How to speak Dutch better (Dutch pronunciation tips)

Depending on where you are in the world, some Dutch letters can sound quite different and hard, especially if you don’t have them in your own language. Understanding and knowing how to say the sounds correctly, is essential to speak Dutch better. So here are my most used Dutch pronunciation tips!

1. Know each phonetic sound

Sounds easy enough, but it is almost impossible to say a word right when you don’t know (yet) how each letter sounds seperately. So let’s say you don’t know what a letter sounds like, you probably will not say the word right when you read it first. Some words are easy, because the sounds sound just the same as in English. Like ‘mama’. The letter ‘M’ alphabetically is ’em’ and sounds like ‘mmm’. Even though the A in Dutch sounds different (like the A in ‘fa’), phonetically it sounds like the ‘a’ in father (so more like an ‘ah’). Therefore ‘mama’ (mum/mother) is probably easy for you to say.

Even words that are similar to English are usually easier. For example ‘appel’ (apple). Now that you know we say the Dutch A as a ‘ah’, you can probably try and say ‘appel’ the right way. But let’s look at the sentence: ‘ik loop’ (I walk). Chances are that you probably will say ‘loop’ like the English loop (we are walking in a loop). In Dutch the double O sound is slightly different. Our O sounds like the O in DO (again the song!). Or the ‘ohhhh!’ you exclaim when you finally get it. Now you see that ‘ik loop’ will sound completely different and also has nothing to do with the English word ‘loop’ (unless you’re walking in one ;)).

2. Prep your brain

What I see often is that people go and read words, but they still have ‘their English brain’ on. This means that you are looking at words and letters with your English speaking mind. This is great, but just like you have seen in the last example, this can create some confusion and frustration whilst speaking Dutch. And that is obviously not what we want!

Whilst learning you use a different part of your brain and this is seperate from what you are comfortable with (which is speaking English). Without going into depth of how the brain works, we have to prep and frame our brain in such a way that we know we are speaking Dutch. Just as with any habit building, the comfort zone is more prone and loves to be and stay around. That’s why it’s important to preframe yourself before a lesson and keep reminding your brain that you are learning Dutch for this moment.

How to learn Dutch?

How can you do that? Just like with going to language class in high school, you can make sure you have your own room or at least some attributes that you and your brain associate with learning Dutch. Maybe this is the only time that you get to drink a hot chocolate. Or maybe it’s the only time that you put your Dutch dictionary ready. Eat a little block of cheese or have the smell of tulips there. I am being funny by making these Dutch references, but essentially it’s about cueing yourself that you are about to learn Dutch. The more you do it overtime, the more your brain gets used to it, just like you got used to getting out of bed when the alarm goes off.

Another thing is as soon as you recognise you are thinking too much in English (in the beginning it’s obviously common and needed to understand) in a way that you keep reading words in English or don’t answer in Dutch, you want to kindly redirect yourself. You can say something like: thanks for helping me understand this in a way I know how, but at this moment I am learning Dutch, so I want to use my Dutch brain and knowledge now. In this way you are kind to yourself & redirecting your brain in such a way that it can continue learning in Dutch without the frustration. By seeing your brain as two (or more) different parts when you are learning a language, it will help you to switch more easily between languages.

3. Sound out each seperate letter

If you see a word that is new to you, or that you are confused about, you can try to sound out each letter seperately. You see that this is the method kids naturally use when reading. They go and sound out each letter after one another, pause, listen to what they have just said and then puzzle all the sounds together to one word. I love this method because it works and it’s fun. Don’t be afraid to take the time and do this. See it as something that is empowering rather than silly. Have fun with it, knowing that it will actually help you.

Let’s try some words together. ‘Misschien’ (maybe). M – i – s – s – ch – ie – n. Sound out each letter seperately and then put them in one go. Can you get it? You can always listen on Google Translate to model the right pronunciation as well. Another one is ‘opzoeken’ (to look up). O – p – z – oe – k – e – n. Because of all the similar letters and sounds, you will find that this sound is not as difficult to pronounce.

4. Use syllables to make sense of words

Another similar tip is to split the word up into syllables. Especially with longer words, it can sometimes be confusing how to best pronounce the words. There is also a natural feel when it comes to the right emphasis in a word. Sometimes in English there is a different emphasis on a word than that we would have in Dutch. For example: in ‘interessant‘ is on the last syllable, but in ‘interesting’ the syllable goes first. Both words will sound totally different when trying to pronounce it.

Another one is ‘onmiddellijk’ (immediately). O – n – m – i – d – d – e – l – l – ij – k. Because of all the similar letters, this word is not that hard, though the ‘ij’ sound can be. If you already know the ‘ij’ sound and you listen to this word on Google Translate, you’ll hear that the ‘ij’ in this word actually sounds more like a Dutch ‘u’.

5. Model a Dutchie

No, I am not talking about starting a modelling career, though you will model the way a Dutchie speaks. This is actually quite fun as you can tell who foreigners learned from. Most of my students who haven’t learned Dutch before will automatically get a more soft accent as I am from the south of the Netherlands (compared to Amsterdam, where there is a more harsh accent with their ‘G’ and ‘R’.

The beauty of this is that you can listen and copy what a Dutchie says and use that in your own conversation. The more Dutch you hear, the better it will be for your understanding. It is kind of like learning a song, but in this case you learn the song of the Dutch language ;). Know how we all know the exact lyrics to many songs and can even identically copy the artist as well. I mean, who doesn’t want to copy a good Whitney Houston song?!

6. Sources to listen to Dutch

Aside from listening to your friends and family, you can also try to listen to diverse YouTube videos, podcasts, music and shows. I personally like the 100% NL playlist as you will listen to Dutch songs that are popular in the Netherlands right now. And if you like shows, you can actually watch many of them for free at NPO, which is a Dutch tv channel. Lastly, you can also put on ‘het Jeugdjournaal’, which is the news for Dutch children. They use more simplified language, so it’s easier to understand than regular news and they use more visuals.

For the purpose of pronounciation, it is not about understanding the meaning of the words, but more listen to the sounds and pick up on that. You might wanna try and repeat some of the sentences. Research has shown that putting music or ‘noise’ on the background, will subconsciously improve your knowledge without you actually learning. That’s why kids always hear and know everything ;).

The best Dutch pronunciation tip

Just like with learning everything, practice makes improvement. Know it’s a journey and you are on your own adventure. It takes time to learn something, so give yourself some slack. If you do want more help, know that you don’t have to do it all by yourself. You can join one of my private and group classes or get my Pronunciation Course!

In this course you will do a fun deep dive on all the sounds we have in the Dutch language, literally from A to Z! After this, you know exactly how to sound out every sound and you will work on your vocabulary along the way. This is the only course that goes through all the sounds, has audio to practice with & you have the opportunity to record yourself and receive personal feedback on your progress from me. For more information, you can check

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