BBC - Languages - Dutch - A Guide to Dutch (2023)

BBC - Languages - Dutch - A Guide to Dutch (1)

Check the Dutch-only version

BBC - Languages - Dutch - A Guide to Dutch (3)

1. Where is Dutch spoken?

Dutch is a national language in the Netherlands, Belgium, Suriname in South America and the Dutch Antilles. In Belgium, it’s the official language of Flanders, the Northern region of the country, and is also spoken in Brussels, although the majority of the city’s population speak French. In Suriname and the Dutch Antilles, Dutch is still an official language, but several other languages are spoken there too.

In total, there are over 22 million native speakers of Dutch and it’s a popular second language in Germany, the north of France and increasingly in Eastern Europe. You may also find older native speakers in Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and Canada as many Dutch people migrated to these countries in the 1950’s.

BBC - Languages - Dutch - A Guide to Dutch (4)

2. What you already know about Dutch

Many Dutch words are similar to English ones as both languages come from the same old Germanic root; particularly names for everyday things like fruits and vegetables or colours, e.g.
appel, apple,
peer, pear,
banaan, banana,
tomaat, tomato,
blauw, blue,
rood, red,
groen, green.

Dutch settlers in the U.S. in the 17th century held on to their language for quite some time and many words made their way into (American) English, such as
coleslaw from koolsla, cabbage salad,
cookie from koekje, biscuit, or
Santa Claus from Sinterklaas / Sint Nicholaas, Saint Nicholas.

Another source of Dutch influence on the English language is through Afrikaans, which in its turn is a Dutch-based creole, e.g.
apartheid, literally separateness,
wildebeest, wild beast,
aardvark, earth pig.
Look at the following Afrikaans sentence:
My pen was in my hand. You can see that it’s spelled exactly the same in English, even though the pronuncation in Afrikaans would be closer to Dutch.

BBC - Languages - Dutch - A Guide to Dutch (5)

3. How hard is it to learn?

Dutch is probably the easiest language to learn for English speakers as it positions itself somewhere between German and English. For example, you may know that German has three articles: der, die and das, and English only one: the.
Well, Dutch has two: de and het, but it doesn’t have all the grammatical cases like German. However, de and het are quite possibly the hardest part to learn, as you have to memorise which article each noun takes.

Just like German, Dutch sentences often place the verb at the end, which takes some getting used to. It also makes use of so-called modal particles, lots of little words such as
nou, toch, nog, maar, eens, even, which alter the mood of a sentence, e.g. they make a command less direct, nicer, or a request more urgent. On the whole, they have no direct translations in English.

BBC - Languages - Dutch - A Guide to Dutch (6)

4. The most difficult words and tongue twisters

During the Second World War, the Dutch would identify Germans by asking them to pronounce Scheveningen. Consequently, the name of this seaside town is a well-known shibboleth, a Hebrew term for a word that, if pronounced correctly, distinguishes you clearly as belonging to a certain group.

Similarly, the Flemish used to ask people to pronounce
Schild en Vriend, shield and friend, when trying to identify French-speaking spies. As you can see, they all have the sch sound. But it can get harder when you have to combine this with an r. Have a go at the Dutch word for terrible, which is a terrible word to pronounce indeed: verschrikkelijk. Or how about herfst, the Dutch word for autumn? Both words have four consonants in a row!

For a real challenge, try this:
Wij smachten naar achtentachtig prachtige nachten bij achtentachtig prachtige grachten,
we long for eighty eight wonderful nights at eighty eight wonderful canals.

BBC - Languages - Dutch - A Guide to Dutch (7)

5. Know any good Dutch jokes?

Like its European neighbours, the Dutch language knows many jokes about (blonde) women, relationships or other nations. The Dutch like to joke about the Belgians (by which they usually mean the Flemish) and in return, the Flemish like to joke about the Dutch. Quite often, the content is the same, and the neighbours are made out to be immensely stupid.

In the following joke, substitute 'men' by a Dutchman and a Belgian and interchange them, depending on who you prefer…
Twee mannen wandelen in de woestijn
Zegt de ene tegen de andere
Waarom zeul je een autodeur mee?
Nou, zegt de andere, als ik het te warm krijg, kan ik het raampje opendraaien!

