I'm studying German right now, and I heard the German language in Germany is similar to Dutch, which is spoken in the Netherlands and Flanders.

I want to know how similar they are? Do I need to learn Dutch to be able to communicate with a native Dutch speaker?

Thank you


5 Answers 5


It is certainly easier to learn Dutch when you know German and vice versa. The similarity is perhaps a bit more significant than between the romance langauges (Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, etc.)

As anecdotal evidence: I have seen Dutch speaking perfect German, but it seems to be more difficult in the other way.

A more obvious version of this situation is Germans struggling to understand spoken Swiss German or Lixembourgish - in fact Swiss movies shown in Germany are dubbed in German. In the same time, for German-speaking Swiss this is not a problem, as they all master Standard German (although their knowledge of other Swiss languages - French, Italian, and Rätoromanisch - is often rather shaky).


This is actually a loaded question. The short answer to your question is of course: Yes, they are quite similar, in the way portuguese is similar to spanish. But, also, yes, if you want to talk to a Dutsh person (in Dutch rather than English) you need to learn the language, because the similarities will only get you so far.

A more hidden aspect of your question is really an intercutural one. I say this as a German person, who grew up in the Netherlands and speaks Dutch fluently. The Netherlands (pre-Covid of course) has a lot of tourism from Germany. I used to live in a very touristy area, and I can tell you that many of the natives will have learnt German, because that is just what you do, when you live of off tourism. But then again German tourists can fell very entitled and then they will assume everyone speaks and understands German. And that creates some tension obviously.

This depends on the situation of course. If there is a problem and you just have to communicate somehow and one person speaks only German and the other only Dutch, it might work and that's ok. But if someone just goes to the Netherlands and speaks in German because they just expect to be understood, that is much less ok.

And then there is the question of where in the Netherlands you are. The farther away you are from the German--Dutch border the less likely it is to find a German-speaking Dutch person (unless you are in a touristy area). Keep in mind there are also still those who have anti-German resentments, not because of entitled tourists, but the war! On the other hand, and this to me is surprising, many older Dutch people will have had German lessons in school and this has shifted towards English in recent decades. So, you never really know.

If you are in a region very close the border, there are many people, who will commute to the other country regularly and here you will find many speakers of both languages. And then there are regional differences in the way Dutch is spoken. The more to the south-east you go, the stronger the influence of German will become (if you want to see it that way). There is also a regional dialect, which is a quite confusing mix (to me anyways) of German and Dutch and this is spoken in the most south-eastern part of the Netherlands (Southern Limburg) and the area of Germany close to it. Anecdotaly, the people in this region will understand each other better that they will understand someone from their respective country. And while it sounds very German-esque to me, it is not.

Long story short: If in doubt, speak English, just to be on the safe side.


I am a native speaker of Dutch who has studied German at university and has lived and worked in Germany for nine-and-a-half years. (I actually teach in German.)

When I was at school (in Flanders), German was regarded as a difficult language, i.e. more difficult than English, even though the similarities between Dutch and English are fewer than those between Dutch and German. This has a lot to do with the grammar, especially the case system, which does not exist in Dutch (except for a few genitives in mostly fixed expressions). The perception is not entirely justified; it is partly a result of the much higher exposure to English than to German. (For example, films on TV or in the cinema are not dubbed but subtitled, so the relative dominance of English-language cultural products leads to a significantly higher exposure to that language.)

The number of people who know German in the Netherlands or Flanders is considerable lower than the number who can speak English. For this reason, you won't get very far knowing only German and no Dutch; it is much easier to use English.

While living in Germany, I have noticed that native speakers of German do not automatically understand Dutch. (In fact, speakers of one German dialect do not always understand speakers of a different German dialect, as I noticed when I was studying in Bavaria as an Erasmus students: some professors taught in their Bavarian dialect, which students from other parts of Germany had great difficulty understanding.)

