How I learnt a New Language Unintentionally |

How I learnt a New Language Unintentionally

Have you ever done something suddenly? Perhaps you went away to a new country, or bought something at the very last minute. I’ve done all of the above, and I’ve also begun studying a new language without intended on doing so.

Image Courtesy of Sira Anamwong at

Image Courtesy of Sira Anamwong at


15 year old me

To infinity and beyond! Okay not exactly, but I was on my way to what would become a reoccurring holiday destination. I have relatives in the Netherlands, Dordrecht to be precise. I spent my whole summer in Dordrecht at the age of 15 and although I was worried about a possible language barrier, everyone I came across spoke a good level of English. This meant exploring Holland would be easier than expected, great!

 What I acquired on my first trip

I left the first trip with a set of new words and phrases. I learnt the usual, ‘how are you’ and ‘I’m fine’ etc. And being 15, I also picked up on some profanity which I’m embarrassed about, but hey we all do things were not particularly proud of. I also learnt the names of foods, mainly the dishes I tried and some rather delicious  foods such as Stroopwafel, a delicious syrup waffle.

I acquired these new words and phrases in different ways. One of the most effective methods consisted of interacting with my cousin. I also watched plenty of television with my family, of course with subtitles which made a big difference. I remember watching a cartoon called ‘Beugelbekkie’ which is the Dutch equivalent of ‘Brace Face’. I memorised the Dutch introduction to ‘Brace Face’ which happened subconsciously. Perhaps we spent too much time watching the show, nonetheless, this illustrates just how influential your surroundings are.

A few years down the line

By the time I reached my early 20’s I had gone to the Netherlands numerous times. Around this time I noticed the improvement in my language skills and as the number of visits increased, so did my glossary of words and phrases.

Testing your language skills is a great way to pick up new words and phrases. And after I made the choice to learn Dutch I attempted to talk to people where possible. There are many great places to interact with people, such as on public transport, stations and markets, and of course depending on how far your language skills take you.

 Intentionally learning Dutch

It’s funny to think that I went from learning a few words and phrases unintentionally to making it a mission to learn Dutch. After coming back from one of my many trips, I decided that I wanted to take part in a student exchange programme. I couldn’t think of a better place than the Netherlands, I had some knowledge of the language, well a limited amount but it was a start.

The following year, I attended an exchange programme at Erasmus. During this time, I was always in the presence of native Dutch speakers, and at home I made it a must to watch a few programmes without subtitles to test my language skills. And of-course my cousin was always very helpful, in fact she was my best personal translator always ready to guide me when things got a little complicated, nevertheless, my understanding of the Dutch language continued to improve.

While I was away at university in the Netherlands, I signed up to an online learning software. It had many fun interactive quizzes perfect for a practical learner like myself. I prefer practical learning so the quizzes where a fun way to learn. Some say that listening to music helps improve language skills such as pronunciations, not only this but it is also believed to help learners memorise words, similar to how we are able to store lyrics.

I graduated university at the age of 22 with the worries of dissertations and assignments a thing of the past. And while I was happy to have completed that chapter, I was eager to sign up to a part time course to develop my language skills further. I managed to find a part time course running for 3 months. I signed up to a beginner’s class as I wanted to ensure that what I knew actually made sense! Learning has no time limit, I mean look at how many years I was using online classes and my family members to help in my quest to learn Dutch!

I had a great teacher who was a Dutch native, I benefited from her teaching style immensely. She had a great teaching approach and always dedicated a lot of time in giving us one to one tutorials. I used this time to go over problem areas. The interaction with my fellow students also gave me confidence and I wasn’t afraid to make mistakes because without mistakes I wouldn’t have made the progress that I did.

How far have I come and my plans to continue learning 

I’m still studying the Dutch language and I’m also working towards improving my written skills. This summer I took a short break from my studies, but I am going back to the Netherlands. For now I still use online language apps on my phone to go over my language skills. By this time next year, I want to reach a stage where I can be at least 90% confident in my ability to speak Dutch.