Can Dutch and German speakers understand each other?- Lingoda (2024)

Given how close both Dutch and German are geographically, it is a common assumption that speakers of both languages understand each other. After all, many European languages are so similar that native speakers in some countries can understand their neighbors’ languages as well – think of Spanish and Portuguese, or Danish and Swedish. Even looking at the name of the Dutch language feels almost like a giveaway: German is translated as Deutsch, almost the same word as Dutch. But are Dutch and German essentially the same language, or are there differences? Let’s take a closer look.

  • Do Dutch and German have the same roots?
  • How are Dutch and German different?
  • What do Dutch and German have in common?

Do Dutch and German have the same roots?

Dutch and German both are considered West Germanic languages and share some historical background. Both languages have developed throughout the centuries from different dialects in Europe and were once mutually intelligible. As a result, some basic words such as “yes” or “no”, for example, are almost the same in both languages. With Germany being a much larger country than the Netherlands and a direct neighbor, many Dutch people speak basic German due to the historical and economic ties between the two countries. However, the Dutch language has some phonological differences from German, likely stemming from the Franks who lived in what is now the Netherlands in the 9th century.

How are Dutch and German different?

The main difference between both languages is their pronunciation. Dutch is famous for its rough pronunciation of the g, while German is known for its harsh pronunciation of the s. Please note that Belgian Dutch speakers don’t have the rough g, though!
In addition, German grammar is much more complex than that of the Dutch language. For example, a commonly known feature of the German language is the use of compound words, making the language hard to understand for beginners or foreigners. The difference in grammar between both languages may also cause some confusion: Both languages have slightly different sentence structures, making the meaning of a sentence hard to understand. Lastly, a big source of confusion is the German Umlaute ä, ö and ü, which are used in both languages, but in a completely different way: In German, the Umlaute changes the pronunciation of certain letters, while in Dutch it simply means you have to pronounce the letter even stronger.

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What do Dutch and German have in common?

While the languages have many differences, there are also a lot of similarities between them. For example, the shared historic roots mean that many words in both languages are very similar, either in their spelling or pronunciation or both. This means that while it can be hard to understand one another, speakers often still can catch the topic of a conversation by picking up a few words. In addition, both countries have many different regional dialects, which are often a bit more similar to the languages of neighboring countries. Frisian dialect speakers in Germany for example may, as a result, understand some Dutch.

So if I speak German – will I understand Dutch?

Although Dutch and German are related, it is very difficult for speakers of the two languages to understand each other. Unlike for example Slavic or Scandinavian languages, which are often so similar that native speakers understand one another, the differences in pronunciation make it extremely difficult to know what the other person is saying. However, many Dutch people learn German in school and understand some of the language as a result. Vice versa, Germans who live close to the Dutch border often speak some basic Dutch, as well.

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Can Dutch and German speakers understand each other?- Lingoda (1)

Anne Walther

Anne is a German freelance writer and communication consultant. In addition to her job, she is founder and coach of the Dutch non-for-profit organization CLUB Coaching. Due to her work, she resides in both Germany and the Netherlands. Whenever her time is not occupied with communication in all its forms, she spends time with her six pets, gardening or being creative with fashion and design. You can follow her on LinkedIn.

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Can Dutch and German speakers understand each other?- Lingoda (2024)


Can Dutch and German speakers understand each other?- Lingoda? ›

For example, the shared historic roots mean that many words in both languages are very similar, either in their spelling or pronunciation or both. This means that while it can be hard to understand one another, speakers often still can catch the topic of a conversation by picking up a few words.

Can Germans and Dutch understand each other? ›

This dominance also means that the German language crosses the Dutch border more often through social media, news channels and other mediums than the Dutch language does the German border. This may also explain why Dutch people often understand German better than the other way around.

Is Dutch mutually intelligible with German? ›

Germans understand some Dutch (25%) and we know from the literature that receptive multilingualism is used as a means of communication, especially in the Dutch-German border regions (Ház, 2005). However, at a first confrontation speakers of Dutch and German will mostly only be able to communicate at a very basic level.

Is it hard to learn Dutch if you speak German? ›

At first, Dutch might seem like a very difficult language, but it's surprisingly easy for English- and German-speakers. Dutch has even been described as a combination of the English and German languages! This makes it one of the easiest languages to learn for speakers of either language.

Can a German understand Pennsylvania Dutch? ›

The changes in pronunciation, combined with the general disappearance of declensions as described above, result in a form of the dialect that has evolved somewhat from its early Pennsylvania origins nearly 300 years ago and is still rather easy to understand by German dialect speakers of the Rhineland-Palatinate area.

Which German dialect is closest to Dutch? ›

Plautdietsch, a Germanic language related to Dutch and Frisian, spoken in Siberia: Mercator European Research Centre.

Are Dutch and Low German mutually intelligible? ›

Since the linguistic distances between Low German and Dutch are smallest, the Dutch subjects listening to Low German may have some linguistic advantage. But even though the linguistic distances to Low German are smaller, the subjects still understand High German better.

Can you understand Dutch if you speak German and English? ›

English is not going to be much use in understanding Dutch. However, if you have learned German, and are not a German native speaker, then you will be quite able to understand a lot of Dutch. You will pick up all the words that are the same or similar in German, and be able piece together what is being talking about.

What percentage of Germans speak Dutch? ›

Native speakers
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What is the closest language to German? ›

It is most closely related to other West Germanic languages, namely Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Scots. It also contains close similarities in vocabulary to some languages in the North Germanic group, such as Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish.

Is Dutch grammar easier than German? ›

Both Dutch and German have their challenges, but Dutch is generally considered easier to learn than German. However, your decision should ultimately be based on your goals and interests. Consider factors such as job opportunities, travel plans, and personal interests before choosing which language to learn.

Is it a good idea to learn Dutch and German at the same time? ›

Don't attempt to learn two languages that are similar at the same time because you will mix up words, concepts and pronunciations. You can learn German up to B2 and then learn Dutch, which will go much faster.

Do Amish speak German or Dutch? ›

The vast majority of Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonites across North America speak two languages fluently, Pennsylvania German (popularly known as Pennsylvania Dutch) and English.

Can the Amish understand German? ›

Yes, the Amish understand German. In fact, it's their mother tongue. However, it's a bit different from the modern German dialects spoken in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland today.

Are Amish people German or Dutch? ›

While most Amish and Old Order Mennonites are of Swiss ancestry, nearly all speak Pennsylvania Dutch, an American language that developed in rural areas of southeastern and central Pennsylvania during the 18th century.

Do the Netherlands and Germany like each other? ›

Germany and the Netherlands enjoy wide-ranging, close and friendly relations at the level of both government and civil society. There are intensive contacts between their members of government and parliament at national and Land level.

Are Dutch and German closely related? ›

Dutch is one of the closest relatives of both German and English and is colloquially said to be "roughly in between" them.

Do Dutch people also speak German? ›

While the Netherlands' official language is Dutch, the country sits at a unique crossroads of Europe, such that French, English, and German are all also fairly common to hear. On top of that, there are dozens of dialects you may notice.


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