MUSIC: Learning Dutch / Flemish with songs – an eclectic overview across various music genres

Nout listening to music with his headphones

How can you learn Dutch or Flemish with music? In this article, I’ll be explaining you just that! I’m also giving you an eclectic overview of Dutch & Flemish-sung songs and artists across many different genres which I conveniently turned into Spotify and YouTube playlists for you! No matter what kind of music you’re into, I’m sure I’ve found something for you.

THERE’S MORE THAN POP MUSIC!

First of all, let me confess that I’m a huge music lover. In my spare time, I listen to tons of different kinds of muic. I’ve also been writing as a music journalist for the Flemish alternative music site Enola (you can find an overview of my articles here). My music taste is quite eclectic and I nibble from many different genres but I’m mostly into indie-rock, shoegaze, singer-songwriter, alternative stuff. Very often I listen to rather experimental music with poetic, deep lyrics.

As a teacher, I’ve been feeling frustrated with the way that Dutch and Flemish music has been represented in coursebooks. Their selections mostly consist of Dutch and / or Flemish pop music. I am personally not so much into pop music and I rarely find my own preferences and musical tastes represented in coursebooks.

Most coursebooks are mixing things up. Using song lyrics and melody for a lesson is in itself great but not when that’s the only musical exposure students get. They should also include a diverse selection of music that students can listen to in their spare time. The point is to have you, dear students, engaged and music is one of the most direct ways of ensuring that. Plus, music should also really be about having fun and connecting with (certain aspects of) the culture of your target language.

HOW TO STUDY DUTCH WITH MUSIC

There are basically two methods to study Dutch (or any language) with music. The first one would consist of the type of exercise that you do in class. Maybe a listening exercise to introduce or consolidate new vocabulary and/or grammar. I would however like to focus on the second method here. This mostly consists of exposing yourself to a broad range of artists, genres and songs until you find something that you really like. Unlike the first method, the purpose here is not to study new vocabulary or grammar. It’s rather about building a personal, positive relationship with your target language and find some personal common ground with the culture.

HOW TO LISTEN TO DUTCH & FLEMISH MUSIC

That’s why I made a number of playlists with some of the most famous songs sung in Flemish and Dutch. I arranged them according to genre and/or mood. There’s no point in torturing yourself with listening to Dutch hip-hop or Flemish alternative rock if those aren’t genres you wouldn’t listen to either way. With these playlists, you’re also 10 times more likely to come across a song or an artist that you can connect to, even if that means that you don’t understand much of what they’re singing about.

WHEN TO LISTEN TO DUTCH & FLEMISH MUSIC

The goal here is not to actually “study” vocabulary or grammar but rather passively absorb the music. That’s why you can basically keep your music listening habits. If you’re listening to music in your car, when writing e-mails, when doing chores or when you’re cooking or whatever else usually takes your fancy: it doesn’t matter. Just make a point of occasionally replacing the music you’re normally listening to with one of my playlist of your own choice.

HELP, I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY’RE SINGING ABOUT!

At this point, don’t worry too much about understanding lyrics. Just let the playlists play, chill, relax, and see what songs appeal to you. If you’re a music afficionado like me, it can be a trigger to keep you motivated. If you find a song that you really like, look up the lyrics and try to make sense of it or ask your teacher to help you. Learning a language is not only about studying vocabulary, making exercises and doing the hard work, but it’s also very much about personally connecting with the culture, relaxing and having fun. If you’re on a higher level, you could of course also use these playlists and tips to hopefully make some new discoveries. As an advanced student, you can also use music to practice Dutch, but I’ll make a separate video and article about that.

SOME MAJOR, ESSENTIAL HITS…

In the video at the bottom of this article, I’ve given you an overview of some major hits and classics across different genres in both the Netherlands and Flanders. You can check out these songs and some other ones in this YouTube and Spotify playlist.

An overview of some of the biggest hits in Flanders and the Netherlands across a variety of genres.

MY PLAYLISTS

Below, you’ll find the playlists consisting of songs in Dutch & Flemish, organised according to genre and / or mood. Because some artists don’t always neatly fit into one category, they’re repeated across categories and you’ll find them with whatever song fits into that particular playlist. I’ve painstakingly composed these playlists myself so let me know if you like them and if you have anything that you think I should add. All of these playlists together will give you a very broad, albeit far from complete overview of the different kinds of Dutch & Flemish music that is out there.

If you prefer to listen to music on YouTube, you can find the music playlists on my channel.

Below, you can find the same playlists on Spotify. Specifically the selection of children’s music is a lot broader here.

Pop, light rock, commercial and big hits from the Netherlands and Flanders.
A broad selection of indie / alternative / singer-songwriter music that true music nerds should know about. My personal favorite. 😉
A selection of Dutch & Flemish R&B, hip-hop & (t)rap. Energetic, fun, epic. Very epic.
A selection of popular Dutch & Flemish children’s songs, from the more commercial , sing-along-songs (K3, Kinderen voor kinderen) to the more alternative, weird, funny and cute (Annie MG Schmidt, Klein Orkest).
Romantic / ballads / love songs from Belgium and the Netherlands.
A playlist with energetic Dutch and Flemish music to accompany you during all of your physical activities!
Music for partying, singing along to, dancing, you know, the things that you do at parties.
A selection of kleinkunst, indie, alt, acoustic and traditional music from Flanders.
A selection of “cabaret” theatre music, indie, alt, acoustic and traditional music from the Netherlands.

USEFUL LINKS

Radio stations in Flanders:

Radio stations in the Netherlands:

Online music magazines:

Course books & online material using Dutch music:

  • Scroll down to the “Muziek” section of this page of NT2 Taalmenu to find an interesting selection of songs (and a linked Spotify playlist) with linked pronunciation & vocabulary exercises for A1 students.
  • Dichter bij de taal by Folkert Kuiken & Josine Burgers, a book which uses classic and modern poetry and song lyrics to help you learn Dutch in a playful way with accompanying exercises. You can buy it here.
  • Anders nog iets – Liedjes voor wie Nederlands leert by Janjaap de Vries / Helga van Loo (a great book and accompanying cd with songs written specifically for students learning Dutch with very good exercises related to each song).
    Here’s a song from the book and you can buy the book and cd here.
  • The course books Nederlands in Gang (A1) and Nederlands in Actie (A2) by the Dutch editor Coutinho also make interesting use of music in their course books.

Other links & more information:

  • More information about “not dumbed down” music for kids: Kiind.nl
  • More information about the Belgian hip-hop scene and underground artists: Belgian Hip-hop

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