Can Christmas songs help you learn Dutch?
A lot of the people who learn Dutch with us have had to learn English before. For many of them music was their very first introduction to that language. Who doesn’t have memories of butchering English language lyrics as a kid? (we do) Although they were never designed for language course purposes, many of these songs formed the understanding of a great many language learners. Even a language as complex as Hungarian seems to become easier once you’ve sung it. Most people intuitively feel singing might help them master a language (while for some it turns out to be the only way). Their intuition is often confirmed by research although the ways in which it does often remain elusive.
Does this mean you’ll have to sing a lot during our Dutch courses? Well no. We like people to feel at ease while they learn Dutch with us. The people who feel comfortable singing (in another language for that matter) in front of others are few and we wouldn’t want to put the others on the spot. This doesn’t mean that, outside of your Dutch classes, you shouldn’t sing in the language. It won’t teach you any Dutch grammar rules but singing Dutch songs definitely familiarizes you with those tricky Dutch vowel sounds.
At the time of writing it is almost Christmas (a moment that might ease your reluctance to engage in song?). Although certain songs by Chris Rea, Mariah Carey and Wham are as omnipresent in the Netherlands as in many other places around the end of the year, there are Dutch alternatives to enhance your Christmas mood, though they are few. Where to start? No song seems more appropriate for Christmas 2020, with its sense of isolation and despair, than André Hazes’ Eenzame Kerst (“Lonely Christmas”). The first song he released, it brought Hazes instant fame. Eenzame Kerst marked the beginning of a career in which a locally known ‘singing bartender’ turned national icon of the sentimental Dutch type of music called levenslied (“song of life” - related to the German schlager genre). Hazes doesn’t articulate very well here but the sense of drama is unmistakable in this song about a prisoner who spends Christmas locked up, away from wife and family. Famous are its opening lines: Ik zit hier heel alleen Kerstmis te vieren (“I am celebrating Christmas here all alone”). If you feel we’ve got ourselves to blame for our current lockdown predicament, you might approve of the line that follows: De straf die ik verdiend heb, zit ik uit (“I’m serving the sentence I deserve”). There is much more pathos in the rest of the lyrics.
We admit that listening to this song might not be the perfect way to learn the language (better take a proper Dutch course) but memorizing a few André Hazes lines will definitely earn you some credibility in Amsterdams infamous ‘brown bars’.
If you rather learn Dutch singing something more cheerful, you might want to check out this playlist by the Dutch Review. As with all proper Christmas songs it’s kitsch over quality here but we encourage everything that might have the Dutch language stick inside your head. Pick your favourite, google those lyrics and practic