The Netherlands vs. Belgium – Differences between Dutch in The Netherlands and in Belgium
It is not only in the Netherlands that Dutch is the official language. There are other countries where they speak Dutch, for example in Suriname. But Dutch is also an official language nearer to the Netherlands, in Belgium.
So you might be learning Dutch because you’re moving to Antwerp or Gent. But what are the differences between Dutch in The Netherlands and in Belgium?
Let’s start with where in Belgium they speak Dutch
They speak Dutch in Flanders
Dutch is an official language in Belgium, but it’s not spoken throughout the whole country. Dutch is mainly spoken in Flanders (Vlaanderen), the Dutch speaking part of Belgium. The ‘Belgian Dutch’ is called Flemish (Vlaams).
The good news is that the grammar in both countries is exactly the same and in general vocabulary is comparable. And you will absolutely not have any problem, if you learnt Dutch in one country using it in the other. You can compare it to UK English and US English.
The differences between the languages in the two countries have to do with the pronunciation, cultural differences and certain vocabulary.
Let’s start with the differences between Dutch and Flemish pronunciation.
Differences in pronunciation between Dutch and Flemish
First, let’s start with saying that there is not one specific correct way of pronunciation in Dutch. There are a lot of different accents and ways of pronunciation.
But if you look at the two languages, there is a difference in the [g] sound. The Dutch are known for pronouncing this as a strong sound. In Flanders this is voiced and pronounced softer.
Also the intonation of Flanders can be typified as more melodic than in the Netherlands.
In general, Dutch people speak in a more staccato way, while Flemish people speak more ‘softly’.
When you start learning Dutch you might not hear the differences in the pronunciation. This is not a bad thing! In the end you are trying to understand Dutch, and the language is the same.
Cultural differences between Flemish and Dutch
According to Belgian people, one of the stereotypes of the Dutch is that they are direct and rude. You can find this difference in the usage of ‘jij’/’je’ and ‘u’.
If you are learning Dutch you might know that there are two ways of saying ‘you’:
je/jij or u.
U is considered pretty formal in the Netherlands. And the word is increasingly only used in very formal settings or when being very respectful. You only use this when you want to be really polite in the Netherlands. In Flanders, however, the use of “u” is broader and it can also be informal.
And also, whereas in the Netherlands “je” and “jij” are used, in Flemish they usually say “ge” and “gij”. The word “gij” is only used in the context of old texts in the Netherlands, analogous to the English word “thou”. But in Belgium it is a full substitute for “je” and “jij”. Also, “ge” and “gij” in Flanders are completely informal and thus are never a polite form.
The last big difference between the languages in the two countries is vocabulary.
Differences in vocabulary
In general, Flemish people understand Dutch people without any problems. But sometimes, there will be some confusion about certain words. For example:
“Plezant” is what we in the Netherlands call “leuk” (fun) whilst the Flemish word is, of course, very similar to the English “pleasant”. Or for debit card, in Dutch we say “pinpas”, while in Flanders it is normal to say the word “bankkaart”.
More information about Dutch and Flemish
Studio / Studeo is a course for students who are learning Dutch. In this course I talk, together with Tom, about the differences between the Netherlands and Belgium. We also talk about the differences in the usage of the Dutch language.
Bart de Pau
online Dutch teacher & founder of the Dutch Summer School & Dutch Winter School