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How to learn the correct pronunciation in Dutch?

Have you ever had the courage to say something in Dutch and you automatically heard:

“Sorry, wat zeg je?” (sorry what are you saying?)

And right after that your confidence dropped, you got embarrassed and quickly went back to English, thinking deep down: "What a bummer, he didn't understand me..."

Oh, I've been in this situation more than once and even now, knowing Dutch fluently or being a "native speaker", a Dutch person may not understand another Dutch! Seriously! And do you know why?
In this post I will try to explain to you what the accent, dialect and pronunciation in Dutch is all about. I invite you to read!

Dutch alphabet

You've signed up for a Dutch learning course! Cool! This decision will certainly open many new opportunities for you. You have your first lesson, during which in our Edu-Dutch school we pay a lot of attention to the correct pronunciation of the alphabet, we practice every letter, you will think, but what is it for?

You may wonder why we spend so much time learning how to spell instead of diving right into the conversational stuff. Well, the ability to pronounce and spell words correctly is crucial in communication, especially in situations that require precision.

Imagine a situation when you call on the phone, speaking a little Dutch already, and you want to take care of an important matter. And then suddenly the interlocutor asks you to spell your name and surname and you start to stutter, or you try a little Polish, a little English. Pretty hard or not?

Different situation. More and more often in stores you can set up a loyalty card, collect points, get discounts, cool! But they almost always ask for your first name, last name, and email address. They won't understand and write down correctly if you say Jan Brzeżyszczykiewicz. Maybe they will understand "Jan", but with the name "Brzeżyszczykiewicz" they will have serious problems.

That's why it's so important to us to teach you how to spell in Dutch from the very beginning. In this way, you will be able to easily communicate the issues that are most important to you. We know that the beginnings can be difficult, but over time you will certainly notice progress. Patience and regularity are the keys to success in learning any language!

Pronunciation of conjunctions in Dutch

Another very important issue is the correct pronunciation in Dutch, and in any foreign language, it is very important. Why? Because you want the people of the Netherlands to understand you, right? You want to handle things yourself at the office, in person, or over the phone, right? You want to talk to another parent while waiting for your child outside school, yes? That is why during the first lessons at our school we devote a lot of time and attention to explaining how to pronounce individual letter compounds, we also ask you to practice at home, because only thanks to exercises you will remember them.
Practice your pronunciation with Jelmer in the video:

Why is this pronunciation so important? See the following words that are very similar in pronunciation, but mean something completely different:

Watch the video below, did you manage to guess which word was pronounced?
maand (month) mand (basket)
vis (fish) vies (dirty)
bellen (to call) ballen (balls)
buren (neighbours) boeren (farmers)
maan (moon) man (man)


As you can see, incorrect pronunciation can lead to misunderstandings. Therefore, it is worth taking the time to practice and perfect your pronunciation.

Dialect and accent in Dutch, are they the same?

The Dutch language, like many other languages, is rich in a variety of dialects that add extra charm and complexity to it.
A dialect is a specific form of language that is characteristic of a particular geographic region or social group. Dialects differ from the standard language in terms of pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and sometimes even spelling.

Often, dialects are used in less formal contexts, while the standard language is used in official situations such as media, education, or government communications. Dialects reflect local culture and history and can show social and economic differences within a community. So, let's start our journey through the Dutch dialects!

Standard Dutch (Algemeen Nederlands, AN)

First, we should understand that there is a standard Dutch language called Algemeen Nederlands (AN). This is the form of language you will learn in most courses and is used in media, education, and formal situations.

Western dialects

Western dialects include the language spoken in the most densely populated areas of the Netherlands, including the provinces of North Holland (Noord-Holland) and South Holland (Zuid-Holland). These include the Amsterdam dialect, which has its own unique phrases and intonations.

Northern and Eastern Dialects

In the north and east of the Netherlands, there are dialects such as Gronings, Drents, and Twents. These are forms of the language that can be difficult for people who have learned Standard Dutch to understand.

Southern Dialects

Southern Dutch dialects are spoken in the south of the Netherlands as well as in Belgium. The most important of these is Flemish (Vlaams), which is the standard language in the Flanders region of Belgium. While it is still Dutch, there are some differences in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar that set it apart from AN.

Fries (Frisian)

It is also worth mentioning the Frisian language, which is the official language of the province of Friesland in the Netherlands. Even though it is a separate language and not a dialect, it is closely related to Dutch and many people in the province are bilingual.

The dialects in Dutch are a fascinating aspect of the language that gives it extra depth and cultural richness. It's worth remembering that while learning standard Dutch will allow you to communicate effectively in most situations, understanding the dialects is a matter of being in the area and learning by ear from your neighbors. The accent, on the other hand, is the way a person pronounces words in a given language. It can include differences in pitch, intonation, syllable stress, pronunciation of individual sounds, and so on. An accent is often geographically or culturally determined, as is a dialect.

However, it is important to understand that dialect and accent are not the same, although they are related. A dialect is a variant of a language that includes variations in vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation, while an accent is about pronunciation only.

In Dutch, a person from Amsterdam will speak with a different accent than a person from Maastricht, although both may use standard Dutch. That's why you don't have to be afraid of your accent, everyone has their own unique and charming accent  Differences in accents are a natural part of the language and there is no one "correct" accent. The most important thing is to be understood by others.

To sum up

The Dutch language has many dialects and accents that vary from region to region. Even if you learn the correct, general pronunciation, it is worth being aware of these differences in order to better understand interlocutors from different parts of the Netherlands and Belgium. But also not to worry so much about your accent in a foreign language, which can be really charming.

Definitely, practice is the key to mastering the language. Remember that the more you practice, the more confident you will feel with your pronunciation. Thanks to this, you will not only understand others better, but you will also become better understood yourself.

Do you also want to learn Dutch? Sign up for one of our courses!

Kinga & Jelmer 

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