By Anna Devi Markus

16 November 2017 - 11:20

Person sitting on bed with guitar and coffee
'Gezellig' in Dutch roughly translates to 'cozy' or a good atmosphere. Photo ©

Haley Powers used under license and adapted from the original

Dutch recently joined the ranks as one of the top ten languages that the UK needs in 2017. But why is learning Dutch useful? We asked Anna Devi Markus from British Council in Amsterdam.

Where is the Dutch language spoken?

Dutch is the official language of the Netherlands, Belgium, Suriname, and the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Curacao and Sint Maarten. It is spoken by nearly 23 million people worldwide, and is one of the official languages of the EU.

What is the difference between Dutch and Flemish?

Flemish is mainly spoken in the northern part of Belgium (Flanders). Dutch is spoken in the Netherlands and former Dutch colonies (Suriname, Caribbean islands of Aruba, Curacao and Sint Maarten). Dutch and Flemish use the same spelling, grammar and dictionary.

However, there are noticeable differences between the two languages. These are mainly in accents, pronunciation and word order, and also in words and expressions. Dutch is more influenced by English, whereas Flemish uses more French words. For example, 'I love you' is ik zie je graag in Flemish (which literally translates to 'I like to see you') and ik hou van je in Dutch.

One of the most noticeable differences for English speakers between Dutch and Flemish is the pronunciation of the ‘g’ sound. To a non-Dutch speaker, the Dutch ‘hard g’ may sound like someone clearing their throat. In southern parts of the Netherlands and in Flanders, the 'g' sound is much softer and easier to pronounce for English speakers.

In general, Dutch and Flemish speakers can communicate easily, as their language differences are similar to the differences between American and Australian English.

Is there any overlap between Dutch and English?

English and Dutch are both West Germanic languages and share a large number of words. Some common English words with Dutch origins include 'cookie' (koekje) and 'boss' (baas). Many English loanwords (such as 'computer,' 'talkshow' and 'website') keep the same spelling and pronunciation when translated to Dutch. In fact, the English word 'awkward' won a competition as the most beautiful English word used in the Dutch language.

How difficult might it be for an English speaker to learn Dutch?

Dutch also uses English verbs, which can look different when conjugated. Some of these words include gedownload (downloaded), gefaxt (faxed) and barbecueën (to barbecue). 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. All of these sounds come together in the word verschrikkelijk, which translates to 'terrible' in English.

Are there any common Dutch phrases that might be important to master?

Gezellig is one of the first words that a language learner might encounter, because it is used often and can be seen as an important word in the Dutch culture. It roughly translates to 'cozy' or 'a good atmosphere', and can be used to describe a room, a person, a party or the feeling of being together.

This word can be challenging to pronounce because it uses the Dutch ‘hard g’ twice.

Lekker is another Dutch word that is used frequently. It can be used to describe tasty food, good weather (lekker weer) or to say good night (slaap lekker).

A fun expression to use when complimenting a cook for their delicious meal is alsof er een engeltje over je tong piest, which translates to 'it’s like a little angel is peeing on my tongue.' Another fun word is lieveheersbeestje (ladybird/ladybug), which translates to 'dear Lord’s small animal.'

Why might it be helpful for a student in the UK to learn Dutch?

One reason for UK students to learn Dutch is because the Netherlands is one of the UK's closest neighbouring countries. Dutch is consistently ranked as one of the top five languages most frequently requested by UK employers. Most Dutch speakers can also speak English, but if you want to live and work in the Netherlands, it is easier to understand Dutch culture if you learn the local language.

There are fun some Dutch words. Did you know that we call the '@' symbol the ‘little monkey tail’ (apenstaartje) and gloves are called handshoes (handschoenen)? We can also make almost any word sound nice by adding the diminutive tje at the end.

Learn more about Dutch and the other top ten languages that the UK needs in our Languages for the Future report

Editor's note: we have changed this article's title based on feedback from our readers. 

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