how much” you know (number of words learned, amount of grammar rules revised etc.), but on how you apply the little you do know, and being confident enough to realise that you can do way more than it seems at first. Social dynamics, the ability to read people, body language, extrapolation, and even charm are essential skills for a language hacker. These are the tools that really let you communicate, especially when combined with traditional vocabulary & grammar based learning.

People who just learn languages with books are blissfully unaware of any of these aspects of real communication, and usually rely on nothing more than a count of their words learned as their excuse for not being “ready” yet. This is absolute rubbish.

I’ll try to demonstrate this by recording videos of some of my first conversations in Dutch and analysing the content to explain what I’m doing. I’ll present this in a way that makes it easier to follow to show people how it is DEFINITELY possible to speak a language from day one, no matter what that language is. It will be easier for me to apply these in Dutch obviously, but I’ve used the same techniques in languages unrelated to anything I had learned before like Czech and Hungarian.

Hopefully I’ll find people who don’t mind being recorded to converse with me on camera. Since I’ll be putting a lot of work into making everything clear, it’ll be several weeks before the end result is ready, but I’ll otherwise write updates every week, with what’s working and with the biggest challenges I’m facing.

In the next post, on Thursday, I’ll talk about the kind of materials I tend to use for studying and what I’ll be using during this mission.

Why Dutch?

Once again, I want to emphasise that I don’t travel to learn languages.

I learn languages to enhance my travel experience. Dutch in itself doesn’t interest me at all – every language is a means to an end. To me that end is people.

Making Dutch friends does interest me. My experience when living in a place is always enhanced much more by spending my time with locals. Of course, I could do that in English this time, but that wouldn’t allow me the kind of flexibility I usually have when out with a group of people talking with one another.

It’s lazy to expect everyone to speak English for my benefit. I want to have friends that I communicate in their language with.

So the question for me shouldn’t be why Dutch the language, but why Dutch - the people; I’ve met many Dutch in my travels and found them to have interesting humour, and to be incredibly open minded. This is something I would like to investigate further as I make friends while living in Amsterdam.

The challenge would have perhaps been easier if I had chosen a “less touristy” city, but that aspect of the challenge just makes it all the more fun :) Amsterdam tends to be on many people’s lists of most interesting cities to live in, and such recommendations tend to be why I choose my destinations, not linguistic ones.

So if you have any advice for me while in Amsterdam, or if you happen to be here over the next two months, let me know! Any other thoughts on my Dutch mission, let me know in the comments below :)



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  • http://twitter.com/Yemoonyah Yamile Yemoonyah

    Veel plezier in Amsterdam! Het is zeker een leuke stad om te wonen :-)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      First I have to actually FIND a place to live though :P hehe

  • Anonymous

    Pumped to see you’re taking on Dutch! I’ve learned it as well as an American but have been slacking on my practice lately. Like you, I had a background in German before I started, so making the transition was fairly natural.

    I started out with Rosetta Stone (I know… I know… but I was an employee at the time and was getting paid to test the software) and supplemented with Youtube videos and Dutch conversation hours in my hometown.

    The most inspiring thing I found about Dutch is how amazed Dutch people are that an Anglophone can speak it. It’s probably the most notorious language that expats choose not to learn. When I went to the Netherlands + Belgium this summer, I was told multiple times by people that it was the first time they had ever heard an American speaking Dutch, an experience that got me pretty stoked about learning and practicing it.

    I recommend the following resources to get you started:
    http://www.uitzendinggemist.nl/ – Dutch TV shows, some of them with subtitles
    http://www.youtube.com/user/TopNotchNL – I’m a hip-hop fanatic, and the Netherlands has some of the best underground hip-hop artists of all time. This channel has some great videos to learn from.
    http://books.google.com/books?id=ilTCY6hePRkC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false – “Dubbel Dutch: a practical guide for foreign students of Dutch” – free on Google Books!

    If you need additional help, definitely stop by the Dutch thread(s) on HTLAL, people there are eager to assist.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Thanks for the links!! :)
      I’ll actually be using Rosetta Stone myself, also for free to do it as a test (specifically, to give a frank review of it) – more on this explained on Thursday!
      Can’t wait to see the look on people’s faces when I speak Dutch to them! I’m sure it’s a good feeling :)

      • Anonymous

        I have personally found Pimsleur to be more help than Rosetta Stone, though for different reasons. I suppose if I were doing a language “completely alone” (jaja) I would set up a study schedule involving both. Regardless, I’m curious as to your impressions with Rosetta Stone.

    • http://twitter.com/edsmilde Ed Smilde

      Thanks for posting some Dutch hip-hop :D I too am an American learning/speaking Dutch, but until now I haven’t found some good Dutch music that I liked.

