I heard that there are special interpreters for translating books from Niederdeutsch to standard German.

The question is: Is it possible to understand Niederdeutsch if you can speak German?

  • possible duplicate of Wofür steht "hoch" im Begriff "Hochdeutsch"?
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 21:11
  • 7
    High German and Low German don't mean "elevated" and "not elevated", they refer to the geographical position in Germany. Simplified, Low German is spoken in the north of Germany, which is low lying country. High German is spoken in the South of Germany, country that is higher lying.
    – rogermue
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 7:14

11 Answers 11


Low German (Niederdeutsch or Plattdeutsch) is an old form of German that survived the move to a more standardized generic German (Hochdeutsch).

Originally there were 3 general geographically separated forms of German: Low German spoken in (roughly) northern and western Germany and the Netherlands, named for the flat lowlands of these areas, Central German and High German spoken in south and east Germany, named for the more mountainous nature of the areas where they were spoken.

In the Netherlands eventually Dutch went its own way, with influences from English and Frisian and (to a lesser extent) French.

In Germany High German (Hochdeutsch) became today's Standard German, but Low German still survives as day to day language for many people in northern Germany.

Low German also got exported to the USA, Canada and Brazil with the Mennonites (e.g. Amish) and other German minorities that immigrated because of social, religious and/or econimical pressure in the Heimat.
It picked up influences from English, Dutch and Frisian too, albeit less then Dutch did.

The variants that evolved outside Europe picked up additional foreign elements, but also remained closer to the original old-German roots, mainly due to isolation of the people speaking it.

Low German remains a sort of "in-between" language somewhere between Standard German and (old) Dutch.

As for whether or not Low German is a separate language: Linguists generally consider all Germanic languages from English to the High German dialects spoken in Switzerland, Austria and southern Germany (including Dutch, Frisian, Low German, and Standard German) to be part of a 'West Germanic dialect continuum' which includes many of the languages in the West Germanic subfamily of the broader Germanic group of languages (which also includes, among others, the Scandinavian and other 'North Germanic' languages). Until the 11th and 12th centuries AD, English (Old English or 'Anglo-Saxon') would have been similar enough to the continental Germanic languages to be close to them on this continuum, but today it's very different.

From a practical perspective it is a language, but it's quite similar to both Dutch and German.

As for understanding it: As someone who is Dutch with a decent grip on German I can usually understand Low German without too much trouble. (Unless the speaker talks quickly and/or uses certain dialects.)

I understand that most German speakers can follow Low German about just as easily.

In either case it helps if you come from a region in Germany or the Netherlands that already has multiple dialects spoken in the area.
To me it seems that people who are accustomed to hearing various dialects have less trouble understanding a foreign language that has dialect variants too.

(Personally I can understand most German dialects quite easily, but it seems very hard for Germans that grew up just using High German. I grew up near the Belgium border in the Netherlands, with family living in Limburg and Noord-Holland. I switch dialects without thinking about it. That seems to help.)

  • 5
    The German dialects spoken in the south of Germany and in Austria are Upper German (Oberdeutsch). Not to be confused with Hochdeutsch (Standard German).
    – RHa
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 23:03

As a native Low German speaker, I would like to add that even with some informal education in High German, I have a hard time following it. My parents were of Mennonite descent, started a family in Canada, and primarily spoke Low German at home until my siblings and I began schooling in English. Had I not taken an interest in learning "regular German", or High German, as we called it, I would have been unable to comprehend even the simplest phrases. Growing up with Low German, I always considered it to be simple, funny language, practically synonymous with a lack of education. However, as I advanced in school and went on to college, I began to value the language and see it as a rare heritage. So, is it a language? Maybe not by the standard of a trained linguist, but I will always consider it to be one. As to the analogy about BBC English vs daily English, I think it is pretty far off. There is a great deal more difference between Low German and any other language than an accent. Probably a better analogy would be North American English vs. Some of the Creole variants spoken in Belize.

  • How about Dutch? Are you better able to understand that? Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 8:56

Well, I don't speak low German. I just searched a random video on Youtube and listened to it.

I do not understand every word but I fully comprehend what they are talking about.

That said, I guess non-native speakers will probably have their difficulties, so the ultimate answer to your question is: yes and no. It really depends on how good your German really is.


The general consensus seems to be that, yes, it's a language in its own right. If you speak German it's usually possible to understand parts, perhaps get the gist of it (although that's by no means a given). It has been replaced by standard (high) German for all intents and purposes, but it's a far cry from any of the other regional dialects.

To my (native, if Southern) ears it sounds like a blend of German and Dutch, with a fair dose of English thrown in for good measure.


It depends. If you just speak high german it is quite hard to impossible to understand. The nearer you life to the region the better is the chance that the german dialect spoken will resemble the one your neighbour uses. Good chance to understand if you life in the north of Germany or speak Dutch, if you life in the South and speak the Bavarian tongue you will be completely lost.


Low German and German are like Occitan and French. Dutch and Low German are like Catalan and Occitan.

