Talk About Confusing: The Dutch Language

When I first moved to Belgium I started taking Dutch courses just a month into my transition, from New York City big lights to Ghent antique lanterns and cobblestone. I’d invested hundreds of dollars on Rosetta Stone. I’d already studied years of French. I jumped right in. Yeah!

I got to school, in the middle of the city of Ghent, and I was confused. I was struck by the language itself at first. It sounded so harsh at times and guttural. Some of the alphabet once familiar to me sounded foreign. I was confident but I was intimidated, admittedly. I got an 89% on the final exam after my first level of Dutch.



By Korean standards that’s barely passing. I continued into Level 3 and stopped, mid-pregnancy with Noah then. I remember being asked all the time, by Belgians, what the hardest word for me was in Dutch. Really, whoever was asking me was being obnoxious. They wanted to hear me butcher some Dutch words so everyone could laugh at me about.

In the Dutch language The Netherlands is Nederland, which is the country attached to Belgium. The word for Dutch, as in the people, is Nederlanders.  The word for Dutch, as in the language, is Nederlands. The Netherlands is also referred to as Holland, but not all Nederlanders like using the name Holland. What? Yeah.

There’s Belgium the country, then there’s Belgian the people, and finally there’s Dutch which is one of three official languages of Belgium. Belgium and The Netherlands share the Dutch language.


The Dutch I was learning in school, in the city, was “proper” Dutch/Nederlands. The Dutch I was hearing at home in the quiet green suburbs with my husband Davy, was Vlaams/Flemish or Belgian-Dutch/Belgische Nederlands. See? Then the stuff I was hearing on the weekends in random smoky cafes, in tiny towns lost in Elvis time warps, was a Ghent dialect called Gents.

Depending on where I was were different dialects and different twists to words, and disappearing letters and syllables even!

Earlier this year we rented a house in Normandy and the owners of the house were Dutch (and not French hmmm). We played a board game in Dutch, yay great practice for me, except the game had been manufactured in The Netherlands and not in Belgium. It turned out some words didn’t even exist in Belgium even though they were spelled out right there on the card in fronts of my face. Some words were Hollands apparently, which isn’t even an official language but just a slangy term for meaning Dutch Dutch. Get it? See?

There are dialects and slang and words so informal that I’ll probably never get to all of it. My little Noah will perhaps, but maybe not. He has this week surpassed his list of 50 words, most of them Dutch and many of them in English or Korean too. Noah’s begun to say one of the hardest words, to me, in the Dutch language.


I remember when I was here in school learning this word almost three years ago, I was like what? It means:

1. Please.

2. If it pleases you. (als+het+u+belieft) 

3. Here you go.

Sometimes in written form you’ll see it  aub or a.u.b.

It’s pronounced one way in three syllables, “ahl-stew-bleeft” but Noah currently says it in two. He also says please in English. I’m so proud that he’s got that down in two languages. If there was a word for it in Korean I’d try to teach that to Noah too, but there isn’t.

As for me, I do plan to take more courses in Dutch in due time…

Always dishing,



  1. vivi howe

    Jun, oh jun…I spoke dutch all my life, but since I have not resided in the netherlands since I was 15 and my family stil does I have a difficult time understanding the “new” dutch. That is what I call it. I’m constantly going Huh? I think you are brave and awesome for going full mode. I don’t know if you know this but anthony geary “luke” from general hospital ha s a home in amsterdam like forever, and that is where he lives fir the most part. He shows up on g.h now and then. Of course he always impersonate some one from holland and starts speaking in dutch. Lol he still does not sound dutch after all these years. It sounds more like german. Anyway, I love it and yes the dutch language is coarse. I myself do not have the gutteral “g” because I’m from the south east. Can you believe these tiny countries have their own regions with diakect. So don’T dispair. Anyone tackling a foreign language is awesome.

    1. Jun Song Author

      It’s crazy…some places here truly are stuck in time. It makes me hopeful for a better world 🙂

      Thank you for sharing your stories here, and making me laugh too.


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