How long does it take to learn Dutch?

avatarMille Larsen
8 mins read

The Dutch language is a Germanic language closely related to English and German. It is spoken mainly in the Netherlands and Belgium but also in a country like Suriname.

The Dutch language is actually not that difficult to learn for an English speaker. But deciding to start learning a foreign language is an important decision, and you might ask the question: How much time will it take me to learn Dutch?

The answer is obviously very dependent on the effort you put in, your background and experience with language learning, and the method you use. But generally I'd say that you can easily learn Dutch in less than two years without spending a lot of time studying every day. If you're dedicated and you put in some effort, six months, one year or less is possible.

Here's how long linguists say it takes to become fluent in Dutch

The "Foreign Service Institute" or FSI is the American government institution in charge of teaching foreign languages to American diplomats and officials. They're known for grouping different language into categories based on the time it takes for students to master the language.

According to FSI, it takes around 24 weeks of intensive classroom study for an English-speaking student to learn Dutch, or 600 class-room hours.

It's important to note that this is dependent on FSI's approach. Students are taught in very small classes of around 6 students at a time. They spend up to 6 hours with a teacher daily, and are asked to do 2 hours of self-study each day.

This is a huge amount of study time, but it's important to note that the FSI course aims for the student to attain a high level of professional working proficiency. In other words, the students should be able to work professionally with the language after only 24 weeks.

I usually advocate self-studying languages rather than taking a course. It's much less costly, and in many cases it's more effective as well.

As a self-student, however, it's hard to compare your own study-sessions to the kind of study regimen FSI provides.

For a self student, the time-estimate would therefore be very different, and it would depend on a lot of factors, namely how the student spends his or her time.

While I think that you could get very far, self-studying Dutch for 6 months, I think it's unlikely that you would reach a high level of working proficiency in the language in that amount of time.

But by studying one hour a day for 6 months, you could easily become conversational. Put in two hours, and you could call it fluency.

I've written an article specifically about how I'd recommend that you go about learning Dutch by yourself. I recommend that you read it.

What are the biggest obstacles while learning Dutch?

In terms of language difficulty, Dutch doesn't have any features that makes it particularly difficult. Learning the language in a timely manner is more a question of spending your time well, without wasting it on ineffective methods.

When you learn Dutch, there are numerous paths you could take to learn the language. Many would take the analytical approach, focusing on studying grammar. This entails doing a lot of exercises and memorization.

I'm not a fan on this kind of grammar study. In fact, I think that grammar should be learned from habituation and from seeing examples over and over, rather than trying to dissect the language.

When you do this, you don't spend your time memorizing and cramming information into your brain. You spend it actually using your Dutch, and getting more and more used to it.

This is a process that is hard to put a number on. How long does it take to get used to Dutch grammar and vocabulary? It depends how much you see the words and what you do with them. Here's an article I wrote about remembering words.

The pronunciation of Dutch doesn't represent the biggest challenge. But still, there are a few sounds that you need to focus on to correctly learn the language. Like the "G" that sounds like you're cleaning your throat, or the "U" which reassembles a French U or a German Ü.

My advice is to learn these as you go. Focus more on listening and correctly hearing the sounds in the beginning, and it'll come naturally to pronounce them later on.

How long it takes depends on your attitude

It's more than obvious, but if you want to know how long it will take to learn Dutch, you'll need to look in the mirror.

What are your motivations, and will they hold in the long run? Is it enough for you to consistently keep studying every day for months or maybe even years?

One of the keys to learning any language is consistency. The frequency in which you study is actually more important than the time you put in.

You need to study every day - if you can only find 30 minutes per day, it's okay. This is much better than studying for several hours each weekend. I've written an article about finding the time to study when you have a busy routine.

You also need patience.

For a long time you will feel that you're struggling and not advancing at all with your Dutch.

But language learning takes time. You might not see any results for a long time, but if you keep at it, the results will come.

Learning Dutch, or any language, is about delayed gratification. You put in the work now. Each day for months. And you'll see the results in half a year or more.

In other words, If you have the right mindset, Dutch could be within your grasp in 6 months, but if you loose your motivation, consistency and patience, you run the risk of postponing fluency or maybe completely failing learning Dutch.

The time you need to spend to learn Dutch depends on a lot of factors

As you can gather from the above, there are many factors that come into play when measuring how long it takes an individual to become fluent in Dutch.

Still, in order to have something to aim for, I'd propose these numbers:

  • 6 months to fluency or faster
    You study at least 2 hours a day, and do so every day. You vary your approach and focus on listening, reading, speaking and writing. You're extremely critical of your own study approach, and never spend too long on something that doesn't work. You've already taught yourself a foreign language and you know what you're doing, adapting your approach to your own learning style.

  • 9-12 months to fluency
    You study at least an hour a day and are very consistent about it. You take charge of your Dutch learning and have a clear goal that you're motivated to meet.

  • 1½ years to fluency
    You study around an hour a day and try to be consistent. Sometimes you miss a day or two, though, and you can get a little behind on your studies due to other occupations. You're more or less sure how how to learn Dutch, but your approach also involves some trial and error. Sometimes you spend a little too long on things you find out don't work too well for you.

  • 2 - 3 years to fluency
    You're inconsistent about your studies, but do study Dutch at least a couple of times per week. Occasionally you're interrupted in your studies for longer periods of time, but you always get back to learning, picking up where you left off. You're not always sure what you're doing, and sometimes spend a little too long on content that's too hard to understand or too easy to benefit from. But you know that you'll eventually get there, so you keep at it.

  • 4 years, more or maybe never
    You're inconsistent. You find yourself not studying for long periods and when you get back to Dutch, you spend hours trying to get ahead, while, really you're only refreshing previously covered material. You're not particularly motivated, and don't know for sure that you'll end up speaking Dutch at all.

The above categories obviously aren't based on studies, but are my subjective estimates. Generally, figuring out how long it takes to learn Dutch, is solving an equation that involves your background, your approach, your consistency and your mindset.

Some people can become conversational in Dutch in 3 months. Most need longer, however.

The best advice I can give you is to make some realistic goals, and try to meet them. Every day you need to ask yourself what you need to do today to meet your long-term goals.

Be critical of your own approach. If something isn't working, don't waste time on it.

And if you keep at it, you'll reach fluency in Dutch.

I hope that this article has cleared some things up for you. I'd like to hear other people's experiences with the time it takes to learn Dutch. If you've successfully taught yourself Dutch, how long did you spend? Write a comment below.