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How We Study Dutch

lees plankje compressed

I speak Dutch, my husband understands it somewhat, and our children are learning it in a very casual but effective way, mostly through stories and songs.  To increase vocabulary and improve speaking skills, the children also use Rosetta Stone, a program that effectively reviews many simple words and concepts, but the real meat of our learning comes from living books and songs.

In the past I’ve read countless books over and over to all the children at once, translating the words they didn’t know.  Now that doesn’t work, because Miss 17 is almost fluent, and Miss 8… well, she has a long way to go.  Instead, I’m consciously working with each child individually, something I’d planned never to do.  It does take extra time, but this is quality time spent together, so I don’t mind.

Miss 17 researches in Dutch for essays (written in English), is preparing to go to the Netherlands for a few weeks, and can function in the language.  We lived in the Netherlands for almost two years and she spent those two years speaking Dutch to our many friends.  She certainly had a head start.

The rest of the children, however, were too young to benefit hugely from living in the Netherlands.  They did enjoy the songs we used to sing before I got ill, and now that I am almost well, we’ll be singing more.  We learn folk songs, Psalms, and hymns and even have a few recordings of Dutch songs.  Singing is great for learning to speak the language and it also builds vocabulary.

However, our favorite way of learning Dutch is reading stories out loud.  Currently I’m not reading any story to all the children at once. That may come, but for now we’re concentrating on each child’s individual reading time with me.

Mr. 15 has almost finished Snuf de Hond, an exciting, Christian boy-and-dog story set during World War 2.  We read this out loud together, alternating paragraphs.  That allows him to hear how the words should sound and also gives him a chance to read.  This method of studying requires a very interesting book, and Snuf is fascinating. I read it over and over when I was young, and even now I often can’t put it down after our reading for the week is finished.  It has been translated as Scout, and I’ll be reviewing the English version soon.

Miss 12 has almost finished Ot en Sien which we read in the same alternating paragraph way.  This old ‘living book,’ used as a reader in Dutch schools long ago, presents fascinating glimpses into Dutch culture at the turn of the century.  Since it is a reader, the vocabulary is relatively simple, although certainly not dumbed down.  Miss 12 still has some trouble matching the vowels with their Dutch sounds, so we need to go over Dutch phonics regularly.


I’m reading a series of cute children’s stories to Miss 10 and her vocabulary is growing rapidly.  Once she knows the phonics and can understand the stories comfortably, she will be ready to read aloud with me.  That may even happen this winter.

Miss 8, however, is still struggling with basic word meanings.  She also is not yet a fluent reader in English, so it will be a long time before I ask her to read Dutch.  She and I can look forward to many more years of read aloud stories.  I’m also singing extra songs with her.

There is no actual studying involved in our study of Dutch except in the final grades when we learn formal grammar.  Instead, Mr. 15 and Miss 12 do some copywork from the week’s Rosetta Stone lesson or from their current book.

This low-key, low-stress way of learning a language seems to be working.  Consistency is the key, and we haven’t always been consistent.  When we are, however, the progress is remarkable. 

This method would work for any language if a parent feels comfortable in it and has suitable books.


  1. Dutch would be such a fascinating language to learn! Thanks for contributing this to the CM Carnival. 🙂

  2. Donna says:

    Thank you. I like this concept of using readers. We do it when teaching our children english, why not a foreign language too.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Yes, Miss 12’s book is a reader, but the other books mentioned are ‘just’ story books. Readers are a great choice in learning any language because the vocabulary is usually fairly simple. Mr 15’s book, on the other hand, even has words I’m not certain of!

  3. LarabaK says:

    So, what do you think about Rosetta Stone for a family where the parents AREN’T fluent in the chosen language. I speak a little Spanish but not a whole lot more. RS does appeal, but it is SO expensive. I’ve never tested out the homeschool version. Right now, we’re using a Spanish video curriculum which is an introduction to the language, and I do like it, but at some point we need to figure out something more formal. I am leaning towards RS but the price is scary. (Of course, we have 7 kids, so if you divide by 7, its not as scary.)

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Rosetta Stone is excellent for immersion learning of vocabulary and oral/aural work. It does not teach grammar formally, though, so you need something else for that.

      I do not think it is meant to be used as the only means of instruction, although some of the ads make it seem that way.

      I’m planning to review it sometime soon, but I think this is the gist of what I’ll be saying: it’s great, but not a stand-alone course.

      Annie Kate

  4. Kristen says:

    Very interesting Annie Kate! Are you Dutch or were one (or both) of your parents Dutch? It seems not the most common language to be fluent with.

  5. Annie Kate says:

    I was born in the Netherlands, although I left it as a very young child. My parents always encouraged us to keep up with the language and that has been a real blessing.

    Annie Kate

  6. […] presents How We Study Dutch posted at Tea Time with Annie […]

  7. Nancy says:

    I am both impressed and inspired by this post! Wow!

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Oh my! I didn’t expect to impress or inspire! I was just wanting to share that language learning can be done casually and still be effective, as long a parent knows the language.

  8. Richele says:

    I’ve really enjoyed your post on how your family studies Dutch. Your reading plank is exquisite, too!

  9. Cindy says:

    I like this approach, though I question your comment that the younger kids wouldn’t benefit from living in the Netherlands. In my experience and education, getting kids immersed, even for a short time, can really give them motivation to learn more, and will definitely make the language and its use more relevant to them. The younger they are, the more beneficial this will be to them (very young kids will likely become much more fluent than older ones)

    Nevertheless, I know taking the whole family to the Netherlands may not be possible. I like the approach you are using at home, and I wonder if you have suggestions for younger kids – my son is only 3, and we are wanting him (and my husband) to learn Spanish in hopes of moving to Latin America one day.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Kids can benefit immensely from immersion at young ages, but it depends on their personality. And there seems to be an age before which they learn very little.

      Our then-2-year-old learned virtually no Dutch when she was there, and still struggles with the language now. Our 4 -year-old learned some but not much, because we still spoke English at home and he didn’t chatter much with friends, neighbors, and relatives. Our oldest learned a whole lot of Dutch because she’s a people person. And the two who were born after we got back to Canada are doing very well with the song and story method.

      To teach a three year old a new language, sing to him, read him stories, get him toddler CD’s and DVD’s in the language, and be sure to do a little bit every day, even through the summer. Otherwise it’s amazing how quickly they forget.

  10. Aritha says:

    O, dit vind ik zo leuk om te lezen! Snuf de hond werd voorgelezen in de klas. Zo’n spannend boek, ja! Er is nu ook een film van. Wel heel anders dan het boek jammer genoeg.


    Nederlands is een moeilijke taal. Mijn dochter zit nu de vierde klas van de MAVO. En ze worstelt zich door de grammatica heen. Maar Duits is moeilijker met al die naamvallen!

    Wat is de beste site om goed Engels te leren?

    1. Annie Kate says:

      He, leuk, die link. Bedankt! Om het echt goed te leren is nederlands wel moeilijk, maar het is het wel waard.

      Ik heb geen idee wat de beste site is om goed Engels te leren, maar Duolingo is waarschijnlijk een goed begin. En om verder te komen, mischien FutureLearn of Coursera of zoiets? Ze zijn allemaal gratis.

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