Two men are walking in the desert.
One says to the other:
Why are you carrying a car door?
Well, says the other, if I get too hot, I can always wind down the window!

BBC - Languages - Dutch - A Guide to Dutch (8)

6. If I learn Dutch, will it help me with any other languages?

Dutch is a member of the West Germanic family tree, and as such, is a cousin of English and German and a sibling to Afrikaans. Another cousin is Frisian, a regional minority language spoken in the North of the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany. Dutch is also related to North Germanic language family members, such as Swedish, Danish and Norwegian.

BBC - Languages - Dutch - A Guide to Dutch (9)

7. What not to say and do

If you walk into a Dutch café, you won’t find any fry-ups, but you could ask for a beer as a café is more like a bar, although coffee is always served, too.
If you see a sign for lagere school, it’s simply a primary school.
And if you see kip on the menu, don’t think you’re getting fish, as it's actually chicken.
Tourists enjoying a cup of coffee in quaint tearooms have expressed surprise at seeing slagroom on the menu. Rest assured, this means nothing more than whipped cream!

As Dutch has a separate word for male or female friends, beware when introducing a friend as mijn vriendin, my female friend, or mijn vriend, my male friend, as this implies this person is your girlfriend or boyfriend. To avoid a misunderstanding, it’s better to say that they’re een vriend / een vriendin, a friend.

BBC - Languages - Dutch - A Guide to Dutch (10)

8. Famous quotations

Famous quotes which have found their way into the Dutch and Flemish psyche are often credited to well-known writers. In 1889, the impressionist poet, Herman Gorter, wrote the famous first lines Een nieuwe lente en een nieuw geluid, a new spring, a new sound, to his lyrical celebration of spring in the long poem
Mei, May - a useful line for whoever wants to indicate a new dawn is coming.

One of his contemporaries, Willem Kloos, wrote:
Ik ben een God in't diepst van mijn gedachten, I am a God at the deepest point of my thoughts (1884), which is often used, replacing 'God' with whatever suits the context.

But last words can be famous too, as in the final sentences of Gerard Reve’s iconic post-war novel, De Avonden, The Evenings, which read:
"Het is gezien", mompelde hij, "het is niet onopgemerkt gebleven". Hij strekte zich uit en viel in een diepe slaap.
“It has been seen”, he mumbled, “it hasn’t remained unnoticed”. He stretched out and fell into a deep sleep.

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9. First publication

A popular myth has it that the oldest Dutch words were discovered in Rochester in the U.K., in the margins of an old Latin manuscript in 1932. These written words date back to the 12th century, and they were probably written by a Flemish monk doing copying work and trying out his pen. They contain the lines of a light-hearted love poem, which goes like this:
Hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan hinase hic enda thu. Wat unbidan we nu?
Have all birds begun nests, except me and you? What are we waiting for?

It’s a true and very sweet story, but they weren’t the oldest words. Older manuscripts have, in fact, been found such as a local law book, the Salic Law, dating as far back as the sixth century.

BBC - Languages - Dutch - A Guide to Dutch (12)

10. How to be polite and show respect

Dutch makes a distinction in the second person pronoun ‘you’ between the more formal u and less formal je / jij. The formal u is normally used for people you don't know and the je in all other cases. There’s been a shift in the last few decades towards an increased use of the informal over the formal and it’s quite normal now to be addressed with je in a bar or a shop by the serving staff, which would have been unthinkable just 40 years ago.

When people meet, they often kiss, up to three times depending on the region, but in more formal setting, handshakes will do.

An interesting custom in the Netherlands is that at a birthday party, guests will not only congratulate the birthday person, but also his or her relatives. They will say:
Gefelicteerd met je moeder! or Gefeliciteerd met je vader, je zus, je man, je zwager.
Lit. Congratulations with your mother, or, Congratulations with your father, your sister, your husband, your brother-in-law.


What is the easiest way to learn Dutch? ›

The easiest way to learn Dutch is to use language learning apps and practice with native speakers. Apps like italki can connect you with Dutch tutors around the world. Apps like Babbel and Pimsleur can also teach you to speak the language quickly.

