Is there a method for learning German that leverages the close relationship between Dutch and German?

My main concern here is the vocabulary (many words are pronounced the same way, and mean the same thing... but some words sharing a common ancestor have a rather different meaning).


3 Answers 3


I don't think there is, which is probably because the close relation between Standard Dutch and Standard German is superficial at best. While Dutch as a language of the group of West German languages is closely related to Frisian and Low German, Standard German is heavily inluenced by all German dialects except Frisian, Low German and Swiss German. Standard German was actually not or rarely spoken in family life in most northern German regions, well into the 20th century.

On the comparison between Standard Dutch and Standard German, Wikipedia has this to say:

Die phonologischen, morphologischen und lexikalisch-semantischen Unterschiede zwischen dem Niederländischen und dem Standarddeutschen sind heute erheblich, was z. B. beim Wortschatz zu so genannten "falschen Freunden" geführt hat: so heißt im Niederländischen verstopt „versteckt“ und „verstopft“, monster „Probe/Muster“ und bellen „klingeln“.

Viele Begriffe, die aus der deutschen Standardsprache verschwunden sind, leben im Niederländischen fort (z. B. oorlog, lenen, kiezen, verbazen). Der niederländische Wortschatz hat die hochdeutsche Lautverschiebung nicht mitgemacht, die zum heutigen Hochdeutschen geführt hat.

In short, today's Dutch and German differ quite much, with many words and phrases sounding alike, but meaning very different things. So I'd be suprised if there was a method of learning German for Dutch native speakers, leveraging those rather treacherous similarities.

  • 1
    Very honest (and brutal). At least now I know what I'm getting into. Thanks! ^^
    – wen
    Commented Apr 13, 2012 at 14:40
  • Brutal? I hope not! :) I can't help that Standard German is more influenced by southern and eastern dialects (Luther's Bible being a major influence, and he spent most of his time in Thuringia) than by the western and northern one's. I'd love to change it if I could. Also note I'm just suspecting that there is no such learning method. With valid reasons, but still: I could be proven otherwise.
    – nem75
    Commented Apr 13, 2012 at 15:35
  • I think that quote is more to combat mutual intelligibility claims that you would expect from a close relation. But to say the relation is superficial goes totally overboard on the other side. The vocabulary is still similar for a very large percentage. Die Lautverschiebung is generally a mechanical substitution, for which you get a feel very quickly and thus a non issue for somebody studying the other language. I actually had much more problem with the fact that word's gender mattered again. Commented May 31, 2015 at 20:27
  • BTW Dutch borrows mostly from Brabantine and Hollandic dialects, and a bit Frisian is certainly also in there, Dutch is mostly considered a (The?) Low Franconian language. .I sincerely doubt much Saxon (Drents/low German) made it, and would guess that German based Franconian dialects (low and middle) are nearer than Low Saxon. Commented Mar 10, 2019 at 13:05

Many foreigners find the very loose word order in Dutch/German a challenge, specially the absence of a fixed place for verb and subject. That includes English speakers to a degree since modern English is quite regular in that aspect.

So word order is definitely something you take from Dutch to German.

If you speak a south-eastern dialect like Limburgs, add pronounciation. (but I guess if you were a native Dutchie, you would have had German in secondary school, so dialects are probably out).

My (German) teacher said that that was a double edged sword though, knowing the dialect also made you prone to mixing up and an additional set of false friends. Dialect knowledge gave you a head start, but only temporarily.

If you are a native from border city Kerkrade, you don't have to learn anything. (:-))


I doubt it as it’s really not needed because one can treat Dutch and German as if they were two dialects of a single language (continental West Germanic). I’m a native German speaker. I recently learned Dutch over a period of about a year and have already reached the point where I am reading entire books in Dutch for fun without using a dictionary. This is the point at which one can stop using any course and just learn by reading.

What worked for me was the Duolingo English course for Dutch speakers, which I simply took in reverse. (There is now also a Dutch course for English speakers, but it wasn’t available when I started.) I am sure that the Duolingo German courses for English or French speakers serve as a fast and painless method for getting started for most Dutch speakers.

German is probably harder to learn ‘properly’ for Dutch speakers than Dutch for German speakers, because German has retained quite a few complications that Dutch has already discarded. But I am sure it won’t take much to get to the point where you can have fun reading German books. And then you will soon be able to make yourself understood in German, initially making the typical grammatical mistakes of Dutch speakers. Don’t worry about these: Speaking like Rudi Carrell is not a serious obstacle to communication or social acceptance. (Carrell cultivated the typical Dutch way of speaking; when he started the Rudi Carrell Show on German TV he was still struggling with the language, and for him this turned out to be an asset that he apparently didn’t want to lose even when he could have spoken an almost perfect German.)

The German-speaking area is a big one with lots of regional dialects that leave their traces in how people from opposite corners speak the standard language. Since the Netherlands have opted out of the German dialect continuum only a few centuries ago, the natural Dutch way of speaking German is still not so fundamentally different from the East Frisian, Saxonian, Swabian, Bavarian, Austrian or Swiss way of speaking standard German. It’s somewhere near the border between imperfect German as spoken by foreigners and the normal variation of German spoken by people with strong dialectal roots.

False friends and other differences in vocabulary are of course the main difficulty. But for languages that are so closely related, after a few systematic lessons to get you started (coming from the South of Germany I really needed this; people from closer to the border typically don’t), you should have next to no trouble learning these differences much like children learn their native language, i. e. just by reading and listening in order to understand specific texts or utterances. If you say the wrong word occasionally it shouldn’t be a big problem. Apart from a few fundamental words that are learned rather quickly, it’s not so very different from the subtle differences between Northern Dutch and Belgian Flemish, or between German and Austrian standard German.

I think we can learn from Scandinavia. People speaking Danish, Swedish and the two variations of Norwegian as well as their many dialects communicate by everyone speaking their own language and basically trying to mock the language of the recipient. This works surprisingly well because it is what travelers have been doing throughout the history of the dialect continuum. (I have heard that the same method works with Italian and Spanish.)

  • ‘Since the Netherlands have opted out of the German dialect continuum only a few centuries ago’ — I disagree with this. In my opinion, Dutch (including Flemish) is still part of the continuum, albeit rather far away from other parts. The difference between Dutch and German is probably larger than the one between Austrian and German only because Teutonic German was created after Luther’s synthetic mixture of High and Low German somewhere in the South half of the middle, which was closer to the language of Vienna than to that of Amsterdam.
    – Jan
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 9:30
  • And also (didn’t fit into one comment) in the early 20th century, the perfect high German was considered to be the one spoken in Prague, which is even further removed from Amsterdam.
    – Jan
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 9:31
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    @Jan: Actually, I think we are both right. The Netherlands opted out in the sense that separate national languages with sufficiently large numbers of speakers cause long-term divergence and relatively clear language boundaries. But this process takes a lot of time. Even the Romance languages still form a dialect continuum under a sufficiently lax definition.
    – user2183
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 15:12
  • Did most people in Germany actually speak standard German in say late 19th century ? Or did most speak Low German (other than maybe Church and school) or some other dialect? That alone would make judging such divisions on standard language alone irrelevant. Commented Jul 1, 2015 at 8:49

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