When an adult learns a new language they are at a disadvantage compared to children. Kids tend to learn languages much faster the younger they are. In addition, when kids move to the Netherlands they will likely attend a Dutch speaking school, or at least a bilingual school. Children also have the advantage of making less mistakes later – I have heard that even the best learners of Dutch will still make mistakes with de/het (the) even after 30-40 years. Some things you truly need to learn from a young age.
That’s where libraries come in – they can help close the gap between how fast children and adults learn languages, though it is not perfect.
The first thing to tell you yourself is that it is okay to make use of the children’s section for the first year. For instance, the Centraal Bibliotheek (Central Library) in The Hague allows adults to browse children’s books – the only rule is that the study desks are for children and adults are asked to study somewhere else.
I will now explain the book classification system in use in the Netherlands, which can be found on the spine of a book. Look for stickers with these letters:
AP – books for toddlers. These include board books (made of material that is more durable for toddlers who like to chew on books), “soft” books that feel nice to the touch, picture books, and the very beginning books. It will also include the most basic dictionaries like “Mijn Eerste Van Dale” (My First Van Dale; Van Dale is a very popular dictionary.) Be careful though – some picture books will still have a lot of words on the page because it is intended that the parent reads to the child.
AK – books for preschoolers. These books are a bit harder. Again, it is assumed that parents will be helping so sometimes the language is still hard.
******* Learning to Read
E/M books (avi-niveau) – these are the books to help children learn to read. They are usually very thin and can generally be read alone. They have their own system, largely based around what group you are in. In America you are in “grades”, here you are in “groups” (see also this Wikipedia article). In general the system is either M (for ‘middle of the group’ ) or E (for ‘end of the group’) followed by the group number. Google “avi niveau boeken” for more information.
Here are the classifications, but remember that it is always an average.
ES – beginning Dutch learners start here (S = start). You can expect maybe 3-5 words per page – it really does not get any easier than this.
M3 – middle of group 3 (note: there is nothing for group 1 or 2)
E3 – end of group 3
…M4, E4, … M5, E5, … M6, E6, …
M7 – middle of group 7
E7 – end of group 7
EP – P = plus. This is the highest AVI niveau.
Tip: If you like one type of series (which you can determine by looking at the spine, the first few pages, the last few pages, or the back cover) considering getting more books in that series. Or ask your librarian for help finding more just like it! But generally books in the same series will have similar looking book spines (color, etc).
******* Fiction books
After that you need to switch to fiction books (rather than books that are written to help you learn to read). If you play close attention to the spine, though, you will see that some books are classified as general fiction (A, B) but still mentioned AVI-niveau somewhere near the top of the spine.
A boeken (fiction) – for readers 7-8 years
B boeken (fiction) – for readers 9-12 years
C boeken (fiction) – for readers 13-15 years
D boeken (fiction) – for readers 15+ years (young adult)
******* junior non-fiction
AJ boeken – easier non-fiction books for children
J boeken – harder non-fiction books for children
******* ‘Makkelijk lezen’ (easy reading)
These books are written at a certain level (for example, A, B, C above) but the content is for older readers. So a B ‘easy reading’ book might present themes more appropriate for a young adult. Look for an orange sticker at the top or bottom of the spine which says Makkelijk lezen.
You can either find these in the children’s section, where they are useful for children who are not reading as well, or in the ‘Learn Dutch’ section, where they realize that adults are probably reading the books and thus don’t want to read themes more appropriate for 7 year olds. Here is a blog post about Makkelijk lezen books with a photo of one of the pages.
******* ‘Nederlands leren’ (Learning Dutch)
At least, the section in The Hague libraries is called Nederlands leren so that is what I will call it here. This section is geared towards foreigners who are learning Dutch. You can read more about this section in the website for libraries in The Hague. If you are lucky your library has a decent to large section of books to learn Dutch – the section is more likely to be larger at a central library than a neighborhood library. At the central library it is on the fourth floor by the escalators (edit: it has since moved to the second floor, still within view of the escalators).
This section has a little of everything, including items that would have otherwise been placed in the children’s section. This is good for folks who don’t want to be seen browsing children’s books… For example you might find picture books, basic dictionaries, information books written for children, and more. You will also find books in written in your own language about Dutch, like grammar books and more.
You will also find course books in Dutch as well, although of course you cannot write in them. There are a lot of grammar books written in Dutch. You might also find books to help you with expanding your vocabulary or learning phrases/common sayings.
Finally, this section might also have NT2 exam books (Nederlands als tweede taal), which prepare you for the NT2 Programma I exam (B1 level) or the NT2 Programma II exam (B2 level).