Differences between Flemish and Dutch – why a native speaker is required

native speaker

Differences between Flemish and Dutch – why a native speaker is required

(Last Updated On: December 11, 2017)

Why a native speaker is required

Dutch is the language spoken in the Netherlands and most of Belgium. Flemish is a dialect of Dutch and mostly spoken by Belgians in the North, specifically in the West Vlaanderen, Oost Vlaanderen, Antwerpen, Vlaams-Brabant and Limburg. They are mostly the same in terms of grammar and differ only in certain words and their pronunciation. Flemish and Dutch have often been compared to American English and British English which have almost the same words except for a few notable exceptions, and the accent is different.  Imagine someone with a cockney accent talking with someone with a western twang. Similarly, Flemish sounds soft like French, while Dutch sounds comparatively rougher and leans towards an English type of tone.  Only a native speaker will be able to spot the difference.

There are online resources readily available if you want to learn Flemish. But if you need translation there is no in-depth database or program for Flemish. Even Google Translate does not have Flemish in its options. So if you want something translated to Flemish who can you turn to?  Only to the native speakers, the Belgians living in the North. And not just any Northern Belgian. Flemish varies from district to district, the Flemish in Vlaanderen is not the same as the Flemish in Antwerpen. Even those living a few kilometers away may not be able to understand each other.

You may choose to translate only to standard Dutch instead, you will be understood for the most part. Television programs broadcasted in Northern Belgium are subtitled in standard Dutch. It is the fall-back language between people speaking differing Flemish dialects. But there would be instances that some words would be misunderstood or incomprehensible. Flemish speakers admit that they have trouble understanding the “heavy” Dutch spoken by people from the Netherlands. Some time to explain the unknown words may be necessary but for some people this can be irritating and a waste of time, possibly leading to a breakdown in communication. Also, Dutch people tend to be casual, while Flemish would continue to be more formal and polite. For a Flemish person, Dutch can border on being impolite.

You can also opt to speak in French. The Belgian government has long wanted to make French the official language of Belgium, and it is for the most part the language of the government and businesses. But the Northern Belgians had long resented the imposition of the French language and prefer Dutch. If you want to foster relations with Northern Belgians, Flemish and Dutch is the way to go, and no one can know these as well as native speakers.