Differences between Flemish and Dutch

When you translate Dutch you must remember there are different Dutch dialects. Learning more about dialects can be very important when translating, editing and proofreading.

Dutch is spoken by approximately 24 million people worldwide, of which 22 million in Europe, with a majority of them living in the areas of The Netherlands and Belgium. Pronunciation and usage of the spoken Dutch language varies between countries, however regional differences are not so great as to make the language unintelligible to speakers from different areas.

Many people are wondering what the difference actually is between Flemish and Dutch. Flemish refers to the Dutch spoken in Belgium.

I’ll be completely honest with you. When I first started translating and was asked what kind of Dutch I speak, I thought by myself “what kind of question is that?, how many types of Dutch are there?”. Apart from the difference in pronunciation, I was actually unaware that there were so many differences between the two. After being ‘in the field’ for more than five years now, I can easily say if the text has been translated/written in Dutch or Flemish. So yes, there are differences!

The differences between both can be compared to those between American and British English, who both use their own spelling and their own dictionaries. Whether we are actually dealing with two separate languages is another discussion. Should Flemish with all its spoken language forms be considered as a separate form of Dutch or even as a separate language, or just as a form of dialect or regional dialect?

Flemish can actually be considered as a dialect of Dutch. It is also important to know that you have a lot of other dialects in Flemish (such as for example West-Vlaams – spoken by people living in West-Flanders or Antwerps – spoken by people living in Antwerp). For people with little experience with certain dialects, these are very hard to understand. Nowadays, young people in the Flanders mostly speak Flemish (= standard Dutch spoken in Flanders – comparable to what is spoken on the radio and on television), but with their own accent. These dialects can differ considerably in pronunciation and in vocabulary from standard Dutch.

For example, in the West Flanders region, adjacent to France and the English Channel, the dialect is so distinct that TV interviews with people speaking the West Flemish dialect are often subtitled into standard Dutch! However, pretty well everyone in these regions can also speak and understand standard Dutch.

So, what’s so different about Dutch and Flemish?

First of all, you have the pronunciation. There is world of difference between the two. The Flemish pronunciation is somewhat softer. The Flemish pronunciation also leans more to the French pronunciation, while words are more pronounced in an English way in the Netherlands. Think about the word “handicap”…

In the Netherlands one tends to pronounce voiced consonants voiceless.

  • z becomes s (mainly in Amsterdam, for example “gesellig”)
  • v becomes f (effe instead of even)
  • Typical is that the g that is spoken in Belgium is spoken in a much softer way and verges on a voiced h, called the soft g.
  • The r can be pronounced with the tip of the tongue (in the Spanish way) or with the uvula (in the French way).
  • The word ‘jet’ (jet engine or jet plane) is pronounced with the j of Jan in the Netherlands and with the j of John in the Flanders. The first names Jos and Jerom are pronounced with the French j of Jean in the Flanders.

Dutch people also have another vocabulary than Flemish people. This sometimes causes problems as the words cannot be used interchangeably. Flemish people use their gsm (mobile phone) to call their schoonbroer (brother-in-law). In the Netherlands one uses his mobieltje (mobile phone) to call their zwager (brother-in-law).

I have listed some other examples below:

English Flemish Dutch
Bank card Bankkaart Pinpas
Battery Batterij Accu
Toasted ham and cheese sandwich Croque monsieur Tosti
To take a picture Foto trekken Foto maken
Fish and chips stand Frietkot or Frituur Patatzaak
French fries Frieten Patat
Garage door Garagepoort Garagedeur
Glandular fever Klierkoorts Ziekte van Pfeiffer
Microwave oven Microgolfoven Magnetron
Motor home Mobilhome Camper
Uncle Nonkel Oom
Brother-in-law Schoonbroer Zwager
Couple Koppel Stel
Couch/Sofa Zetel Bank
Get off/out Afstappen Uitstappen
Conflict of interest Belangenvermenging Belangenverstrengeling
Addressee Bestemmeling Geadresseerde
Jam Confituur Jam
Cooker hood Dampkap Afzuigkap
Dry cleaner’s Droogkuis Stomerij
Hospitalization Hospitalisatie Ziekenhuisopname
Question something In vraag stellen In twijfel trekken
Frame Kader Lijst
Indirect Onrechtstreeks Indirect
recycle Recycleren Recyclen, hergebruiken
Cup Tas Kop or mok
Distributor Verdeler Distributeur, dealer

It goes without saying that this is only a grasp of words, which can be completed by many other examples.

Another big difference is the colloquial speech. It is a fact that the form “ge” is very often used in the Flanders. Informal conversations are mostly held with “ge” as personal pronoun instead of “je”. In Flanders for example one would say: “Hebt ge dat al gedaan?”, which would sound as “Heb je dat al gedaan?” in the Netherlands. In formal conversations we use “u”, both in the Netherlands and in Belgium.

There is only one Dutch which you need to learn – standard Dutch or Algemeen Nederlands. This is in any case the only form of Dutch that you’ll find on offer for learning in Belgium as well as in the Netherlands. So you don’t need to worry about learning the “wrong” Dutch.

In a nutshell: Regardless of whether you learn Dutch in the Netherlands or in Belgium, you’ll be able to converse with and understand people in both the Netherlands and in Flanders.

This blog post has been contributed by Stephanie, she is English to Dutch principal translator at TranslationArtwork.com. If you need a professional translation service in any language, at TranslationArtwork.com your translations are in safe hands, believe me. As a translator you a welcome to easily subscribe for translation jobs here.

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3 thoughts on “Differences between Flemish and Dutch

  1. Peter, said:

    Hello,

    I would like to know if ment that there are differences in spelling of the same word between dutch and flemish (like ‘labor’ and ‘labour’ in english)

    TY

  2. Stijn, said:

    No, in written language, there is no difference in the spelling of the same word. The Dutch Language Union (Nederlandse Taalunie) coordinates the spelling between the Dutch language in the Netherlands, Belgium and Suriname. Because of this, no real spelling differences exist.

    As Stephanie stated in this article, the differences in written translations are limited to a partially different vocabulary.

    A pragmatic solution would be that preference is given to the northern Dutch version (of the Netherlands) when the text is written for a general Dutch language public. The southern Dutch (Flemish or Belgian) speakers, being a minority (< 30%), are used to understand both. Only in case a text will be used in the Flemish part exclusively, it could be wise to use the Flemish preferred vocabulary in order to avoid alienation.

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