How to effortlessly grow your Dutch vocab

Quit using long lists of Dutch-to-English translations!

, 29th of November 2019
How to grow your vocabulary
Hoi! Hoe gaat het met je Nederlands?

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“I understand what they’re asking, but when I look for words to respond I just get stuck!”

Starting to speak in a new language is hard. You slowly try to make sense of the grammar, and every day you recognize more words. But why don’t they come out when you need them?

The traditional way of building vocab, by memorizing lists of words from a book, turns out to be quite ineffective. Usually, people can remember the words long enough for the test the next day, but not much longer than that. And even if you do remember the words on a test, that is no guarantee you’d be able to access those words when you need them in a real-life interaction. And that is precisely the problem.

Our brains are associating-machines. Everything only obtains meaning in relation to other things, and we only have access to a memory when we have a gateway or entrance to that memory. You live in a Dutch speaking world, so English (or any other language) is a very unlikely entrance or connector to words you’d like to remember.

So if you just write down a word with its translation, you will probably find you have a hard time accessing those words in a spontaneous interaction. There is (on a neural pathway-level) no connection to the situation you are in and they lack connections to related words. Plus, you don’t have any synonyms to help you out when you can’t come up with a specific word, and on top of that, there is no time to first figure out what you’d say in English and then translate that back to Dutch. So if your only way of growing vocab is by writing down new words with their translations, you probably often feel super frustrated: “I know all of these words! Why do I go blank when I need them?”

What is the challenge? 
The challenge is to learn words in a new way, different from how we learned them in school.

1.     Do things you enjoy or are relevant to you
Read things you like, go to places you think are fun, watch movies or tv programmes that you enjoy, interact with significant people in your life, like the shopkeeper, the daycare teacher, your coworker, your friend (remember to use metacommunicatie!). You will very likely bump into new words.

2.     Select words relevant to you, your life, your interests
It is important you don’t just learn random words as selected by your teacher or your textbook, or try to memorize each and every new word you come across in your daily life, but consciously choose words that are relevant to you and your daily routines and interest.

3. Link relevant words to an image, context, synonyms or similar words. 
If you decide a word is interesting enough to remember, write it down (with the article de/het if it’s a noun) on a blank sheet you stick to the wall or in your notebook. Add either a drawing or image, context info (the sentence in which you first heard or saw the word) or synonyms and similar words.

For example:

Het dakterras
Ik zit met mij vrienden op ons nieuwe dakterras.
Het is lekker weer.


Twijfelen = aarzelen, dubben, in dubio zijn
Ik weet niet goed wat ik moet kiezen, ik twijfel nog.


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