How can I learn Dutch for free? ›

Learn Dutch for free!
  1. Welkom! Voel je thuis in Nederland! ...
  3. Go to the Library. ...
  4. Check out the following websites: ...
  5. Install Dutch apps on your phone or tablet. ...
  6. Listen to Dutch songs. ...
  7. Jeugdjournaal, watch the news for kids daily. ...
  8. Watch Netflix with Dutch subtitles.

How long will it take to learn Dutch? ›

Germanic languages
LanguageTime needed to reach fluency
Danishabout 575 hours or 23 weeks
Dutchabout 575 hours or 23 weeks
Norwegianabout 575 hours or 23 weeks
Swedishabout 575 hours or 23 weeks
1 more row
Jan 5, 2023

How can I teach myself Dutch? ›

The best ways to learn Dutch
  1. Use an app to learn Dutch.
  2. Attend Dutch language schools.
  3. Sign up for online Dutch courses.
  4. Use textbooks to learn Dutch.
  5. Join online communities to learn Dutch.
  6. Listen to Dutch podcasts and songs.
  7. Watching videos to learn Dutch.
  8. Talk with Dutchies.
Jan 10, 2022

How hard is it for an American to learn Dutch? ›

3. How hard is it to learn? Dutch is probably the easiest language to learn for English speakers as it positions itself somewhere between German and English.

What is the hardest part of learning Dutch? ›

10 biggest challenges for learning Dutch
  1. 1 Deciding. The first obstacle is a mean one. ...
  2. 2 Finding Time. If you are like most people, then probably you have to work. ...
  3. 3 Pronunciation. ...
  4. 4 Words often have more than one meaning. ...
  5. 5 Dealing with pictures. ...
  6. 6 Anacondawords. ...
  7. 7 Order in the sentence. ...
  8. 8 The past tense.

How do you say hi in Netherlands? ›

If you want to say hi in Dutch, you would simply say “hoi”. The more formal hello is “hallo”. Regional varieties of “hi” include “heuj”, “alo” and “huijj” but sticking to “hoi” or “hallo” is generally all you need.

How is J pronounced in Dutch? ›

J in Dutch is pronounced with an English y sound, as in year. V in Dutch sometimes makes an f sound, depending on the placement and regional dialect. W in Dutch w is a cross between an English w and v sound.

What makes Dutch hard to learn? ›

The Dutch language has many irregular verbs. There are 200 irregular verbs with all sorts of different irregularities, and it's almost impossible to find a system. You say kopen (to buy)– ik kocht – ik heb gekocht, but then lopen (to walk) – ik liep – ik heb gelopen. There are no grammar rules for these verbs.

How long does it take to learn Dutch in America? ›

According to FSI (Foreign Service Institute), an American government institution in charge of foreign language teaching to American diplomats and officials, it takes English speakers around 24 weeks of intensive classroom study to reach a general professional proficiency in Dutch.

What is the hardest language to learn? ›

Across multiple sources, Mandarin Chinese is the number one language listed as the most challenging to learn. The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center puts Mandarin in Category IV, which is the list of the most difficult languages to learn for English speakers.

Is Dutch harder than German? ›

Dutch grammar is easier than German

One of the biggest differences between Dutch and German is in the definite articles. In German there are three, whereas Dutch has two.

Does Rosetta Stone teach Dutch? ›

Using Rosetta Stone's award-winning mobile app and software, you can engage with Dutch at your own pace, helping you to start speaking Dutch from day one. Learning Dutch with Rosetta Stone means you are leveraging a trusted language-learning software with over 25 years experience developing language programs that work.

Is there any point learning Dutch? ›

2. Learning Dutch Helps with Practicalities. In addition to knowing basic words and phrases to live your new life somewhat independently, there are a few practical reasons too. For instance, knowing some Dutch makes reading restaurant menus, road signs, newspapers, and ingredient lists much easier.

Can you understand Dutch if you know English? ›

Since English words are prominently located within the Dutch language, it can be easy for people proficient in English to read Dutch. However, speaking Dutch can be more difficult due to the different Dutch pronunciations. Some of the most difficult sounds include the 'r', the hard 'g', the sch and the ij sounds.

Where do they speak Dutch the most? ›

Approximately 23 million people worldwide speak Dutch as their native language. An additional 4 million speak it as a second language. The majority of native speakers live in Europe, primarily in the Netherlands and northern Belgium.