  • 10
    This answer is incomprehensible to most people without a grasp of those dialects. Could you elaborate?
    – Ludi
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 17:29
  • @Eastman I've got the idea but can you provide some examples?
    – optim1st
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 14:40

There are many different dialects in German. I dont think you can understand them as a Russian who has learnt German. Also some Lower German dialects are more like Dutch. For example the dialect is Kleve is more like the dialect Dutch dialect in Brabant than like German. But even for me, a person whose native language is Dutch and who speaks German quite well, it is hard to follow. The Dutch dialect in Kerkrade and the German dialect Herzogenrath for example is total jabber for me. That dialect is more like German. Nevertheless the locals there, on both sides of the border, speak dialect to each other and understand each other. It is a strange sort of mixture and I have the urge to say, please speak either Dutch or German, I cannot make anything out of this.

But the dialect is something that is not very much spoken nowadays, certainly not by the younger generation. Almost everyone can speak standard German there too I think. So unless you want to pick up that dialect as a new challenge, there should be no problem for you to make yourself understandable in German there.

  • 2
    Nice example. Kerrade/Herzogenrath is such an awful mixture of Limburgs (a heavy Dutch dialect that most Dutch can't understand) and German that it is complete incomprehensible to anyone who was born more that 10 kilometers away from there. I have family from the region that grew up 15 km from Kerkrade, speaking Limburgs all their lives, and they can't understand that particular dialect if their lives depended on it. As someone who is from Brabant: The dialect of Kleve still sounds dominantly German to me. I do find it easier to follow than regular German.
    – Tonny
    Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 16:01
  • 1
    Frankish dialects in Germany, like Kleve and NRW shouldn't be lumped together with Plattdüütsch. Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 14:51

If you have a talent for languages you understand a little bit. I speak standard German, did some studies in Dutch and then I discovered the charmes of Platt (Niederdeutsch). But I had to begin with simple texts with translations, and I had to learn where to find websites with Platt, dictionaries and grammar explanations.

A good introduction is PlattMaster.de

There is a lot about and in Platt on the Internet.

Added: After some searching I found a text passage in Low German with translation in Standard German. Perhaps the best way to show the difference. http://www.plattdeutsche-geschichten.de/geschiv2.html


People get confused between Low German influenced forms of standard German which are regional dialects of high German and are pretty easily understandable for users of standard German and Low German itself which is a different language which is much more similar to Dutch - in fact you could probably make a reasonable argument that standard Dutch is a standardised form of a variety of Low German. Real Low German is not much more comprehsible to a monoglot high German speaker than Dutch is.

My personal experience as someone who speaks fluent high German and Fluent English is that I can puzzle out written Dutch, but I wouldn't understand spoken Dutch without deliberate practice. I find PlaattDeutsch is maybe 20% easier than Dutch to understand and read.


I don't think comparing it only to German is an effective way to determine if it is a dialect (Specifically mentioning this because it is usually what people rush to when calling something a dialect).
If I only understood Afrikaans and had no other language knowledge (thus unbiased) I would mathematically understand about 60% of Low Saxon and 30 % of German. 30 is a big jump so you decide what you wanna believe.


I would say no, Niederdeutsch is not a distinct language from German. Niederdeutsch is a demotic form of German, where High German is the standardised German that is generally learned and accepted. You could say High German is like BBC English, and Niederdeutsch (low German) is like everyday English, with all its idiosyncracies.

Of course, there are many dialects of low German (Bavarian, Saxon etc), which are again quite different from each other; much like there are different forms of low English (Lancashire, Scouse etc), which are distinct from each other.

As far as I can tell, the reason for these dialects of demotic English and demotic German are that historically the different regions of Germany and England had different tribes, who spoke different languages. So the different forms of demotic language happened because there were different languages spoken in those regions. Of course there are additional variations from other historical occurences in different regions of a country.

So to answer the question, low German was several different languages historically, but is essentially demotic German.

  • 1
    "You could say High German is like BBC English, and Niederdeutsch (low German) is like everyday English, with all its idiosyncracies." That is demonstrably untrue. This might be the case for regional variants, like Swabian German, even Bavarian, but NOT Low German. Keeping that in mind, Bavarian or Saxon are dialects and regional variants of High German.
    – Ingmar
    Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 15:02
  • 1
    You are confusing the two different meanings of Hochdeutsch. Bavarian is certainly a High German dialect.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 20:24
  • "...there are many dialects of low German (Bavarian, Saxon etc), which are again quite different from each other..." Bavarian and Saxon dialects are in fact quite different from each other but they are both High German dialects.
    – Gunar
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 17:48
  • You might for example call Scottish a different form of English, but it is 100 times closer to English than Niederdeutsch is to German. Niederdeutsch is in my opinion borderline. You could call it either a dialect or a different language with some justification. If we take a poll, it's probably 50% each side. Bavarian on the other hand is a dialect. Note that dialects can be hard to understand, and can have their own dictionaries.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 15:40

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