So you’ve booked a little trip to the Netherlands eh?! I don’t blame you; the Netherlands has some of the most beautiful nature and awesome cities I’ve ever seen. The Dutch are super chill too (unless you stand on a cycle path that is, then you’re in trouble), and really friendly (again, unless you step foot on a cycle path), and they love to see foreigners try and speak their language. That’s why I’ve made you this easy Dutch guide full of basic words and phrases to help you talk the talk on your travels.
Do the Dutch speak English?
If you’ve booked a trip to Amsterdam though, congratulations, you don’t need this guide. It’s estimated that 93% of the Dutch population speaks English, and in Amsterdam it’s really prominent. It’s a city rich with tourists, cultures, and languages, and in fact, I’ve heard many a Dutchie lament that they can’t even speak their own language in their own capital city. That’s a topic for another day though.
The Dutch are brought up speaking English; they watch British and American English television shows and films, play games online in English, read English books when the mood takes them, and are taught it in school. Fun fact: In Dutch high schools, you can choose to learn either British or American English too, depending on which takes your fancy. That’s how well the Dutch know English. That means that you can walk into any shop, bar, or hotel in any of the larger cities in the Netherlands and not be afraid that the person you’re talking to won’t understand you if you can only speak English – so don’t panic.
If you’re looking to really impress the Dutch though, learning a few basic words and phrases is the best way to start, so let’s get crackin’.
Notoriously difficult for foreigners, Dutch pronunciation is quite different to English.
I personally still can’t recite the alphabet correctly because to pronounce A you say ah, E is pronounced A, and I is pronounced E. It’s honestly the worst. You should hear R and me trying to spell things for each other sometimes. It’s a nightmare. Half of the time we don’t even know which language we’re spelling in once it comes to the vowels.
It doesn’t stop there though.
Any word with EE in it is no longer eeeeeee, but instead ayyyyy. UI is kinda pronounced like OW (but not exactly) and it is definitely not pronounced oo-ee. You gotta reach into the back of your own throat for that one to say it right. IJ is definitely not idge, even though my Grandad’s SatNav thinks that’s how it’s pronounced. No. Instead, it’s known as a long I, and is simply pronounced I. Most of us also find the G problematic too, simply because it sounds like you’re bringing up a greeny, and it’ll hurt your throat the first 50 times you attempt it. Yep, the more I think about it, the more I remember how difficult it is.
Don’t worry about it though – I’ll not only give you the Dutch and English translation, I’ll give you little pronunciation tips too. YOU CAN DO THIS! And so what if you butcher your first few words in Dutch? Everyone does (I still do). It’s the thought that counts.
Basic Dutch greetings
Saying hi and bye
- Hallo [hah-low] – Hello (bet you didn’t see that one coming)
- Hoi [Hoy] – Hi
- Goedemorgen [ggguh-duh-mor-ggun] – Good morning
- Goedendag [ggguh-duh-daggg] – Good day (also used as hello or goodbye – it’s a little more formal, and you’ll most likely hear this in shops and hotels)
- Goedenmiddag [ggguh-duh-middaggg] – Good afternoon
- Goedenavond [ggguh-duhn-ah-vond] – Good evening (used as either hello or goodbye)
- Dag [dagghh] – Hey, or bye. It literally means ‘day’, but is often used as a quick greeting. It can be seen as being a little more curt though, or could be used if someone’s quite busy. As a Brit, I always get slightly offended if someone uses dag instead of any of the others, but that’s what being British is about, right?
- Tot Ziens [tot-seenz] – Goodbye
- Doei [doo-ee] – Bye! Said in an informal way!
Basic Dutch words and phrases that are just good to know
- Alsjeblieft [als-yuh-bleeft] – Please (informal)
- Alstublieft [als-too-bleeft] – Please (formal)
- Dankjewel [dank-yuh-vel] – Thank you
- Graag gedaan [gggraahgg ggguh-dahn] You’re welcome
- Ja [yah] – Yes
- Nee [Nay] – No
Basic Dutch words and phrases for bars, cafes, and restaurants
You’ll find all your favourites at a Dutch cafe or bar, and a few extras.
Us Brits love a good pub don’t we, and whilst the Dutch don’t have ‘pubs’ as such – a lot of their bars are practically the same thing. One big difference: while the Brits like to hide away in the back in a Beer Garden, the Dutch put their ‘terraces’ on the front. They’re perfect for people watching!
- Bier [beer] – Beer
- Wijn [vine] – Wine
- Thee [Tay] – Tea – Brits, be aware that ordering a tea does not necessarily mean you’ll get English Breakfast. You gotta ask for that. Plus, you should ask for milk too, because the Dutch find milk in tea weird. They’ll have it, but they’ll look at you like you’re bananas.
- Koffie [coffee] – Coffee. The Dutch are the biggest coffee drinkers in the world (yes you read that right), and you can get any type of coffee easily. If you want a speciality coffee, it’ll have the same name you’re used to – apart from:
- Koffie verkeerd [coffee fer-keerd] – Milky Coffee. Literally translated as ‘wrong coffee‘, we’ve already covered the fact that the Dutch will look at you funny for ordering milk with your tea. That’s maybe where this name comes from (although I don’t know that for sure). The Dutch prefer their coffees black!
- (Warme) Chocomel [var-muh shoko-mel] – (Hot) Chocolate. Usually reserved for kids, me, or those very cold Dutch winters, you’ll always be served a Chocomel in the famous yellow mug. You’ll always be asked if you want whipped cream, or slagroom [slagggghhh-roam] too, and yes is always a good answer.
- Melk [melk] – Milk
- Frisdrank [friss-drank] – Soda / fizzy drink.
- Cola [cola] – Cola
- Sinas [seenass] – Sinas – the Dutch equivalent to Fanta
If you read my post on Dutch snacks that everyone should know about, you’ll know that there are plenty of treats that go very well with a beer. The Dutch don’t just do an old bowl of salty peanuts. Oh no. They serve some of the best deep fried snacks you’ll come across when you want to whet your appetite as you sip your beer and people-watch the day away. Beware: these snacks are moreish.
- Bitterballen [bitter-ballen] – Bitterballs
- Kroket [kroh-ket] – Meat croquette
- Vlammetjes [flam-etchers] – Piping hot meat or veggie filling in breadcrumbs or pastry. Delicious, but deadly if you drop the filling on you.
- Kaas souffle [kaars-soufflay] – Cheese Souffle. Think Mozzerella stick, but longer
- Loempias [loom-piyas] – Crispy spring rolls (vegetarian or meaty)
- Broodplank [browd-plank] – Bread board
- Olijven [oh-liyven] – Olives
Asking for what you want
- Ik wil graag… [ik vil ggh-rahgh] – I’d like…
- Een menukaart alsjeblieft [uhn men-oo-kaart als-yuh-bleeft] – A menu please!
- Een [bier/wijn/koffie/thee graag [uhn beer/vine/coffee/tay ggh-rahg] – A beer/wine/coffee/tea please
- De rekening alsjeblieft [duh ray-kon-ing als-yuh-bleeft] – The bill please!
There you have it! Your first mini-initiation into the Dutch language. With these basic words and phrases, you’re all set to hit the bars, cafes, and restaurants in the big cities – so get out there and show them what you’ve got!
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