What is the difference between Het and de in Dutch? ›

What is the difference between de and het in Dutch? 'Het' is for neuter nouns. 'De' for masculine and feminine nouns. Although there are some rules, for non-native speakers it more or less comes down to learning 'het' and 'de' words one by one.

What is the easiest second language to learn? ›

We've used data from the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) to rank them from the easier to the somewhat more challenging.
  • Frisian. ...
  • Dutch. ...
  • Norwegian. ...
  • Spanish. ...
  • Portuguese. ...
  • Italian. ...
  • French. ...
  • Swedish.
Oct 24, 2021

What level of Dutch is fluent? ›

Your Dutch writings are clear, well structured and detailed even about complex subjects. C2. Bilingual level : You are speaking Dutch fluently.

Can Germans and Dutch understand each other? ›

Dutch, German, English, Swedish and Danish are all Germanic languages but the degree of mutual intelligibility between these languages differs. Danish and Swedish are the most mutually comprehensible, but German and Dutch are also mutually intelligible.

Which is harder Spanish or Dutch? ›

While Dutch has nineteen vowel sounds (can you imagine?) and eleven diphthongs, Spanish only has five vowel sounds and fourteen diphthongs. Spanish wins in pronunciation but has complex verb conjugations and grammar which makes it significantly more complicated than Dutch.

What is a Dutch goodbye? ›

If you want to say “goodbye” in Dutch, you have plenty of options. The most common in probably “dag.” But “doeg,” “doei,” “doe-doei,” “joe,” “hoje,” “tjuus,” and “houdoe” are all either other general ways or regional ways to say “goodbye.”

What is sorry in Dutch? ›

To say “I'm sorry,” you would conjugate this as het spijt me. Here's how that sounds in a sentence: Sorry, het spijt me.

What is not a common Dutch greeting? ›

The Dutch goedenacht is not often used to greet someone, but rather when saying goodbye to someone in the (late) evening. It's typically used to say 'sleep well' or 'sleep tight' to someone.

What is the most common letter in the Dutch language? ›

⟨e⟩ is the most frequently used letter in the Dutch alphabet, as it is in English. The least frequently used letters are ⟨q⟩ and ⟨x⟩, similar to English.

What letters are silent in Dutch? ›

The consonants s, f, h, b, d, z, l, m, n, and ng are pronounced the same way in Dutch as in English. P, t, and k are pronounced without the puff of air (called aspiration.) Sometimes the g is pronounced like zh in words borrowed from French.

Can you learn Dutch in 3 years? ›

It Depends On How Much You Practice

The Foreign Language Institute recommends a total of 24-30 weeks or 600-750 hours of Dutch language learning to reach fluency.

Can I learn Dutch in a week? ›

If you want to learn Dutch fast you won't need more than a 1 week intensive Dutch course to learn Dutch. A 5, 7 or 9 day immersion crash course with Richard van Egdom an experienced dedicated native Dutch language teacher suffices. Starting from scratch you get up to level A2 on the European Language Proficiency Scale.

What is unique about Dutch? ›

The Dutch are the tallest people in the world. More sheep than people live on the Wadden Island of Texel. Amsterdam is built entirely on piles and has 1200 bridges. The Netherlands has the highest museum density in the world.

What is B2 level Dutch? ›

B2 – Listening

B2 Listening means that you can understand extended speech and lectures and follow even complex lines of argument provided the topic is reasonably familiar. You can understand most TV news and current affairs programs. You can understand the majority of films in standard dialect.

Can I learn Dutch in 3 months? ›

Learning Dutch has never been so easy! Learn to speak Dutch in just three months with this practical and comprehensive self-study language course. Whether you're a complete beginner or wanting to refresh your knowledge, Hugo: Dutch in Three Months will have you speaking Dutch fluently in just 12 weeks.

Can you become fluent in Dutch in a year? ›

But as a general guide, the Foreign Service Insitute in the US estimates it takes about 600 hours of class lessons (or 24 weeks) for a native English speaker to become fluent in Dutch.

What is the sweetest language in the world? ›

According to a UNESCO survey, Bengali has been classified as the sweetest language in the world. As a language, Bengali is widely spoken all over India, including Assam and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. The sweetest language in the world is also recognized in the Constitution of India.