I have noticed that Germans can pick out individual Dutch words on, for example, food packaging, but by no means all of them. (For example, "cinnamon" is "Zimt" in German but "kaneel" in Dutch.) Having a solid knowledge of French would help, but by no means always. They can also pick out individual Dutch words in a conversation, but most of it is completely lost on them: the differences in pronunciation come on top of the differences in vocabulary, so understanding Dutch conversations doesn't work without learning Dutch. Even following Dutch subtitles is too difficult: I once lent a DVD of a Chinese film to a colleague, suggesting that he might try following it with the Dutch subtitles (since German subtitles were not available); when he gave the DVD back to me, he said he had given up after 20 minutes. Based on this, it is not surprising that Dutch-language classes redundant have not become redundant in Germany.

So in what ways are German and Dutch similar or different from a German point of view?

  • Verb forms for strong and irregular verbs (i.e. past tenses) are very similar. (There are exceptions: the past participle of "lachen" is "gelachen" in Dutch (irregular) but "gelacht" in German (regular).)
  • There is a whole stock of words that have a Germanic origin and that are easy to learn. Many of these differ because some of the vowel shifts didn't reach the areas where Dutch is now spoken. Think of "huis" versus "Haus" ("house" in Dutch and German, respectively), "boom" versus "Baum" ("tree").
  • There are even idioms and expressions that are the same in both languages, e.g. "etwas under die Lupe nehmen" is "iets onder de loep nemen" in Dutch, "kein Blatt vor den Mund nehmen" is "geen blad voor de mond nemen" in Dutch, etcetera.
  • Dutch has three grammatical genders, just like German, but just two definite articles: one for masculine and feminine ("de") and one for neuter ("het"). This makes it more difficult to learn the gender of nouns, since learning the definite article with the noun is not sufficient. There are rules for certain categories of nouns (just like in German), but those rules don't cover everything (just like in German). See Grammatical Gender in Dutch. However, since a few decades, there has been a shift to a merged or common gender for masculine or feminine words. (This shift does not apply to most words that refer to something that is biologically female.)
  • Of course, there are many false friends. For example, "schlimm" in German means "bad" but "slim" in Dutch means "smart"; "bellen" in German means "(to) bark" but "(to) ring (e.g. a doorbell)" in Dutch.
  • There are differences in word order that take time to master, e.g. the position of the reflexive pronoun "sich" (German)/"zich" (Dutch).

The above is obviously an incomplete overview.


Based on my experience, I think you will get some partial listening and reading comprehension, especially if you are a native speaker of English. How much? I don't know exactly how to quantify it but if I had to pin it down I'd say about 40%, less than necessary to get the "gist" of most texts.

I'm a native English speaker and I am pretty comfortable (not quite fluent) in German, in the sense that I can carry a conversation and can read most everyday texts, even though I occasionally miss a word or have to guess it from context.

When I see Dutch, I can sometimes understand pieces of it. Sometimes my comprehension comes from my knowledge of German, and other times my knowlege of English. But...the comprehension is less than the halfway point. I'll completely grasp one sentence here or there, maybe a phrase or half of a sentence...and then it goes out and the rest of it is just gibberish.

I get the sense that if I wanted to learn Dutch, it would be relatively easy to get up to a higher level of comprehension, with minimal effort.

However, as-is, merely being fluent in both English and German doesn't get you that far.

Also, I would add, if you are not a native English speaker, and especially for someone who does not know English at all (assuming this is not you because the question was written in English, but it's worth noting), you will likely find Dutch harder if you know only German. There are some ways in which it is a little closer to English than German, so a part of the listening and reading comprehension will be lost if you only know one of the languages. Also, because Dutch is also similar to English, you're not going to gain a huge amount of additional comprehension of it by learning German.

If your end goal is learning Dutch, just learn it! And...nothing wrong with learning both! You may find that it becomes easier to learn a third language after learning a second; I've definitely found that.


I speak Dutch (admittedly Belgian "Vlaams") and have never taken any lessons for German. I will say that they are more similar than French and English or French and Spanish (I can only compare those because those are the only ones I know) but they are not interchangeable.

I can understand some snippets of German if they are spoken slowly or understand words if I can look at them and break them up. This is a poorly written answer because I'm doing it in a rush but yes.

Conclusion: they are rather similar and you might understand bits but if you want to understand Dutch then, sorry you have to learn Dutch.

Oh, final thought: I'm not sure if this is true but I think that speaking Netherlandish Dutch (as opposed to Belgian Dutch or Flemish) will mean that it's slightly easier to understand but my point still is relatively the same.

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