Dutch Language Blog

TV on the Web: How to Learn Dutch on TV this Fall Posted by on Oct 8, 2015 in Culture, Dutch Language

Dutch language learners often have a harder life than learners of other languages: Dutch isn’t spoken in many countries, and the people who live in those countries usually want to speak English to you anyways. But when it comes to improving your luistervaardigheid (listening skills), you’re in luck with Dutch: there are thousands of hours of terrific television available online, and the Fall TV season means that many more new reasons to turn on the tube and learn some Dutch.

TV is absolutely my favorite language learning tool for so many reasons. It’s the closest you can get to having organic conversations with native speakers without the added stress of actually conversing with native speakers. This means you can pay more attention to what you’re hearing and how it’s being said, instead of scrambling to form your next sentence while the other person speaks. Even more importantly, it’s jam-packed and dripping with culture, especially in the case of small ethnic languages like Dutch. When you watch Dutch television, you’re not only hearing the Dutch language, but you’re immersing yourself in the culture communicated by that language.

NPO dutch language learning

Five years ago on this blog we shared this post on television and radio resources for learning Dutch, but the game has changed since then. Back then we had Uitzending Gemist, the Netherlands’ online repository of missed episodes of your favorite shows. Now we have the NPO or Nederlandse Publieke Omroep, your one-stop shop for Dutch Public Broadcasting. From live public channels to past episodes of most shows airing on Dutch television, NPO is one of the most sophisticated tools for Dutch learners, and nearly all of its content is completely gratis — even brand new episodes of the most popular shows and series!

My number one favorite show in any language right now is Penoza, the massively popular Dutch crime drama. In season one, Carmen van Walraven’s husband is shockingly murdered in the midst of a drug war in the Amsterdam underground. Carmen suddenly finds herself a widow and single mother to three children, and now has to pay off hundreds of thousands of euros her husband owed to local druglords. By season 4, which just started last month, Carmen and her family have evolved into permanent fixtures in the Dutch mafia world. The suspense and frequent sudden deaths of main characters will have you swearing in Dutch.

penoza dutch language learning

Other classic series include the ever-popular and long-running Flikken Maastricht, a lighter crime series, and of course the fixture of Dutch fout culture, the guilty pleasure of millions of tall blonde folks, Goede Tijden, Slechte Tijden. Other honorable mentions for entertaining TV series include the so far four seasons-long Divorce and the promising new 2015 series De Fractie.

If you’re more of a globally-inclined current events junkie, you’ll have just as much luck. The NOS Journaal is like the BBC of the Netherlands, and you can find it aired in many short, several-minute segments throughout the day. If you’re looking for something longer, my personal favorite is Nieuwsuur, the nightly hour-long news program that reviews the day’s events through a global, European, and Dutch lens. Sometimes you might have trouble viewing it outside the Netherlands, but any simple VPN should do the trick of unblocking it.

If you want a less serious approach, try one of the talk shows like De Wereld Draait Door or Pauw. Talk shows might be the best genre for advanced language learning, as you’ll be watching small groups of adults sitting around talking to each other. Even more so than scripted fictional series, talk shows can expose you to a lot of the natural, normal, native ways that speakers use their language. Below you can watch a short clip of one of the most popular segments of De Wereld Draait Door, called De TV Draait Door, in which host Matthijs van Nieuwkerk assembles some of the most nonsensical moments of Dutch and international television:


For those of us not quite as far along in learning Dutch yet, there are still some great options. Documentaries are perfect for beginning language learners: narrators normally speak clearly, articulately, and more slowly than in natural speech. This in combination with the constant use of film and images will help beginning language learners make connections between words and meanings. Tegenlicht is my go-to Dutch documentary series, with episodes like De Tax Free Tour and Gratis Geld becoming so popular they’ve been translated into English as well (but don’t cheat!). 2Doc is another option, and for travel-specific documentaries, 3 op Reis is the absolute best. Their website is full of complete half-hour episodes, and under the bestemmingen menu, you can find shorter clips on specific destinations.

You may think your Dutch isn’t yet good enough to watch and follow a TV show, but there’s more. Het Klokhuis is an educational program for youths, and it may have been my #1 handiest tool when I learned Dutch myself. Each episode centers around a topic or question — from delicious mussels to what you can do to prevent bullying — and a presentor narrates and guides you through the exploration of it. The show is set up in such a way that much of the vocabulary is easily discernible from its context.

And for total beginners, you can always start out with Zappelin, the network and website for toddlers. The programs you’ll find here aren’t afraid to ask the hard-hitting questions, like welke kleur is de appel? and wat zegt een hond? As tedious as it seems to watch children’s shows about colors and numbers, you’ve gotta start somewhere, and it’s important to soak your brain in as much spoken Dutch as you can from day one.

If you can get over the fact that there seem to be about three actors in the Netherlands playing every role on every show, TV can be one of the most enjoyable ways of learning Dutch, and the fall TV season is bringing you plenty of new material. If you’re already in the Netherlands then turn on that TV, and if not then explore the links in this post to find your new favorite show!

Already tuning in to Dutch television? Tell us about your favorite shows and how they’ve helped your language learning in the comments below!

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About the Author: Jakob Gibbons

I write about language and travel on my blog . I often share my experiences with learning languages on the road, and teaching and learning new speech sounds is my specialty.


  1. Elias:

    Thank you kindly for all the useful information. I learn dutch since 3 weeks straight. I truly love this language. So beautiful, so dynamic and interesting in its sound. Usually I couldn’t be bothered when it comes to languages, but this radically changes with the Dutch language. I appreciate your efforts and want to once again say thank you

    • Jakob Gibbons:

      @Elias Glad we can be of help! If you’ve been learning for three weeks, starting with some of the recommendations at the bottom (like the programs on Zappelin) might be most helpful for you. Good luck with your language learning!

  2. Bill (Papa Van Twee):

    My wife and I like crime drama, so Penoza sounds right up our alley. But if it doesn’t have English subs, I can’t watch because I won’t get it. I searched around, and while I don’t know if it is legal so I won’t post, DailyMotion.com looks to have the whole series with English subs. Will definitely give it a watch.

    • Jakob Gibbons:

      @Bill (Papa Van Twee) Yeah, Penoza is great if you like a gritty crime drama. Lots of violence and other graphic scenes, so definitely not one to watch with the kids. If Daily Motion doesn’t work out, most full episodes are available on YouTube as well, but the English subtitles are useless. I checked this after you posted your comment and the best I could get it to do was to interpret the Dutch speech as English and caption it, but that worked out pretty comically. Alternatively, if you happen to have an episode or season saved on your computer, normally a quick Google can find you some English subtitles to download 😉