Dutch pronunciation deters learners
One of the factors that prevent people from learning good Dutch is its seemingly tricky pronunciation. Dutch has no less than 23 vowel sounds: 13 simple vowels and 10 diphthongs. Of the 13 simple vowels, 8 are always either long or short and 5 can vary between long and short.
For beginners trying to practise their limited skills, it can be tricky to learn how to speak Dutch in an understandable way because the vowel sounds can easily be confused. Take the example of the sounds /ʏ:/ and /y:/. The first one is what you have to use in the word beurt and the second one is what is found in the word buurt.
The most famous difficulty in Dutch pronunciation is the diphthong /œy/, which is the sound represented by the letters ui. Our advice is to first learn how to pronounce the sounds [œ] and [y] separately and the combine them. If you can already pronounce French, this becomes an easy task: you simply have to combine the vowels that you hear when you say cœur [œ] and mur [y].
But vowels is not where it all ends: there are also 22 consonants, among which the famous g-sound, which can sound very hard if you are not used to it. Have you tried pronouncing the Dutch tongue twister “Achtentachtig prachtige grachten”?
Speak Dutch: Pronounce it correctly
If all this sounds demotivating, you might want to consider the fact that British English (Received Pronunciation) has 20 vowel sounds, including 8 diphthongs. In addition to that, it has 24 consonant sounds, which is more than the ones found in Dutch. Besides, when was last time you tried to learn Danish, Arabic or a tonal language like Mandarin? Dutch pronunciation is a piece of cake compared to the challenges you will have to face in languages like these.
Dutch Grammar starts with pronunciation and the best way to master it is to receive good training right at the beginning. If you have a teacher, try to make them instruct you on the articulatory properties of Dutch sounds. If you know where to place your tongue and how to shape your lips, you are all set. If you are doing self-study, it is best to use a scientific source to discover the properties of Dutch phonemes, like this wikipedia page.
By reaching a good level of Dutch pronunciation skills, any learner feels automatically more comfortable to speak the language. Dutch Grammar becomes then something they are more eager to dive into and the learning the Dutch language is a more pleasant experience.