Experiences from students – Embarrassing misunderstandings when speaking DUTCH

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Learning Dutch is not easy! One of the things, or maybe the most important aspect of successfully learning Dutch, is trying and therefore making mistakes.

My advice is: go out there and try!

You will find that once you get to know the basics, the Dutch are willing to speak Dutch with you. This won’t be easy, but keep in mind that you have to start somewhere.

And don’t forget: when you try, you inevitably make mistakes.

Wrong pronunciation – Huren en hoeren

Let’s start with something that is always difficult when you are learning Dutch. New sounds!

The [uu] sound is notorious for being difficult for foreigners. It’s not a common sound in other languages. So students tend to pronounce the [uu] more as a [oe] sound.

In general, this is not the biggest problem. But it could lead to some strange miscommunications.

The students in the video talk about the difference between the [huur] and the [hoer]. In most cases, the first one was intended. The rent.

But pronouncing the [uu] as [oe] means you are talking about the prostitute / the whore.  More embarrassing mistakes could be talking about your huurhuis (rental house) and receiving huurtoeslag (rent allowance).

The same mistake with pronunciation happens with [buur] and [boer].

Your buren (neighbours) are not your boeren (farmers).

Huren / hoeren? Pronunciation tip!

The [uu] is a longer version of the [u]. And the [u] in Dutch sounds more like the [e] in her.

The [oe] sound is like the [o] in who.

Ja whore?

Ja whore, and this isn’t an insult. Because the Dutch don’t say ‘whore’, they say hoor. And actually, they do this all the time.

Don’t be surprised in the next situation. Just laugh and smile:

  • Mevrouw, mag ik iets vragen?
  • Ja, hoor.

Geel =/= Geil

For a lot of foreigners the sound of [ei] and [ee] are close. But beware because it may lead to confusing situations.

I heard from a student who pronounced geel more as geil.

Yellow and horny. He used this sentence:

  • De bananen zijn niet geil

He wanted to say

  • De bananen zijn niet geel

Because first he was saying the bananas weren’t HORNY enough.

Beware when giving compliments!

Making a good first impression or just giving a compliment is always a good idea. Especially when you do it in Dutch if this isn’t your first language. Like I said in the introduction, Dutch people appreciate this.

But there are some words that may confuse people!

For example, the difference between moe and mooi.

If you want to give a compliment that someone is beautiful, say he or she is mooi. With a long [o]. And not moe. This means you’re commenting on how tired he or she looks.

Pronunciation tip!

The [oo] that is in mooi, is pronounced as the [o] in boy.

The [oe] in moe, is pronounced like the [oo] in shoe.

Leuk or lekker?

If you want to say that you like someone, you say ‘Ik vind je leuk’. What happens more than once is that people say ‘Ik vind je lekker’.

You could say that.

But then you are saying this person is delicious, the Dutch equivalent of ‘hot’ or ‘sexy’.

Pay attention to the gender

Pronouns in Dutch might be a bit confusing.

In short (more information you can find here)

Ik heb een huis.          Dat is mijn huis

Jij hebt een huis.        Dat is jouw huis.

Hij heeft een huis.      Dat is zijn huis.

Zij heeft een huis.      Dat is haar huis.

The confusion is in the part with hij = zijn, zij = haar. It looks the wrong way round.

So if you are talking about your partner, think about which pronoun to use.

Examples from the comments

Under the video viewers of my channel leave the greatest comments.

Thanks again for that!

Here is an embarrassing example of someone’s wife who was studying Dutch.

  • Someone in the comments says that his wife is Bulgarian. She’s learned that chicken legs are also known as ‘kluifjes’. One day after working hard she comes home, sinks down on her chair with the words, ‘I’ve walked a lot, my kluifjes hurt’.

You should know that ‘kluifjes’ is really only chicken feet for eating.

Other examples:                                               

  • In the bakery, don’t ask for ‘besneden’ brood.

The confusion here is about gesneden and besneden. They both come from the verb snijden, which means to cut. Gesneden is the correct present perfect. A lot of Dutch verbs start with be-. Besneden however is ‘circumcised’ …

  • My wife is Chilean. When her Dutch was not so good one day we went to the supermarket and she saw strawberries (aardbeien). In her best Dutch she asked me ‘Zullen we aambeien kopen’. I started laughing … aambeien are hemorrhoids. She never made the same mistake.
  • When I was first learning Dutch I wanted to impress my partner’s mother when she dropped by on an unseasonably hot day. I said, ‘Ik ben zo heet’. I also said that her son was ‘ook heel erg heet’. She got in her car and drove away. I told my partner I thought she didn’t like me and told him what had happened. He laughed so hard and then called to explain. Then he told me I had just told his mother ‘I am very horny’ and that her son was also very horny. Talk about embarrassing!

So here you should say:

  • Ik heb het heet.

Another option:

  • Het is erg heet.

Bart de Pau
online Dutch teacher & founder of the Dutch Summer School & Dutch Winter School