How the Dutch speak

I realize that I’ve been rambling on about Amsterdam for more than 5 month now, so maybe it’s time to wrap it up and start writing about something else, but before I do that I would like to write just a tiny little bit about the Dutch language.

Historically the name Nederlande (which means low lands) did cover more than just the Netherlands. It was also a name for Belgium and the land along the French and German west coast all the way up till and into Denmark.

The town where I was born and grew up in Germany was originally built by Dutch people, and off course they put their mark on the language.

My parents spoke the dialect of the area, the so called Plattdütsch, with each other, but not with my siblings and me. We already spoke German and Danish from early childhood and I guess they didn’t want to burden us with yet another language. But hearing them talk Plattdütsch together during childhood, off course we knew the language any way and did understand it.

When I moved to the Netherlands 11 years ago I had therefor the idea that it would not take long before I would be able to speak the language. I did understand a lot of what people said and I even had translated Dutch into Danish professionally before I moved, so how hard could it be?

My English wasn’t really great to begin with, but I found myself a job in an American company, where the main language was English, so no chance at learning Dutch there. My boyfriend and I also spoke English together, and the people I met on my way were mostly French, Spanish, German and Eastern European, but I read a lot in Dutch. Magazines and books and newspapers, and I got myself a tiny little television, where I could watch Dutch movies and programs about cooking and gardening and home make overs.

The Dutch often say things with more words than the English or German or Danish would use, so I remember that in the beginning I would often be frustrated, because after I’d analyzed a Dutch sentence and understood the meaning of it, I’d still have some words left that didn’t make any sense to me, and I didn’t know anybody who could explain to me, why it was like that and what those word meant. It was really annoying.

What was even more annoying was that I pretty soon was able to understand most of the things people said, but that when I said something in Plattdütsch, people got this very far away look in their eyes, and then they answered in English. Every time! How could it be that I was able to understand them and they weren’t able to understand me?

In the end, after several months, I gave up. Dutch isn’t really a language you listen to because it’s so beautiful anyway, and I’d sometimes wondered how the Dutch people were able to make those sounds without hurting themselves, so I decided to get better at English instead. But still. It’s a bit of a shame I didn’t learn to speak the language, even so I in the end stayed in the country for a decade.

If you would like to learn some more about the Dutch language, about the alphabet and the vowels and consonants and maybe take a Dutch lesson or two, I’ve found a great page at Omniglot, where you can play a little with it. Good luck!



One thought on “How the Dutch speak

  1. I have been wanting to learn Dutch also; just for the written word. Spoken language with its sounds is so much more difficult. I saw this with Danish also. Spoken Finnish does seem to follow the written form more.
    I will certainly follow up the Omniglot link.

    Awater: I have another section that looks at structure, if you are interested.

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