Lieveheersbeestje tops ranking of most difficult words for young newcomers

17 July 2019

Lieveheersbeestje (ladybird) is the most difficult word for children who do not speak Dutch as their mother tongue, according to a group of young newcomers questioned by the children’s charity Stichting Kinderpostzegel.

The foundation asked 200 children aged four to 13 who are attending the Internationale Taalklaas language school for new arrrivals in Haarlem what words they found most difficult. Children at some 300 other language schools were then asked to rank the 10 words to create the final list, which, the foundation points out, is not a scientific ranking:

  • Lieveheersbeestje (ladybird)
  • Vogelverschrikker (scarecrow)
  • Afstandsbediening (remote control)
  • Perforator (perforator)
  • Lantaarnpaal (lamp post)
  • Schaduw (shadow)
  • Misschien (perhaps)
  • Vergeet-me-nietje (forget-me-not)
  • Juf (female teacher)
  • Gefeliciteerd (congratulations)

The publication of the list coincides with the launch of a new package of Dutch language teaching materials for new arrivals at Dutch primary schools. The new method ‘is linked with the experiences of today’s children,’ said foundation spokeswoman Simone Bommeljé. ‘It involves practicing with vlogs and includes a podcast.’ Speech therapist Chantal Punt told broadcaster NOS that many of the words children find difficult include the sch and the rolling 'r' sounds. ‘We learn language from the moment we are born,’ Punt said. ‘And we need to hear these sounds from that moment as well. Otherwise they are not in our language system.’ It is crucial to start helping children learn the language at a young age because their brains are still flexible, she said. Older children, she said, find it harder to learn Dutch without an accent because their brains are less likely to recognise the sounds.