Essential Dutch words and phrases before you travel
Asking “Where is…? questions in Dutch.
If you’ve already learned and practiced Dutch polite phrases and greetings with Essential Dutch 1, you’ll be ready to tackle the next 12 essentials.
These are words and phrases that’ll help you ask “Where is …?” questions – if you’re looking for the bathroom, a pharmacy, a bus stop, the subway or railway station, a bank, an ATM or a place to rent a bike.
You may also want to know if the person you’re talking with speaks French, German, Spanish, Italian, or English – that is, maybe one of the languages you speak as well.
The next 12 Dutch Phrases
Dutch Pronunciation Tips
Taking examples from the list below: the Dutch “w” (as in “waar”) is pronounced more softly than an English “w”.
On the other hand, Dutch “v” is close to an English “f” – which you’ll hear in the phrase “het VVV-kantoor”.
Note: when “e” or “ee” are unstressed, they are pronounced “uh”. You’ll hear this in “de WC”, “de bushalte”, “de brug”, and in “een bank”, “een geldautomaat”, “een fiets”.
But when “ee” stressed, it sounds closer to “ay” (as in “day”). You’ll hear this in “apotheek”, “wanneer”, “spreekt u”.
Traveling in the Netherlands…
Because I have family in the Netherlands, we often go there.
Once there, we either rent a car at the airport or use the excellent train and bus system.
In European Travels 1: Rembrandt, Reunion, Dunes, and “Fietsen”… we talked about some of our experiences there.
“Fietsen” (to bike) is certainly a word you’ll hear a lot. For US residents both the number of helmet-less bike riders, and their agility to weave through traffic and pedestrian zones will be surprising!
In any case, when crossing a street, especially one-way streets, don’t just pay attention to the cars. Also look out for bikes, which can come at you from any direction!
In our first Dutch post with polite phrases and greetings, you’ll see our link to Dutch Canal Boating.
When you’re boating on a canal, the important question is: “When does the bridge open?”
Typically, there are signs close to a bridge that show you the hours of operation.
But whenever we happened to be walking past a bridge that we would pass later on with our boat, we would just ask the bridge keeper directly.
Major highways in the Netherlands and Belgium are well maintained and quite busy.
But once you’re in the countryside and on narrow roads in small towns, bike paths and car lanes often compete for space.
(On the picture above, the two-way car lane on a country road is sandwiched between two bike paths.)
“Waar is…?”-Questions Answered…
Asking “Waar is…?” questions could let the person you’re asking assume that you speak Dutch.
The result will often be an answer and a stream of Dutch words you may not understand.
It would therefore be good to know some basic directional words and phrases in Dutch – left, right, straight ahead, etc.
And while the Dutch are certainly one of the most English-speaking people in Europe, you’ll still find those who prefer to give you directions in Dutch.
Check back with us for the next 13 Dutch phrases in a few weeks.
Dutch polite phrases and greetings…
If you’re planning to visit the Netherlands, you can learn and practice 50-100 essential Dutch words and phrases here. We’ve posted the first 11.
Play back and compare.
(See “Learn and Practice Tips” below!)
The First 11 Dutch Phrases
Learn and Practice Tips
- Click the black arrow to hear the Dutch speaker.
- Click the red dot once to record yourself, click the black square to stop recording.
- When you click the black arrow again, you’ll hear the speaker and then yourself.
- Do it several times until you sound like the Dutch speaker.
Good Things to Know about Dutch
Dutch is a West Germanic language (like English, German, Frisian, and Luxembourgish).
It’s the official language of the Netherlands and an official language of Belgium, where it is known as Flemish.
Dutch also has official status in the Republic of Suriname (situated north of Brazil), and on the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba.
And, did you know that New York was called New Amsterdam, from 1624 until 1664?
It is often said that Dutch is a language “between English and German”. Dutch and English do share a large number of cognates.
They also have similar sound systems. (One huge difference, though, is the ubiquitous Dutch “g”. See below for more.)
The Dutch are masters at learning other languages and many feel comfortable speaking English. But don’t let that deter you from learning Dutch essentials. It’s a good way to push your own language boundaries and it may also be a way to start a conversation with locals – even if you then switch to English or another language.
Dutch Pronunciation Tips
In general, Dutch pronunciation is not hard for English speakers.
The best way to practice is to imitate the pronunciation of the speaker and not worry too much about how individual letters sound.
However, the sound of Dutch “g” (which shows up in about half of the phrases below) does require some special attention.
Dutch “g” (especially as spoken in the northern part of the Netherlands) is pronounced with a slightly raspy sound, in the back of your throat. Think of Scottish word “Loch”, and try it.
The Dutch combination “gr” (as in “graag”, and “graag gedaan”) is especially tricky. Forget about the sound of the English word “great” – and combine the raspy Dutch “g” with a quick trilled “r.”
Still looking at the list below: Dutch “u” sounds like the French “u”. You say “ee”as in “bee”, but round your lips.
The Dutch “u” sound is important, because the word “u” is the polite word for “you”.
Note also that Dutch “oe” has an “oo” sound, as in the English “boot”.
Walking in the country side…
While there’ll be many opportunities to use basic greetings in Amsterdam and other Dutch towns, knowing them when you’re outside of a city is even more important.
Being a visitor in the Netherlands will make you much more welcome, when you make the effort to greet people in Dutch.
Yes, the Dutch are one of the most English-speaking people in Europe. But surprising locals you meet with just a few Dutch words and phrases will often get you a smile.
A Little Personal History
I went to school in the Netherlands for 2 years when I was 9 and 10 years old. It’s a language I love, and I always enjoy speaking it during my Dutch family’s yearly reunions.
Peter has been learning Dutch as well and while he can’t yet fully participate in Dutch table talk, he already understands a lot. For a native German speaker like him, many words are familiar, but using them in fast conversations is still challenging.
We’ve combined our reunion visits several times with chartering a boat on Dutch rivers and canals. If this interests you, read about it in our post, European Travels 3: Dutch Language and Canal Boating. As there are few locks in the Netherlands – but many bridges – canal boating in the Netherlands is quite relaxing. It’s also a great way to slowly go through the countryside, passing by wind mills and green pastures, and stopping in small towns.
The next 12 Phrases
Once you’ve mastered some of the basic words, polite phrases and greetings, it’s time to learn asking some “where…?” questions.
Even with GPS-enabled smart phones, you’ll sometimes want to know where the bathroom is or the next ATM, information those phones still don’t have!
The next 12 Dutch phrases – with typical “Waar is…?” questions – you’ll find in Essential Dutch 2.