  • http://www.nomadicneill.com NomadicNeill

    Ik ben benieuwd of het je inderdaad lukt. Iedereen zal wel Engels met je willen spreken. Veel plezier in iedere geval.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      We’ll see! I can be very convincing :)

      • http://twitter.com/TiffanyRJansen Tiffany Jansen

        goed! want nederlanders kunnen wel koppig zijn! ze spreken zo goed engels en vinden het leuk om te doen. het best is een echt nederlands accent aan te nemen. ik heb al 2 jaar de taal hard gestudeerd en heb bijna geen accent, maar toch blijven sommige nederlanders engels tegen mij te spreken. het gebeurt nu niet zo vaak, maar ‘t was heel lastig in het begin!

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

          I’ll definitely have an accent even at the end of the mission, but that’s not why people choose to speak with you in English. I’ll elaborate more once I see that my plan of action is working with the Dutch ;)

  • Anonymous

    Good luck. Hope to see you document the journey. Love it when I see what your doing along the way.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Yes, I’ll have a detailed update of my first week early next week on the blog :)

  • Anonymous

    I’m looking forward to your frequent updates, Benny. I’d enjoy seeing more details about specific challenges you encounter when learning a language and how you get past each one.

    I just started my new goal yesterday to pass the B1 French exam in exactly 4 weeks. I started with zero French (or, as close as is possible ;) but it is my 5th language and, as you pointed out, Spanish is incredibly helpful. I’m also going to do some very specific studies on different so-called brain-boosters or study drugs (eg. Huperzine A). I’m setting up the closest thing I can to a one-man clinical trial, using a BCI to monitor my brain waves, Anki to measure my memorization progress, a blind study with a placebo, and lots of other control elements. I’ll be publishing the results on my blog when I finish: http://lifebyexperimentation.com

    Cheers and good luck!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      I’m not sure how you are blindly measuring a placebo on yourself, but sounds like an interesting experiment! Best of luck :)

      • Anonymous

        Haha I wondered the same thing myself – and my solution was actually surprisingly simple. I had a friend take the labels off the pill bottles before I opened them (and store the labels somewhere). Since I have no idea what each pill looks like, I don’t know what pill I’m taking. Then, at the end of the experiment, all I have to do is match Bottle A to Label A :)

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

          Simple, but makes sense! I presume you selected things in advance that you were sure weren’t going to kill you :-P

          Anyway, I won’t be doing pills myself to increase language or mental skills. I prefer to find a balance by healthy living, avoiding stress and good exercise. But if you find it has some kind of benefit, good for you!

          • Anonymous

            Yeah, I tend to be a rather holistic person as well. Medicine/pills/doctors are always my last resort. But in this particular case, I am very curious about the claims made by these “brain-booster” drugs. Frankly I expect to be disappointed – I would actually rater “prove” that good study techniques are more effective than a pill will ever be. As I said, I generally don’t believe in drugs. Furthermore, out of the three drugs that I have found, two are just basically a cocktail of vitamins and general over-the-counter basic supplements and only one is a unique drug (and has been tested successfully for Alzheimer’s Syndrome by the US Government).

            Anyway, I definitely made sure to do my homework first!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1344572200 Lisa Mos

    Heel veel succes! 2 maanden zal moeilijk worden, maar het gaat je wel lukken! ;)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      I hope so! All the comments here are great practice; I’m just starting literally this morning so other than pasting in Google Translate I still have a bit to go before I reply in Dutch :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot


  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks Kim :) I welcome scepticism and write a lot about it myself. I see people criticising what I’m doing as simply not getting it. They are used to word-based content filled studies and don’t appreciate the human aspect of things. It’s sad when I see their narrow-mindedness. I’ll continue to write about what makes a difference of course!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks for the invitation!

  • http://www.artofbackpacking.com AOBteresa

    Fantastic! I am trying to learn as well; living in The NL for a bit myself and I think I own every possible Dutch book. Love your site and I’m so excited to see you will be learning Dutch!

    Check out the awesome Dutch bookstores; I think the Prisma Self Study Book is great.




    Just a few interesting reads.

    So excited for you ! G’luck!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      My post today talks about use of learning materials. The absolute last thing I want to do is own every possible Dutch book :P But thanks for the links!

  • http://achievingextraordinarysuccess.com Robert Hickman

    Hi Benny, Its great to see you in Amsterdam learning dutch.

    I visited the city for a few days at the end of last year, It looked like an interesting place, though I didn’t have chance to see the city and (shame on me) made very little effort to speak dutch. the purpose of that trip was to attend a conference that I had wanted to visit for years. It was also an experiment in personal independence, helping me break out of my own shyness and reclusiveness. On the whole, I think it went really well.