What is the most understood language in the world? ›

1. English (1,452 million speakers) According to Ethnologue, English is the most-spoken language in the world including native and non-native speakers.

What is the oldest language in the world? ›

Sumerian can be considered the first language in the world, according to Mondly. The oldest proof of written Sumerian was found on the Kish tablet in today's Iraq, dating back to approximately 3500 BC.

What is the closest language to Dutch? ›

Its closest relative is the mutually intelligible daughter language Afrikaans. Other West Germanic languages related to Dutch are German, English and the Frisian languages and the un-standardised languages Low German and Yiddish.

Do the Dutch speak fast? ›

People in general – Dutch people included – love to speak fast, and they are not going to slow it down, because this is how they like to speak. Certainly if they feel excited about certain things… At the same time, it can be frustrating… you may feel that if people speak fast to you, that it really stands in your way.

Is the Dutch language in decline? ›

Dutch language also losing ground

Dutch, with its 24 million speakers one of the 40 most spoken languages in the world, is also an endangered language.

Can Duolingo make you fluent in Dutch? ›

Learn Dutch in just 5 minutes a day with our game-like lessons. Whether you're a beginner starting with the basics or looking to practice your reading, writing, and speaking, Duolingo is scientifically proven to work.

What language should I learn as a Dutch speaker? ›

Afrikaans – the easiest language to learn for both English and Dutch speakers. Afrikaans, the same as English, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, is a Germanic language.

What level is Duolingo Dutch? ›

By itself, Duolingo's Dutch course could probably get you to an A2 level in reading and listening (so long as you're doing enough passive learning as well). A good tool to use — either alongside Duolingo or after you've completed the course — is DutchPod101.

Why are Dutch so good at English? ›

The small size and population of the Netherlands and hundreds of years of it having a trade and commerce economy, particularly between Continental Europe and the United Kingdom, the Dutch put strong emphasis on learning English and other foreign languages, especially German.

What percentage of Dutch people have a university degree? ›

Overall, 38% of Dutch adults (25-64 year-olds) have a tertiary education, similar to the OECD average of 39%.

Do I need to be fluent in Dutch to live in the Netherlands? ›

To sum up, you don't need to speak Dutch to live and study in the Netherlands, but it sure could be a cool skill to have whether you stay in the Netherlands, head back to your home country or head off to a new country on a new adventure!

How long it will take to learn Dutch? ›

Germanic languages
LanguageTime needed to reach fluency
Danishabout 575 hours or 23 weeks
Dutchabout 575 hours or 23 weeks
Norwegianabout 575 hours or 23 weeks
Swedishabout 575 hours or 23 weeks
1 more row
Jan 5, 2023

What is the Dutch word for Dutch? ›

dutch people call their language "nederlands." they call german "duits." Dutch, Duits and Deutsch all come from the Old Germanic word theudisk, which means “the language of the people.”

Can I learn Dutch in 2 months? ›

It Depends On How Much You Practice

The Foreign Language Institute recommends a total of 24-30 weeks or 600-750 hours of Dutch language learning to reach fluency. Tobian Language School personally recommends 20 – 30 lessons for A2 level with a minimum of 2 weekly lessons.

How fast can you learn Dutch with Duolingo? ›

Jokes aside, Duolingo is brilliant for keeping you motivated. Learning Dutch takes time. It's not something you're going to pick up overnight. According to the US Foreign Service Institute, it takes roughly 600-750 “class hours” to reach “Professional Working Proficiency” in Dutch.

How many words do I need to know to be fluent in Dutch? ›

Dutch Words for Beginners

Once you have mastered these basics, you can then start learning 10 new words every day. To master 80% of the spoken language you will need about 1000 words. It will take a bit more than three months for you to complete your vocabulary to fluency.

What is B1 level of Dutch? ›


You learned to understand most common every-day Dutch and you are able to share in Dutch about familiar subjects as work, school and leisure activities.

Can someone who speaks German understand Dutch? ›

Dutch, German, English, Swedish and Danish are all Germanic languages but the degree of mutual intelligibility between these languages differs. Danish and Swedish are the most mutually comprehensible, but German and Dutch are also mutually intelligible.

Is Flemish the same as Dutch? ›

Although speakers of English usually call the language of the Netherlands “Dutch” and the language of Belgium “Flemish,” they are actually the same language.


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