Dutch Language Blog

Learn Dutch: Using Television and Radio as a Resource Posted by on Apr 14, 2010 in Dutch Language

In my last blog I gave you a list of places to watch Dutch television and listen to Dutch radio.  But what should you be doing with those resources?  Well, what you do depends significantly on your own level.  In this post I’m going to give you a few tips and pointers for using Dutch television and radio to help you actually learn Dutch.

For learners of all levels, television and radio is the best resource for hearing Dutch spoken by native Dutch speakers. This is especially important if you are not living in a Dutch speaking country.  Understanding what is being said around you is very important, but just as important is being able to make yourself understood.  Native Dutch speakers can tell from a mile away that you aren’t a native speaker, so if you want to really impress them, no matter what your level, you have to work on your pronunciation.

For Beginners

If you are just a beginner, you can just watch and/or listen.  Sometimes the best beginning is the simplest beginning, and getting used to the strange sounds of a new language is very important.

Try to pick out words that might sound familiar to you and write them down as you listen.  See if you’ve spelled them correctly, and try to match the spelling with the pronunciation.

Try to copy the sounds of the language by imitating what you hear.  It sounds silly, but it works.  Practice makes perfect!  I know it’s very cliche, but it’s true.

Start with something simple such as Jeugd Journaal and see how far you get.  The more you practice your vocabulary, the more you will understand, so try to write down words you don’t know as you hear them and look them up later.  One thing I find very useful is subtitling on the television, which I don’t think you can do on the internet sites, but you can do with live television.  If you have access to subtitling, this is a great way to “see” the difference between spoken and written Dutch.  The only drawback is that the subtitling can lag a bit behind the speaker, and sometimes they are only an outline of what was said.  But hey, nothing is perfect.

If you’ve found a show you find interesting, watch it once to get the broad meaning of what’s going on, look up words you don’t know, and then watch again.  The second time you watch, pay closer attention to finer details of the program and words you still don’t understand.  While you watch pay close attention to pronunciation and repeat words if you can.  It’s slow going and you won’t learn the language by doing this alone, but it is a good exercise to keep you moving forward.  If there is a particular topic that you find interesting, like the economy, health care or the environment, try to learn at least 10 words relating to those topics and then find a show about those issues.  You’ll be surprised at how much you can understand!

For the Intermediate and Advanced

At both the intermediate and advanced levels the task becomes understanding.  For people at the intermediate level, you will want to understand the general outline of what is going on and be able to answer some questions about the finer details of a program.  One way to begin understanding what you hear is…can you guess?…increase your vocabulary!  I recommend going about this in a methodical way for people at both the intermediate and advanced levels.

First, pick a topic you have an interest in, for example, gardening.  Spend some time looking up words about gardening and plants and make a reference list for those words.  Then find a program you want to watch or listen to that is about gardening.  Use your vocabulary list while you listen or watch and get a general idea of what the program is about.  See if you can answer basic questions about the program such as: what is this program about?  who is the intended audience for this program? what information can I learn from this program?

Before your second listening or viewing, think of some more specific questions you think you should be able to answer from the program.  For example, if the program was about late summer seasonal flowers, come up with questions about the different needs of the late summer seasonal flowers and try to be more specific to what you think you heard the first time around.  Once you’ve listened or watched again, see if you can answer those questions, and also see if you can write more elaborate explanations for what you have heard.

And of course, continue repeating what you hear.  You can never practice this enough.  I have an admittedly annoying little game I play while watching the news where I randomly shout out words I find funny.  Why?  Because I get a good laugh doing it, though perhaps at the expense of those around me.  On the positive side, it works and it helps me learn how to pronounce all kinds of long words that I would be embarrassed to try otherwise.

Obviously, there are many ways to approach using television and radio when you are trying to learn Dutch.  These are a few things that have helped me out along the way.  If you have any suggestions about learning methods that have worked for you, let us know in the comments section below!

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  1. knik:

    Great suggestions. The other thing a lot of people told me was, if you want to understand regular spoken dutch, watch something like GTST (goede tijden, slechte tijden). The news and information programmes are really good for learning formal dutch, but all the little phrases like “I’m coming”, “See ya later”, “What’s happening?” you can only get from soap operas. The down-side is that one has to watch GTST but no-one said learning a foreign language was easy 🙂

  2. sarah:

    Hi Knik,

    Oh yes, there is always Goede Tijden, Slechte Tijden. I think every course I’ve ever taken recommended watching this. The Dutch is fairly simple, well-enunciated daily level spoken Dutch. On the one hand, this sounds great! On the other hand…I’ve never known anyone who actually used it, perhaps because it’s just painful to watch. If you ask a native Dutch person if they watch it, it never fails to get a disdainful “Me?! Watch that?! Never!!” type of response.

    Then again, it’s been around for years, so somebody is watching it, they just aren’t admitting it! 😀

  3. Jeanne Kasten:

    Thanks so much for the work you do on this blog. I lived in Holland many years ago for a little while and look forward to visiting again next year. It’s wonderful to find these resources and know I can get some of my ability to speak Dutch back!

    • sarah:

      @Jeanne Kasten Hi Jeanne,

      Thanks for your comment, and I’m very glad you find this helpful! Foreign language skills are a bit like a garden. Once you’ve gotten it growing, it still takes maintenance to keep it going. If I don’t speak Dutch for a few days in a row, even that quickly I find I start making simple basic errors again. It’s so much work!



  4. ruth:

    I’ve been watching my fave BBC murder mysteries, subtitled, because then I do get the Dutch equivalent of sayings I know in English, like ‘kom mee’ for ‘let’s go’ (where I would have tried ‘zullen we gaan’)

  5. Kalin:

    Hi, Sarah.

    You began your post by saying that you already listed places to watch TV and listen to radio programmes in Dutch. Can you include the link in this post or below my comment?

    Bedankt 🙂

    • tiffany:

      @Kalin Hi Kalin,

      Sarah stopped blogging for us a while back. I’ve gone through all her posts and I believe she’s referring to this one:

      I’ve added the link to the post as well for future reference 🙂

      You can also try searching the blog for keywords like television, radio, etc and I’m sure any other posts will come up as well.

      Hope that’s what you were looking for. Thanks so much for your comment 🙂