    If anyones interested, you can find my analysis and conclusions of that experiment at: http://achievingextraordinarysuccess.com/2010/11/02/my-first-solo-trip-of-awesomeness/

    Need to return to Amsterdam sometime to properly explore the place.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Good job on the break-out-of-your-shell experiment! :) Keep up the good work!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks Jay! We’ll see if 8 weeks is enough :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks Jay! We’ll see if 8 weeks is enough :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    I have to admit that the Dutch’s level of English isn’t as fantastic as people claim. I was using English my first two days to get around and move into my home and even though their accent is fantastic, there were many simple words they didn’t know.

    We’ll see whose willpower wins over in speaking the desired language ;) After today’s study session I should have enough of the basics to dive straight in!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Glad to hear it! :) I’m hearing just as many success stories as failure stories when it comes to convincing the Dutch to speak their own language (!) haha

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Found a place :) Moved in yesterday! Might make another video tour of course :D

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Let me know around then!

  • http://www.facebook.com/iljapostel Ilja Postel

    Veel plezier! Amsterdam is het mooiste in de lente, dus je hebt perfecte timing. Vergeet niet het strand op te zoeken op een zomerse dag, het is vlakbij!

  • http://www.facebook.com/iljapostel Ilja Postel

    Veel plezier! Amsterdam is het mooiste in de lente, dus je hebt perfecte timing. Vergeet niet het strand op te zoeken op een zomerse dag, het is vlakbij!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Sure! It’s best to e-mail me for meet-ups.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_YCINJXODIKMDMME47X447A3XC4 S.D.I.

    Wow, what a coincidence! Ik leer nederlands ook! Granted, I started last week and don’t really know much. Geluck!

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    I look forward to the updates on your progress in the language, but at this point, honestly, I’m more looking forward to learning about a new culture and hearing what you learn about the Dutch people and their country than anything else!


  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    There is no “my method”. My method is the communicative approach, which was in use a long time before I came along. My “program” just describes my particular take on it ;)

    There are some testimonials on the right of the sales page of the Language Hacking Guide. Otherwise I may gather some more soon.

  • Thomas Illgen

    Hi Benny, I wanted to share two excellent FREE Dutch Language resources with you and your readers.   Note: I DO NOT have any interest (financial or otherwise in either of these sites).

    The first resource is Learning Dutch? (Suggested Method): http://web.me.com/schuffelen/Site/LearningDutch.html. This is an excellent, very extensive FREE site for learning Dutch. The best part of this site is the native pronunciation (provided by site owner, Marco Schuffelen) of ~10,000 Dutch words!  One may meander freely throughout the site, or follow Marco’s lesson plans. As I mentioned, the site is free, however, donations are accepted (for site upkeep). Also, a CD of the entire site is available for $25US/20€.

    The second resource is 2BDutch: http://www.2bdutch.nl/.  This FREE site provides the ability to learn Dutch while watching videos with subtitles.  Subtitles are provided in English, French, Spanish, Portugese and German!  The site (and translations) are provided by a group of volunteers.  Amazing resource for Dutch learners!!


  • http://twitter.com/MontegniesD Dennis Montegnies

    Hoe is het momenteel al gesteld met je Nederlands?

  • http://twitter.com/MontegniesD Dennis Montegnies

    Hoe is het momenteel al gesteld met je Nederlands?

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Best of luck with Dutch! Sorry we didn’t meet in Amsterdam due to timing differences! Enjoy the city! :D

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Best of luck with Dutch! Sorry we didn’t meet in Amsterdam due to timing differences! Enjoy the city! :D

  • mimitours mimitours

    I knew the term ‘Hacking’ came from an engineer! Way to go! I lived myself in Ireland (Dublin) and wanted to learn Gaelic. As you might know, it’s not widely spoken in the streets. So sadly, all I learnt was Erin go bragh!

  • Richard Bekooij

    Just happened to come across this site and just finished reading :) Shame though that you didn’t pick up our second native language: “Frisian”, a language I grew up with as well, I am tri-lingual. I think it would’ve been a nice extra challenge. I suggest a revisit and perhaps a best place would be Sneek, Drachten or Leeuwarden. If you feel some interest, just do a little research and hopefully you will find yourself intrigued with the thought!

  • marcoooootje1

    Aw, I keep stumbling onto many of your old posts I find really interesting. Three years ago I still lived in the Netherlands, close to Amsterdam, and it would have been amazing to say hi.

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  • Mathis

    Hi, my name is Mathis, I’m from Guadeloupe and live in Paris.
    I speak french, english and créole fluently.

    I think créole is a forgotten language. I’d love to see somebody like you to try to learn it.

    I plan to live in Amsterdam for a while and I’m trying to learn Dutch. And your mentality is exactly the one I have right now. French, english and dutch are very similar.

    Mèsi on pil pou inspirasyon la ou ka ban nou. (créole)

    • http://fluentin3months.com/ Brandon Rivington

      Keep up the hard work and share with us how you progress while you’re in Amsterdam!

      Thanks for coming to Fi3M
      –Brandon, the Fi3M Language Encourager