It may help if you understand where the word comes from.
meid = maid, girl
Dutch speakers love to add diminutives to everything, in this case:
meidje = [little] maid, [little] girl
As this word was so common, a sloppy pronunciation turned into a separate word:
meisje = [little] girl
Hi, you can try to break it down sound by sound maybe.
"m" at the beginning of course
The "ei" sound sounds like "ay"
The "sj" sound in Dutch sounds like "sh"
and then just finish it of with "es"
I don't know if that will help. Otherwise you could continue practicing until it becomes second nature!
A technique I developed in my tutoring business to learn difficult pronunciations is to learn it progressively forward... For example:
If you get tripped up at any step in the progression, practice on that step till it becomes comfortable before continuing.
Once you get to the last step, practice the complete word till it's comfortable.
I use this to help students with tough words like Pythagorean which can literally frighten some students. I'll spare you the theory behind why it works, but it does work, every time.
Yes. Like practically all Dutch words ending with -je, meisje is a diminutive. A diminutive is a noun that was modified by adding a diminutive ending (such as -je) signifying "little". In Dutch (like in German), all diminutive words are het words regardless of the gender of the base word. In this case, the base word de meid (maid, girl) is a de word, but like all diminutives de meidje has neuter gender. De meisje is derived from de meidje and just reflects how this common word is pronounced in practice.
For plurals, the gender doesn't matter. De is used for all plurals, whether of het words or de words.
Here is some background information:
Dutch used to have three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. Just like English, it actually still has them in personal pronouns referring to people. However, in terms of noun genders, masculine and feminine have been merged into the so-called common gender (de words), which is roughly twice as common as neuter gender (het words).
Flemish, the variant of Dutch spoken in Belgium, uses the same articles as Dutch, but when referring to a noun with a personal pronoun, people still use either hij (he) or zij (she) depending on whether the noun has masculine or feminine gender. I.e. they use grammatical gender rather than natural gender (referring to things as het (it) and to people as hij or zij depending on their actual sex/gender). Therefore masculine and feminine gender have not yet fully merged in Flemish. Also, German is very closely related to Dutch and even more conservative. In German, all three genders are still very much alive. Things are similar in Scandinavian languages, with masculine and feminine merged into a common gender in Danish and Swedish but not yet fully merged in Norwegian.
Far back in the prehistory of Indo-European languages, they once had only two genders: masculine and feminine. Then at some point neuter gender split off of masculine gender. In some languages such as Latin you can still see strong similarities between masculine and neuter endings. In French, masculine and neuter even merged again, which is why French again distinguishes only masculine and feminine gender.
At some point in the common prehistory of Dutch and German, noun gender was more meaningful and somewhat fluid; i.e. it could be manipulated to change the meanings of words. In some cases, you could use feminine gender with a masculine noun to turn it into an abstract noun or one signifying a collective. This is no longer the case, but it is still the case that many endings used for creating abstract and collective nouns, such as -heit, -schap, -ie, -te result in de words which in Flemish have feminine gender. This association between feminine gender and collective nouns fits well to the fact that for plurals always the article de is used, just as for common gender words